Outing the Cheater, Finding the True by
(6 Stories)

Prompted By Cheating

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Cheater! Cheater! My babysitter said I cheated at Monopoly.  I didn’t. I just was too shy to ask the rules. Lying—that’s another story. I became a past master at an early age.

"Cheater! Cheater! My babysitter said I cheated at Monopoly.  I didn’t. I just was too shy to ask the rules. Lying—that’s another story. I became a past master at an early age."

It wasn’t safe to speak truth in my house. Never, nowhere. My mother would blow a gasket and fall apart if I breathed a word of how I really felt. And my dad held stern, New England lawyer ethics. Thou shalt not lie.  Not even the tiniest white little fib.  George Washington and cherry tree kind of fervor on that count.

So, between them, I was not a little screwed. And felt totally unsafe to be myself. The Liar jumped in as protector. And led me to cheat plenty at the game of life.

This early dilemma drew me to theater pursuits and métier. Moving as a chameleon, ever blending in, adopting others’ speech patterns and clothing, made me at home in the theatrical land of Oz, its pretense, and color. I was a natural at disappearing into being someone else! Pretend, pretend, the more outlandish, and imaginative, the better. And I was for a time successful. Not happy, but on a roll, convinced this was my calling.

But of course, it couldn’t really work. When you deny the core of who you are, conceal it until you don’t recognize yourself when you do show up, you’re not genuine. True art means risking deep being, authenticity, and vulnerability.  The great artists are the greatest truth-tellers.  Neither Art nor Life tolerates a cheater for long.

Crash and burn. This began around age thirty. The explosions scattered shards of marriage, career, and family crunching underfoot. I struggled, kept going. Lucked into more genuine relationships, a good marriage, children, but still, Great God Theater called, and I persevered with a faulty tool kit. It was like a slope coated with grease. I scrabbled, made headway, slid back. Had triumphs, but still—Life was onto my cheat and wasn’t letting me off the hook. Knew I also loved art for exactly the right reasons. As with Monopoly, I still didn’t know the rules. Didn’t know that we really come to this earth to find ground zero of ourselves.

Cheater. Cheater. Life outs cheaters. Sometimes it just takes time.

I embraced opera directing. By then I knew I was searching for the true, the good, the beautiful. The complexity of the opera world is a centrifuge for these qualities, and one is lucky if a single drop of the True emerges in any one production.  One scene. One aria. One magic moment of light illuminating a face with the same color as the violins.

Many more moments are like a frog in a blender. A mess.

At one point, I was in NYC directing the premiere of a new opera based on Tartuffe. The show had a lot of advanced hype. Read pressure. It was double cast to give young artists a chance. Read hell, or at least triple headaches. We were rehearsing in a private high school cafeteria, airless, ripe with teenage sweat and Friday’s lunch. I was in a panic, thinking the Cheater was fully visible, playing someone who had a handle on the work. Heart palpitations slammed in. I thought I was going to die, then and there, on a sticky linoleum floor, in a room smelling of old spaghetti.  Did I tell anyone?  Of course not.  Someone might see they their leader, with a green face, was a lying cheater. Fortunately, everyone from singers to impresario was too worried about being outed as well.

I didn’t die. The reviews were good enough.  I sighed. I’d ducked the Great Shaming one more time.

That was near the end of my opera work, though I didn’t know it then. Better angels knew it was time to address the real issue. The underlying fraud. The Big Cheat. It’s twenty years since I saw the inside of a rehearsal hall. Meantime, while doing other things, chipping away at the chameleon layers has become the real work.  A little at a time. Searching for, as in the old story, the diamond we’ve each been carrying in our pockets all along. The Pearl Beyond Price we were sent here to recover. The news we never had to cheat to begin with.

It’s an up and down journey, but sometimes I feel I’ve stumbled backstage again. Into that intimate quiet.  I walk center-stage as if coming home. Feel the light on my face—you always know when you’ve hit your mark. It’s warm like validation and acceptance.  I turn toward the dark auditorium. It breathes. Listens. Waits for me to be fully here. In this moment. No cheats. No lies. I wait, too. Curious. Smiling. Sovereign. Alive. Willing to be as I am, to offer what I can in the time left, before the offstage hook snakes out, or the curtain whispers down.

