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Who is real? Me or them?

Descartes, by Frans Hals

Back in the 17th century, the French philosopher Descartes wrote “Cogito, ergo sum”, which is Latin for “I think, therefore I am.” He did a lot of thinking, this French man – and in particular, I suspect, as he lay on his deathbed in a freezing and unwelcoming Stockholm. His thoughts at the time would probably have been “why was I such an idiot as to come here?” Even in his extremis, however, Descartes would have known he existed – after all, he was still thinking, no matter how rambling his thoughts.

These days, our thoughts are not sufficient confirmation of our existence. We require other people – even total strangers – to verify that we’re around. We post on FB and hope someone will like our post. We tweet just to make sure people know we are there. The fact that we’re tweeting about totally mundane things such as “I just had coffee” is neither here nor there. We write posts on our blogs and hope someone will stop by, maybe even leave a comment (Yes please: remember, you’re dealing with a frail 21st century soul who has existential angst. Or not ;)) Likes, tweets, comments – indications that we do exist.

Ahem. I am pretty sure I exist anyway. If I pinch my calf it hurts, should I pass by a mirror, I can catch my reflection. Having said that, I am pretty sure my invented characters exist as well – I mean I have long, fulfilling conversations with all of them in my head. So maybe I don’t exist – at least not to a larger extent than Matthew Graham and his wife Alex does. Such thoughts make my head ache.

One day, we will all die. Hopefully we will leave a larger legacy behind than posts on FB and thousands of tweets. Hopefully, we will have left our mark on flesh-and-blood people because we have interacted with them in real time. We have hopefully hugged them, laughed with them, walked through summer twilights with them, lain on our back and studied the stars with them. You can’t do any of those things on FB – or on a blog. You can merely attempt to describe the experience. Weirdly enough, I can definitely do all of those things with my invented characters. There I am, peeking over the shoulder as Matthew cradles his new-born child. Or standing very still in the shadows, not knowing quite how to comfort a weeping Alex as she strokes her husband over his head. Which begs the question: do they exist?

R&R webstampAt times, my invented characters have the same sense of disorientation – like when Alex is plagued by far too vivid dreams

Alex struggled back into the light, and the man holding her was solid under her hands, his concerned eyes a gold-flecked green in the light of the candle he had lit.
“Aye, Matthew, that’s me, lass.”
Alex struggled to sit, her sweat-drenched shift sticking to her skin. Matthew handed her a mug of cider, helping her to hold it steady. She blinked, trying to clear her mind of the fragmented images of Isaac. Jesus, I’m going insane, she thought. She drained the mug and with trembling hands began to undo the laces of her chemise.
“Let me,” Matthew said. He got her out of the sopping garment, and found a towel to pat her dry with, sitting with her shivering, naked body on his lap. She curled into him, her arms tight around his neck, and he ran his warm hands up and down her bare skin, crooning her name in a hoarse, breaking voice.
“I’m not sure,” she groaned. “Are you for real? Or are you the dream?”
“I’m no dream,” he whispered back, “nor am I a ghost. I’m here, now, and so are you. It’s the others that don’t exist, Alex. It is them that are the dream.”
“A nightmare,” she said against his chest, “not a dream, never a dream. A black hole of loneliness. An absolute freezing emptiness.”
“Ah, lass.” Matthew kissed the top of her head and gathered her to him. Alex needed him even closer, pulling at his shirt, his breeches in a frenzied attempt to get at his skin, his warmth.

When we die, the legacy we leave behind are the memories we created in other people. Once the people who remember us are gone, we become one in thousands upon thousands of previous existences, one grey shade in a silent crowd. But we did exist, right? We believed, we loved, we struggled to make sense of our lives.

