Read The Varnished Untruth Online
Authors: Pamela Stephenson
What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.
Muriel Rukeyser, American poet
First published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2012
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Copyright © Healthy Mind, Inc. 2012
This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
HB ISBN: 978-1-84983-921-1
TPB ISBN: 978-1-84983-922-8
eBook ISBN: 978-1-84983-924-2
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Printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY
I don’t really know how anyone can have the gall to write a memoir. To do so implies an assumption that people will be interested to read it and, right from the start, doesn’t that single fact make you a prize ass? Isn’t there always a dirty little secret lurking at the back of the writer’s mind, an agenda along the lines of: ‘When you’re finished this, you’re gonna love me. You’re gonna laugh with me, cry with me, get to know me, and then you’re going to buy one for everyone in your family for Christmas and you’ll write inside “Hope she inspires you too! XXX”’? Now, I know being this honest doesn’t make me loveable, and that being loveable sells memoirs, but I really can’t lie about where I am on the endearment scale: I’m not simply ‘a lovely person’, ‘purely a delight to know’ or any of that B.S. I definitely have an edgy side, and I can’t even fake it for fifteen minutes; sooner rather than later I’m going to say something a bit raw, mention the unmentionable, or be betrayed by my wicked laugh.
And, anyway, I’m always suspicious whenever I hear someone being described as ‘a lovely person’ – especially when they’re in show business. I always think, ‘How clever, to have been able to present “graciousness” so consistently . . . What a sneaky, undesirable talent!’ Yes, I don’t like a person’s apparent ‘loveliness’, and I certainly don’t trust it. I much prefer the dark side. When a chink appears and out flies a second or two of sheer brutality, meanness, envy, savagery or fury, that’s when I smile inwardly and think, ‘Now I can like you; I know a bit about who you really are.’
We’re all multi-faceted. I like to think I can truly accept whatever a person despises in himself. It’s usually the thing that makes us close – the core of intimacy. My acceptance of someone’s ‘dark side’ is also something that helps me in my work as a psychologist; I try hard to avoid being judgmental of anyone for anything they might have done. We’re all just frail human animals and, given the right circumstances, we might all make similar choices. Being capable of a ‘warts and all’ relationship has meant that I have had some pretty interesting encounters with all sorts of extraordinary people. Some of those encounters have imbued me with inspiration, some have made me gasp with envy. Others have left me feeling uplifted, thrilled, protective, sad, mortified, furious, conspiratorial, confused, and even downright terrified – and that’s just outside my therapy office.
Along with my own personal story, I’m going to write down a few things about people who have touched me one way or another – things that may amuse you (or even take you down some other emotional path) – and I’ll let you in on a few so-far-unrevealed aspects of my life. I’ll try to leave out the boring bits. And I’m going to name-drop a lot because you want me to. Oh, don’t start . . . you DO SO!
But don’t be thinking this is easy for me. I’m darn good at getting under other people’s skin, but opening up about my own life is quite a different matter. And since I truly hate to be misunderstood, how am I going to communicate the gestalt of who I am? People who have come to public attention are portrayed in fragments, and I would be quite afraid to discover which particular aspect of me you had already gleaned. Was it ‘the woman in the American Express sketch’? Or ‘Billy Connolly’s missus’? Or simply ‘wacky, zany Pam’? Being reduced to a three-word phrase turns one into a one-dimensional being and the impression that’s created is very hard to shift. So how shall I portray myself? There are choices, you know. Wife, mother, psychologist, writer, comedian, actor, dancer, diver, gypsy, dreamer, rich girl, poor girl, beggar girl, thief . . . I am all of those and more. Tell you what, YOU decide. You decide exactly what I am.
American poet Muriel Rukeyser once mused, ‘What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split apart.’ No one’s personal story is ever the whole truth. One’s history is reflected through the filter of years of self-forgiveness – and necessarily so. It’s just too painful to carry the rawness of all one’s faults and mistakes from decade to decade. But self-forgiveness can be elusive; I still wince when I think of stupid, unkind or embarrassing things I’ve done many years ago, last year, and even yesterday. The most terrifying thing is, I’m still capable of being a complete idiot. Some people think psychologists are wise beings who never put a foot wrong themselves but, in reality, even the best of us can be wonderfully helpful to others yet, occasionally, utterly imprudent in our own lives. Or maybe that’s just me . . .
It may be partly due to my sense of shame about certain things that I’ve chosen to write this book in a similar manner to the way I get to know someone. When I meet you, I might say something rather bold to get your attention and make you think I’m that confident, articulate, slightly outrageous person from the telly, but if you hang around for a bit you’ll see me pulling back and getting quieter and more reserved. I’ll put the focus on you instead, draw you out. Eventually it might dawn on you that I’m really rather shy, fairly quiet and extremely private about my life. If I trust you enough to meet you again I might be chattier, but I’ll choose subjects you probably already know a bit about – my husband,
Strictly Come Dancing
Not The Nine O’Clock News
, books I’ve written. As we get to know each other more, I might begin to reveal more in stages, natter about my family, perhaps, but always being quite wary – and I’ll watch carefully for any small sign that you can’t be trusted (and if I see one, I’ll snap shut like a spring-box). But if you can tolerate my prickliness, you may eventually get to know who I really am, and then – if I feel you accept me, warts and all – you’ll be my friend for life.
I suppose I’m a bit of an anomaly. Human beings go through different stages and at my current age I should probably be taking it easy and reflecting on the past. To a certain extent I can manage the latter, but there’s no way I’m ever going to settle gently and gracefully into my final decades. You’re about to learn just how vigorously I’m railing against natural physical decline but, actually, I’m ambivalent about the challenge of facing the years ahead. In many ways, growing old gives us licence to be who we really are and, in the past, I suppose I have often felt I needed to hide parts of myself for fear of not being accepted, or in order to try to impress. But there’s just no point in pretending any more. And there have been many instances when I’ve been presented to the world by others, in whatever way they saw me – even times when I had to live meekly with blatant untruths – and that has left me with a magnitude of shame that I would like to assuage. I have also lived through other people from time to time and, although this often goes with the territory of being a wife and mother, it’s not necessarily something I intend doing forever. Yes, I wrote my husband’s biography and a follow-up book about him, which took the best part of two years of my life, but it’s high time I told my own story. Discovering who I really am now – and being unafraid to let it be known – is a daunting but delicious task.