It is glorious if fleeting. Mirabai, the Rajasthani mystic, wrote: “Approve me, disapprove me. I have ridden on the elephant’s shoulders. And you want me to ride on a jackass?”

That jackass was the cheater, the liar. I thought it was safer. I got it wrong. Standing on the stage of self, the elephant waits. Learning to ride it is the next adventure, the next frontier.


Profile photo of Lucinda Winslow Lucinda Winslow
Lucinda's past lives thrash in the rearview, among them TV captionist, children's theater director, opera director, spiritual junkie, piano instructor, and other nefarious activities. Now she writes, works for social justice--ending poverty and book banning--while building gardens in Connecticut and New Hampshire.

Visit Author's Website

Characterizations: been there, moving, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Lucy, wow! You take my breath away! This is a beautiful and very moving piece of writing. And I love seeing the photo of you as a child, already recognizable as the girl I knew in college. Welcome to Retrospect!

  2. Marian says:

    Hi, Lucinda, welcome to Retrospect, and what a moving and beautifully written story to have as your first. I almost cried reading about your childhood because I felt exactly the same way. And now, many of us still struggle with learning to ride the elephant. I so appreciate you sharing your journey with us and look forward to getting to know you through many more stories.

  3. Dave Ventre says:

    Interesting and I love the language you use!

    Having been raised in a home with an alcoholic Mom, I think I am familiar with some of the emotions you describe. A drunk in the family is only one of a host of early stressors that can leave their mark forever.

  4. Dave Ventre says:

    Also, welcome to Retrospect!

  5. Brava Lucinda and welcome to Retro!

    This early-wannabe-thespian- but-took-the-easy-way-out applauds you from the front mezz.

    I spend much time in Connecticut, come build me a garden!

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Welcome to Retrospect, Lucinda. This is a truly amazing and profoundly reflective piece of writing. If we are all honest with ourselves, there have been moments in our lives when we played the part we were expected to play rather than what is in our hearts.

  7. Such a lyrical, but profound piece of reflection, Lucinda! A pleasure to absorb the thought you put into this combination of pathway and meditation. Somehow you’ve taken us on a trip while we all sit, figuratively cross-legged, breathing your clear and often poetic words. I’ve traveled a few similar roads myself, but that’s not the point. You’ve made your own experience universal. That takes almost as much courage as the exploration you so beautifully expressed. A pleasure to meet you!

  8. Betsy Pfau says:

    What a wonderful introduction you have shared with us, Lucinda! So many rich, insightful moments, written so elegantly. “I thought I was going to die, then and there, on a sticky linoleum floor, in a room smelling of old spaghetti.” Dazzling!

    I spent my formative years trying to be an actress, without too much success. It is difficult to escape the bounds of self, but we tried. I appreciate your cheating efforts.

    I look forward to reading much more of your writing in the weeks ahead. And welcome to our group.

  9. John Zussman says:

    Wow, Lucinda! Talk about baring your soul! And your third-from-last paragraph just about took my breath away.

    I have felt exactly the same way for some of the same reasons. After my father died, leaving three of us younger than ten, my mother would not tolerate a negative word, a negative thought. Lying became second nature. It took me years to begin to admit feeling angry or down. Thank you for so eloquently expressing what so many of us feel, and welcome to Retrospect.

  10. John Shutkin says:

    I wish I could say something original in praise of your story, but all our brilliant Retro colleagues have denied me that chance. And, as you know from your life of art, there are few greater forms of cheating than stealing someone else’s ideas. (Though, to be fair, it can be a slippery slope between that and paying homage.)

    But I will say, in my own words, what a masterful piece this is. The thoughts are profound and the way you have expressed them, somehow also perfectly evoking such less than profound concepts as the smell of a high school cafeteria), is absolutely lyrical. (Sorry — I had to steal that; it was the only word that fit.)

    And finally, and at least as importantly, is what this says about you. As you might put it (if too modest to admit it), you have ridden the elephant.

    • Pshaw, John, I blush. Thank you. I was inspired by all of you and delighted to be part of this lovely gathering.
      The quote is, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal,” though the provenance is lost in the mists of time. So go ahead. Steal.
      By our age, we have all had the gift of “feeling the sway of the elephant’s shoulders.” We need to hold it dear.

      So, now onto those Hotels and other dives. Best, and good to get to know you.

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