“So do we,” Alex tells me. “Every day, we go on with the task of living.” She gives me a smile. “Feeling maudlin today?”
“Somewhat.” I smile back at this my imaginary (or not) friend, complete in skirts and bodice, a neat white collar and a cap. Alex sits down beside me and takes my hand. Yup, I can feel her taking my hand. I obviously am delusional – or gifted with a very vivid imagination.
“When you die, we will still be around,” she tells me.
“And that is supposed to make me feel better?” I ask her, feeling a spurt of jealousy that my characters will know immortal life (well…) while my life-span is restricted by the biological events of birth and death.
“It makes me feel better.” Alex grins. “Seems sort of fair, given all the stuff you put me and Matthew through.”
“I don’t put you through anything! Your lives just sort of happen.”
“Really?” Alex doesn’t even try to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. Okay, okay. I like my books to be packed full of action and love and adventure and emotional drama and historical events and… I clasp Alex’s hand, and she squeezes back. We sit like that for some time. “If you kill him, I will drive you crazy,” she says. “Literally.” Alex gnaws at her lip.
“I can’t…” I break off. I was about to add ‘promise anything’, but the look in Alex’s dark blue eyes has me swallowing them back.
“My Matthew doesn’t die,” she hisses. “Ever!” She throws a look to her right, and we both sort of shiver as we catch sight of the huddled shape that is Matthew. Poor, poor Matthew. The things he goes through in Revenge and Retribution… “I swear. I will haunt you every moment of your life if you let him die.” The expression on Alex’s face makes me realise this is no empty threat.
“I’ll do what I can,” I say with a sigh. No need to tell her killing Matthew would be the equivalent of breaking my heart in two. No need for her to know just how much I love this tall man with hazel eyes and dark eyes, this man who loves her (AAAGH!) so completely, who holds to convictions and integrity no matter the cost. Alex laughs softly beside me.
“Silly,” she murmurs. “I can hear all your thoughts just as well as you can hear mine.”
“Oh.” I blush.
“He’s mine,” she tells me. As if in response, the huddled shape in the periphery of my mental eye raises his head. Matthew may be bloodied and bruised, he may look like a train or two ran him over, but when he smiles at his wife, it’s like seeing the sun break through a dark thunder cloud. And just like that, Alex is no longer by my side. She is running like the wind towards her man.

On July 1, the next instalment of The Graham Saga, Revenge and Retribution becomes available. I have done my best to keep Matthew safe and sound – but sometimes my best is not enough.

Find my books on Amazon US or Amazon UK

For a brief, visual introduction to The Graham Saga, why not watch my trailer?

Should you by now be salivating with need to READ my books, do not fear: I am offering a giveaway – one paperback, one Kindle. All you have to do is leave a comment and let me know if you are one hundred percent certain you exist!


19 thoughts on “Who is real? Me or them?”

  1. I’m just here to reassure you that you ARE real, Anna. And our books are a form of immortality. Think of Homer, Sophocles, Cicero, Chaucer, Shakespeare, all those 19th century novelists. ..Immortal.

  2. I would love to purchases your latest book in Kindle format, as I have the previous 5. Any reason it is not available? I am fairly certain you are real and I am most certainly real! Keep writing!

  3. We as writers communicate through written words. So are we any more real on FB or twitter than in our stories? It’s all a representation of persona – in one place, it’s the face we want people to see, though it’s only a partial glimpse at best; in another it’s the characters we create – which, after all, are extensions of ourselves. I write, therefore I am. I breathe, therefore I am. I sing, dance, walk, shout, laugh, therefore I am. One day I’ll no longer do any of those things, but someone somewhere will, for a little while at least, remember that I was.

  4. Clever, Anna. Are you a philosophy major?
    I hope Alex is real. Carina told me she was gong to invite her over. ;-)

    Seriously, our minds and our imagination make us real. End of. It is then a further privilege to be able to hand the products of them to another generation for continuing discussion, just as Descartes seems to have done…

    1. Alex is utterly thrilled at the thought of meeting Carina. Maybe they can discuss their common taste in men with hazel eyes…
      If our minds and our imaginations make us real, then where does all that go when someone dies? See? I am in an existential mode lately!

  5. I’m sure we all exist. How lucky to be a writer, since you will live on forever, through your work, and in the eyes of all who read it! I have read several of your books and look forward to reading more.
    Speaking of living on, that portrait of Descartes bears an uncanny resemblance to an ex from many,many years ago!

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