Playing By The Rules

Two of the authors I recently interviewed for next month’s issue – Alice Hoffman and Jonathan Evison – are not only our first returning guests to the magazine, but have also both released novels set in fictional American towns. Hoffman’s The Red Garden is set in Blackwell, Massachusetts, and Evison’s West of Here is staged in Point Bonita, Washington. What’s more, both novels (The Red Garden is actually connected short stories, but it feels like a novel) span at least a century, looking in part at how incident becomes story becomes myth. Both Port Bonita and Blackwell felt as real to me as a fictionalized Seattle or Boston.  Such is the job of all writers, of course, to make wherever our characters roam feel real. It doesn’t matter whether you are writing about Middle Earth, Port Bonita, or Washington D. C., all writers must to some degree straddle what we call real and what we call imaginary.

But this is what human beings must do every day. Look around you. Look at the clothes you are wearing, the table you might be sitting at, the words you’re reading, even the grass if you are outside. We made it all up. Even a mowed lawn was an idea we made reality. Nearly everything we call “real” is actually something that we dreamed up and then somehow constructed. Which is to say, everything in our lives that we call real is only real because we decided it should be real. Language, marriage, cities, laws, countries, buildings. All of it. Human beings quite literally live in their own imaginations.

“And so what?” you may ask. Mostly, nothing. Mostly, we must forget this. It is like the baseball player pausing on his way around second to remind the shortstop that he doesn’t have to catch the ball if he doesn’t want to. We catch the ball and we run the bases because we want to play. But do not be duped when someone beats the drum of reality. It would have been easy to tell the Egyptians that the reality was they would be living in a dictatorship into the foreseeable future. Now that reality appears to be changing.

All of life is like this. Ideas have momentum, and sometimes we cannot see how to turn that momentum, but reality in the end is whatever we say it is. Play the game, by all means, it is fun to do so, but even the Major League Baseball changes its rules sometimes, and so can you.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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