I get Ben Carson’s deal. He wants to be a badass in the worst way.

And when his actual life story didn’t score enough badass points, he gave it a little more juice, moving himself from spectator to perpetrator, wisher to doer. For most people, being a world class brain surgeon would probably be badass enough but not for Dr. Carson. He had to have come from a really rugged, dangerous place, overcome a lot more than the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) and 24-hour shifts as a resident. That would be plenty badass for me, working around the clock, saving lives, drinking black coffee, sleeping on a cot in the supply closet like Dr. Kildare. And then there was the separating of the conjoined twins. Super badass in my book.

But I have to admit, it would be even more badass if Dr. Carson had really tried to stab someone when he was a teenager. If that’s true, then, well, look what this man overcame to be extraordinary. He could have been a hoodlum! A thug! It was right there, the big fork in the road, he could have gone down that terrible path but no! something pulled him back and he went on to glory. That is some high level badassmanship.

Author Mary Karr, a badass of some record (The Liars Club and Lit), talks about the vagaries of memory in her book, The Art of Memoir. The truth is elastic, she says, insofar as the meaning of an event is known by different people in different ways. And because of those different ‘takes’ on the same experience, some parts are accentuated more than others for each participant. In the end, it makes a single event into several different mind movies. Someone yearning for higher badass status can exploit these multiple slices of the same reality. It’s easy enough to do.

People indulge this behavior with memoir, a genre dense with mostly true stories. It’s only when the memoir goes seriously fictional that people get upset. Remember James Frey and A Million Little Pieces, an extraordinary memoir about addiction and treatment that ended up being fiction? Author Frey was kicked out of Oprah’s Book Club. That’s big.

Ben Carson isn’t a memoirist although the story about his attempt to stab another teenager is told in his autobiography. He uses it to anchor his badass credentials and to show that he still has the ability to throw down when push comes to shove. Men love this stuff and, apparently, so do some politicians. It’s a risky business, though.

Mary Karr has a caution for badass addiction which I think Ben Carson and the rest of us who might get caught up in the irresistible urge to be a badass ought to consider. Here’s what she says:

“But whether you’re a memoirist or not, there’s a psychic cost for lopping yourself off from the past: it may continue to tug on you without your being aware of it. And lying about it can – for all but the most hardened sociopath – carve a lonely gap between your disguise and who you really are. The practiced liar also projects her own manipulative, double-dealing façade onto everyone she meets, which makes moving through the world a wary, anxious enterprise. It’s hard enough to see what’s going on without forcing yourself to look through the wool you’ve pulled over your own eyes.” (The Art of Memoir, p.12)

A therapist once said to me, “you are who you pretend to be,” a useful device for getting me to amp up my confidence, wear higher heels and buy a new car without a male companion but ultimately a mask of the real message which was to “be who you really are and don’t be afraid you aren’t good enough.”

It might be too late for Dr. Carson to see the difference but I figured it out right away and I’m glad I did.