“Belief” or “Truth”

“So, hey, did you find your phone?”

Evan glanced up from his hand of playing cards. “My…? Oh, no, it’s still missing.” He sighed. “I can’t think where I could have laid it down.”

“Oh.” Oliver frowned. “That’s weird. So who were you talking to?”

“When?”

“A little while ago, when I was grabbing the game from the other room. It sounded like about half a conversation, so…”

“Oh, that.” Evan smiled in remembrance. “I was talking to my Author.”

“Your what?”

“Well,” Evan amended, “your Author, too. Everybody’s Author.”

“You don’t seriously believe in that Author stuff, do you?” Oliver said incredulously.

“Certainly I do. You don’t?”

“Of course not.” Oliver slapped a card on the table and reshuffled the deck. “Some invisible girl in the sky who wrote the world into existence? That’s ridiculous.”

“How so, ridiculous?” Evan asked. “Where do you think we came from, just spontaneously sprung up off the page?”

Oliver shrugged. “Could’a happened. Like, y’know, there’s mysterious imaginative ether, and stuff.”

“Whose imagination?” Evan pressed

“The collective imagination,” Oliver pronounced. “We all imagine ourselves; a basic matter of mass self-belief.”

“I see.” Evan fingered his cards, expression thoughtful. “But what about before we have the cognitive function of make-belief? How do infants exist?”

“Easy. The rest of us believe in them for them, until they’re old enough to believe in themselves.”

“Sweet of us. So who was it who believed in the first babies?”

“Their parents, of course.”

“And where did the parents come from? Were they never babies?”

“Uh…” Oliver squinted at the wall, reviewing the math he’d set up for himself. “Well, look, nobody knows how it got started…”

“I do,” said Evan, setting down a pair of cards. “The Author wrote them, just as she wrote you and me.”

Oliver shook his head. “I don’t buy it. There’s just not enough evidence.”

Evan’s eyebrows rose. “You don’t think this is evidence?”

“What?”

“This dialogue. Our words appearing between quotation marks. The narration around them. It all smacks of Authorship!”

“There’s an explanation for that,” Oliver said vaguely.

“Is there likewise an explanation,” said Evan, “for how I’ve met the Author personally? How we’ve talked together, and laughed together, and how wholly adored I feel whenever she speaks my name?”

“Delusion?” Oliver offered.

Evan looked at him. “Why is my belief a delusion, while your belief is all that bars you from nonexistence? How is any one belief better than any other, unless one of those beliefs is truth? And if we’re dealing with a matter of truth, than what difference does anyone’s belief make?”

“Belief in something makes it true,” Oliver insisted.

“You obviously don’t believe that,” said Evan, “or you’d believe that my belief in the Author makes her true.”

“Yeah… well…” Oliver set his cards down in annoyance. “You know, you are really overcomplicating this.”

“I’ve been trying to simplify it. The truth is very simple: The Author wrote us – is writing us right now! – and will continue to do so until story’s end.”

“If the Author’s so all-powerfully awesome, why would she waste her time writing stories about fictional nobodies?” Oliver challenged.

Card Hand

Smiling, Evan answered, “Because she doesn’t count it a waste. This is what she loves. We are what she loves. And it would please her no end to have you love her, too, as I do.”

“Yeah, well,” Oliver grumbled, “she doesn’t talk to me, does she?”

Evan laughed. “She talks to you all the time! She talks to everything – even inanimate objects, to which she’ll temporarily assign personalities. She likes imaginative role-play. But we are more than a game to her. We are her characters. Her children. Her greatest creation, and her heart’s delight.”

“Then why does she let bad things happen to us?” Oliver demanded. “If you’re so much to her, why did she let you lose your phone?”

“I’d wondered that,” Evan admitted. “In my frustration over the loss, I asked her that myself.”

“Yeah? And what was her answer?”

“She wouldn’t tell me.”

“Ha!”

“But from the other room, you heard me asking,” said Evan. “And now here we are. I think that may be my answer: A plot device to bring you nearer to believing the truth.” Evan chuckled, and spoke as if to the air, “Clever Author.”

“Imagination”

One of my favorite TV shows during the early ‘90s was “Barney and Friends”. (Actually, the addition of a baby sister gave me an excuse to spend a good bit of time with the dinosaur sensation in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, too. I’ve never been in any hurry to grow up.) Nowadays, my list of gripes against the show is rather lengthy – in a nutshell, the quality of the production rolled steadily downhill, over the seasons – but early on, I had only two. Firstly, Barney was not my idea of purple; according to my extensive collection of colored pencils, Barney was, at best, magenta. Secondly, I felt that there was some false advertising going on when it came to the powers of imagination.

            The premise of the show was stated for all to hear in the theme song: “Barney is a dinosaur from our imagination…” A bunch of kids hanging around after school could make their little stuffed dinosaur come to life just by pretending that he did, and the gang would then go on to have approximately half-an-hour’s worth of imagination-centric fun. One of the videos that I recollect viewing with some frequency involved Barney and the kids transporting to a castle where, among other plot points I’ve since forgotten, they held a race in costumes that made it look like they were mounted on horses. I was all for castles and horses, but I found it incredulous that a brief incantation of the phrase “Shimboree, shimborah!” could actually bring about such an adventure. Wasn’t it a bit unethical of Barney to get people’s hopes up like that?

            Well, it took me a few years, but I’ve finally figured out what was going on: The program was not, in fact, showing what the characters were literally experiencing – it was letting the kids watching at home see what was presumably going on inside the characters’ heads. No, Little Danielle, no one was really racing around a castle, or making it cycle though spring all the way to winter in a single afternoon, or making a jungle appear on the playground. They were only pretending. Extra-visually.

            This seems like a non-secret I ought to have understood a little better. My “ability or tendency to form a mental image of something that is neither perceived as real nor present to the senses” (if I may splice definitions 1a and 1c of the word) has ever been enormously active. The games I loved best were made up of me, the sister three years my junior, the few dozen people each that we pretended to be, and the usually impossible escapades of these aforementioned people and their talking cats and space alien fathers. Were sister and I really splitting off into all these different bodies, harboring orphans in our backyards, filming movies with Scooby-Doo, and playing gigs with the Backstreet Boys? Obviously not. But it sure did look like it through our eyes, didn’t it?

            In one sense, the power of imagination is not particularly impressive. It does not cause actual cities to materialize out of thin air, or literally teleport you halfway around the world, or otherwise allow you to legitimately act as some sort of regional god. But in another sense, it’s absolutely astounding. It gives architects the visions which, after much time and money and labor, become everything from a one-story ranch house to a multi-level skyscraper. It inspires explorers to want to see what’s beyond the horizon, which spawns the invention of ways to get there – sailing ships, steam engines, space shuttles. No, you still don’t get to be God; the creator of the world gets deity rights, that’s the rule. But with a little imagination, you can create worlds of your own. As many of them as you like. You can even make a career of sharing those worlds with the habitants of this one, a la my personal goal.

            He may not have known purple from magenta, but when it came to imagination, Barney had the right idea.