Is This Real?

Have you ever been watching TV or reading a novel and found yourself talking to the characters?  “Stop!” you shout. “You’re making a big mistake.” Your spouse or roommate laughs and says, “Relax. It’s not real.”

Is that true, though?  Because your heart raced. You felt it. And your mind formed the words to speak, assuming they could help. And for just a moment, you believed.

The greatest compliments I receive as a writer are when people ask me what happened to one of my characters after the book ended. “I’ve been worrying about Maggie and Colin for a week,” one woman said after reading Remember Wake. “Did their lives turn out okay?” I told her I wanted to think so, but I couldn’t be sure. After all, they weren’t “real.”

On the flip side, a few months ago I attended a photography exhibit by Richard Renaldi called “Touching Strangers.” The photographer had approached strangers on the street and asked them to pose together. If I were a cynic, I might have responded to those pictures in this way: “Ah, those people are faking it. They are just acting that way because of the camera.” And there might be some truth in that statement. Some of those people maybe were behaving better or acting up more because a camera was present.

In other words, sometimes art works the opposite way. Sometimes it takes real people and makes us behave in a fictitious manner. Sometimes we determine the direction of the story.

And that is what I love about art. It blurs the lines. It creates alternate realities. It makes us believe the impossible and question the facts. Looking at a picture of a tranquil setting brings our stress levels down. Watching a horror movie revs our nervous system up. Reading a challenging book makes us question our long-held opinions or value systems. Hearing a poem about love lingering after death stirs our souls. These reactions are true. Art is as real as we make it.

Now, more than ever, we need our artists to help create our new reality by challenging our outdated beliefs, by stirring our emotions, by bringing us together and even driving us apart. Now, we need your art and your stories. It’s time.