False Notes

Caitlin Gibson, legal administrator for The Washington Post, is a writer who lives in Bethesda.
Caitlin Gibson, legal administrator for The Washington Post, is a writer who lives in Bethesda. (Courtesy Author)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Caitlin Gibson
Sunday, September 21, 2008

Well, I've been caught.

It's not surprising. If you're going to be dishonest, you must at least be convincing; otherwise you're just pitiable.

But before I explain any further, it's important to know that I have a secret life as a concert musician. In the Metro. It happens every day during my commute: Liberated within my iPod bubble, I assume the imaginary career of a virtuoso pianist. If I'm feeling sophisticated, I perform Beethoven's Bagatelles, Op. 126; if I'm in the mood to be a rock star, Tori Amos is my gal. And when I get carried away in my mind, my hands often follow, fingers plunking down on invisible piano keys across the surface of my newspaper, a book, my leather bag. It's half involuntary, half because no one ever seems to notice or care -- and it's somewhat thrilling to mime a level of ability that my 12 years of study, well, didn't actually give me.

Then, one recent evening, a woman sitting next to me glanced over and saw my fingers moving from chord to chord. She hesitated a moment -- possibly debating whether she was witnessing a symptom of illness or insanity -- then asked, "What are you playing?"

Caught off guard, I removed an earbud. "Oh -- Tori Amos. 'Cornflake Girl.' "

The woman nodded with recognition. She knew the song. Uh-oh. "You can play that?" she demanded, her voice louder, skeptical. A few people nearby looked in our direction.

My immediate, startled thought was: Of course I can't, but . . . a wannabe air-pianist who can't actually play what she's playing? Is it possible to be more pathetic?

"Yes!" I chirped, answering both her question and mine.

Ah, the White Lie. We all tell them. This is a universally understood reality. It is not encouraged but not really frowned upon, either. Sometimes it's downright necessary. That probably applies more to sparing someone else's feelings than to painting a deceptive portrait of oneself as a profoundly gifted musician, but I had my pride to protect. And surely this woman would sense that and kindly play along.

Only she didn't. She eyed me suspiciously. She made a dismissive, somewhat porcine sound: half snort, half grunt. Then she turned her attention back to her book.

Okay, maybe she's just a jerk. Maybe she was in a bad mood and spent all afternoon plotting to take it out on the first vulnerable nerd she encountered during her evening commute. Or maybe she was making a point: that it's wrong to lie, to exaggerate, no matter how harmless the subject matter, and she wouldn't abide it. Could she be right? I felt awkward, sitting there, absorbing her post-snort silence; foolish, even. It seemed possible that I should reevaluate, confess all my sins, begin anew.

So, here's a start:

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company