My ability to differentiate between reality and imaginary has always been questionable. My childhood was a test of my parents’ patience and endurance, peppered with invisible friends, the She-ra incident*, and a fantasy life so vivid people never knew when I was telling the truth or my truth.
I haven’t really ever outgrown this, though now I write my invisible friends’ stories on paper and try not to flinch when I have to refer to it as fiction.
Sometimes the boundary line blurs a bit.
Last night was comprised of NOsleep and THUNDERstorms. The first can be blamed on finishing my first revision pass on my WIP. I’d done a little I-love-this-book dance, E-mailed it to my first reader, then panicked. I wanted it back. What if it wasn’t loved? What if I wanted to change something? But mostly I missed it.
I trudged up to bed feeling achy, not just because of the ear-infection-that-won’t-end, but because I’d sent my story out and it didn’t feel as much mine anymore. I couldn’t protect it.
That’s when the THUNDERstorms began.
I tried to ignore them. Three hours later I was still trying to ignore them, but now the corners of the room looked ominous and the slumbering-puggle-breath on my calf was making me twitchy.
I surrendered to 4:30 AM and decided to start my day with elliptical-hour and a new book.
Sleep-deprivation smears that real/imaginary boundary. I don’t think the ear-infection vertigo or the new antibiotics help either. And the book**…
It clung in my head all day, wisps of plot/characters floating up as I set about going through the motions of pretending to be rested and mentally present.
I came home and dove on it – spending the after work hours intermittently dozing and reading; finishing my nap and the book as the sky began to darken.
But I didn’t feel like I could completely wake or disengage. I was disoriented – the world was settling down as I was getting up and St. Matt wanted my attention while I wanted to retreat and contemplate.
“Too bad it’s dark and raining, I could use a run.”
“Tiffany, it’s not raining.”
“What?” I wandered out on the porch. He was right. It wasn’t raining. It hadn’t rained. Nothing was wet. Disorientation increased exponentially.
I took a reflection-walk in the non-rain. The book swirling in big arcs through my head, its themes mirroring my sense of disconnection. How much of our reality is imposed versus how much is created? Is one version right and another wrong? Who controls what we see, believe, perceive? And if we’re all experiencing things differently and in so many ways, is it possible to ever understand someone else? Yet we pass judgement on others’ realities all-the-time.
The woman approaching on the sidewalk startled me. I’d been absorbed in my envisioned vs. encountered debate about reality and hadn’t heard her– despite the fact that she was juggling two panting doggies and their corresponding *ahem* baggies.
“Hi,” I nodded and smiled and she mirrored my actions, passing by with a tug on the leashes.
If it weren’t for the slight twist of her head and the side of amused grin, I might have remained oblivious, but I caught her second glance and looked down.
I’m wearing pajamas. More specifically, bright blue pajama pants decorated with palm-sized cartoon reindeer.
Awareness rushed back in with a flood of blood to my cheeks. And riding on the tide of embarrassment came clarity too.
Reality is both envisioned AND encountered. Maybe in my case, the imaginary paints with a more dominant stroke, but I’m okay with it. As long as I keep a tangential grasp on the facts – i.e. we no longer set a place at the dinner table for Harvey – I’m okay with believing my world is how I create it. Believing that people are good, that happily ever after is achievable, and that miracles happen. I’m okay with ignoring the times that these beliefs have been proven wrong and believing that what lies ahead is as wondrous as the stories within my head.
And wearing pajamas for a stroll around the neighborhood? I’m okay with that too. Even if they’re Christmas ones and even if it’s June.
*This deserves a blog post of its own someday
** No, I’m not telling which book. But I hope you’re lucky enough to experience it someday soon.
On Twitter today I noticed this acronym: IRL. At first I thought it was a typo for URL, and then using my best teacherly context clues, I decoded it: In Real Life.
But as writers, don’t we have a different definition of real life than others do?
It’s not always my house in Pennsylvania, my mischievous puggles, or my saintly husband that seem the most real to me. I’ll go for a writing-run and come home not knowing which Doylestown roads I paced down, but with images of fictitious East Lake blurring past my footsteps.
There are days I’ll shave the same leg twice and emerge from the shower with my head still sudsy but full of conversation between my protagonist and her love.
Yesterday I looked up from writing – and just a blog, not even TBALMCSAP – and turned to St.Matt and said, “Hey, if you want to go for a run, you should go before it gets dark and then we’ll do dinner.”
“Tiffany, it is dark. I already ran and I cooked dinner. I ate sitting right next to you, don’t you remember?”
I didn’t. But should I admit that?
Should I confess that sometimes the settings, people, and stories in my head seem more realistic than the ones playing around me in 3-dimensions? That chasing Distraction-Fairy-Jace to Idris taints my dreams and re-directs my thoughts until I find myself surprised not to find runes carved on my own skin? Or that my kiddos’ discussions about the characters in Angie Sage’s Magyk infiltrates their math class, recess talk, and casual conversation until we’re all wishing for a cat/duck or a messenger rat? That I broke my heart and sobbed early morning tears for my main character but rolled my eyes at the co-worker drama that unfolded a few hours later?
I’ve always struggled with this – the real versus the envisioned. My imaginary friends required places at the dinner table and had an alarming habit of ducking out of the way so my dad had to make at least three attempts before he could nail them with goodnight kisses. I caused a minor scandal at the grocery store when my five-year-old self started bawling and screaming at the shopper who’d hit Harvey with her cart.
The bewildered woman looked around, “But I didn’t feel anything. Where is he?”
“He’s around the corner crying and bleeding,” I bawled and the woman went wide-eyed and white faced.
My mother, frantic at the sound of my howls, then embarrassed as she tried to reassure the terrified, apologetic shopper she hadn’t run-over my younger brother, lashed out: “Tiffany Allison, Harvey is NOT REAL. He’s imaginary. You MADE HIM UP.”
If I’d been the recipient of the cart collision, it couldn’t have hurt more than those words.
But it didn’t stop me from making things up – from creating, imagining, and living dual lives: one corporal, one mental.
It’s possible I’m alone in this. Doubtful, but possible. Even if I were,, however, I wouldn’t feel lonely. How could I? There are stories to live and create, both IRL and IMH.