There is a major drawback to being so smart that you can perceive the edges of infinity. It makes you bedbug crazy. I love the science fiction that populated the paperback shelves in the 50’s and 60’s when I was a boy. I love the work of Philip K. Dick. But it leads you to contemplate what is real… what is imaginary… and what is the nature of what will be.
There are numerous ways to investigate life. But it is in the nature of imaginary people to try to find ways to make themselves real. When the replicants in Bladerunner try to make themselves into real people, they must try to create memories that didn’t exist. They try to mirror human life to the extent that they can actually fool the bladerunner into letting them live. Of course, it doesn’t work. They are not real. (Bladerunner is the movie name of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep).
It is like that for me as well. Being an imaginary person is difficult. You have to constantly invent yourself and re-invent yourself. By the time you finally get to know yourself, you have to change again so that the anti-android factions don’t destroy you. Although, I think I may not actually be an android.
Does that sound a bit crazy? Well Philip K. Dick’s life story may in fact have led him down the path to really crazy. In 1971 he broke up with his wife, Nancy Hackett. She moved out of his life, and an amphetamine-abuse bender moved in. In 1972, ironically the year I began reading Dick’s work, he fell in love at the Vancouver Science Fiction Convention. That was immediately followed by erratic behavior, a break-up, and an attempted suicide overdosing on the sedative potassium bromide. This, of course, led directly to his 1977 novel A Scanner Darkly.
The story is about a police detective who is corrupted by a dangerous addictive drug that takes him down the rabbit hole of paranoia, and being assaulted by the perception of multiple realities simultaneously. His novel Ubik from 1969 is a story of psychics trying to battle groups of other psychics even after they are killed by a bomb. The crazy seems to have been building for a while.
In 1974 he had a transcendental experience when a lady delivering medicine to his door wore a fish-shaped pendant which he said shot a pink beam into his head. He came to believe the beam imparted wisdom and clairvoyance, and also believed it to be intelligent. He would later admit to believing he had been reincarnated as the prophet Elijah.
Imagination has its dangers. It is a powerful thing able to transform reality. Science fiction writers often use their imagination to shape what the future will actually make come into being. But it can also turn your mind inside out. A great science fiction writer like Philip K. Dick can contemplate the nature of reality and turn his own reality inside out. It is a lesson for me, a lesson for all of us. Wait, is that a pink beam of light I see? No, I just imagined it.
I often get criticized for talking to people who are basically invisible, probably imaginary, and definitely not real people, no matter what else they may be.
The unfinished cover picture is from the novel The Bicycle-Wheel Genius which I finished the final rewrite and edit for and then published in 2018. All of the characters in that book are fictional. Even though some of them strongly resemble the real people who inspired me to create them, they are fictional people doing fictional and sometimes impossible things. And yet, they are all people who I have lived with as walking, talking, fictional people for many years. Most of those people have been talking to me since the 1970’s. I know some of them far better than any of the real people who are a part of my life.
These, of course, are only a few of my imaginary friends. Some I spend time with a lot. Some I haven’t seen or heard from in quite a while. And I do know they are not real people. Mandy is a cartoon panda bear, and Anneliese is a living gingerbread cookie. I do understand I made these people up in my stupid little head.
But it seems to me that the people in the world around us are really no less imaginary, ephemeral, and unreal. Look at the recently replaced Presidentumb of the Disunited States. He is an evil cartoon James Bond villain if there ever was one.
Animated cast of OUR CARTOON PRESIDENT. Photo: Courtesy of SHOWTIME
People in the real world create an imaginary person in their own stupid little heads, and pretend real hard that that imaginary person is really them in real life. And of course, nobody sees anybody else in the same way that they see themselves. Everybody thinks they are a somebody who is different from anybody else who thinks they are a somebody too, and really they are telling themselves, and each other, lies about who somebody really is, and it is all very confusing, and if you can follow this sentence, you must be a far better reader than I am a writer, because none of it really makes sense to me. I think everybody is imaginary in some sense of the word.
So, if you happen to see me talking to a big white rabbit-man who used to be a pet white rabbit, but got changed into a rabbit-man through futuristic genetic science and metal carrots, don’t panic and call the police. I am just talking to another fictional character from a book I finished writing. And why are you looking inside my head, anyway? There’s an awful lot of personal stuff going on in there. Of course, you only see that because I wrote about it in this essay. So it is not an invasion of privacy. It is just me writing down stuff I probably should keep in my own stupid little head. My bad.
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