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The Virtual Real

August 23rd, 2012

by Lawrence C. Connolly

I am inspired by the curvature of space. Not necessarily by the vast, physical manner that Einstein postulated early in the last century, but in a more personal, immediately perceivable way. There is something in each of us that allows (and sometimes forces) us to bend the hard-edged realities that we move through and interact with every day.

Fred Astair--ROYAL WEDDING

Surely you’ve experienced this. Fall in love, and the world seems brighter. Smells intensify. The most mundane things become wondrous, and the world’s ugliness melts away. This is the condition that philosopher Slavoj Žižek refers to as the virtual real. It’s what gives Fred Astaire the ability to dance on the ceiling in Royal Wedding, and if you haven’t experience it at least once, you need to get out more often.

The converse happens when we experience pain, whether physical or emotional. On painful days, reality curves like a funhouse mirror, distorting our perceptions so that the ugly things of life become disproportionally large, and beauty and joy shrink or vanish altogether.

I’ve written about such things in a number of stories and novels, and it seems to me that such magical transformations lie at the core of all fantasy—whether it is the kind we encounter in our daily lives or in the worlds of fiction. Thus, when Fantasist Enterprises asked me to ponder where I encounter magic in my daily life, I began wondering where it was that I first realized that my sense of wonder is rooted in the real. That’s the nice thing about writing prompts. They help you discover things you don’t know you know, and I’ve evidently known about the virtual real for quite a while.

Here’s a story.

Levittown, Pennsylvania.

Aerial view of suburban Levittown, Pennsylvania.

I’m nine years old and living in Levittown, Pennsylvania, sitting around with my friends Tommy and Tommy. We’re sitting on the sidewalk outside one of our houses. It doesn’t matter whose house because the houses are all the same in Levittown, just as all the mothers and fathers and siblings and pets are all the same. Just like Tommy and Tommy are the same. There’s not much variety or excitement in that ticky-tacky town circa 1960, but there are Popsicle sticks, and if you rub them just right you can turn them into swords.

We used to chase each other all over the neighborhood with those sharpened sticks, playing Count of Monte Cristo, poking and parrying and pretty much ignoring our moms when they shouted: “You kids are going to jab your eyes out.” We knew that couldn’t happen. Nothing like that ever happened in Levittown. At least, we never imagined it could, and that counted for a lot. See, we lived in a world of imagination.

Here’s another.

TV

Television in the late ’50s and early ’60s was a lot more interactive than it is now. These days, it’s all there for you in a million pixels. Back then, an old black-and-white cathode-ray set with a pair of rabbit-ear antennae was more like radio than television. You couldn’t see for crap when the reception was good. And when it was bad, say when an airplane was going over the house or someone was running a vacuum cleaner, all you got was static.

To give you an idea how bad it was, one of my Tommy friends used to play superman by stripping down to his underpants, tying a sheet around his neck, and drawing an S on his bare chest. I can still hear his mother shouting: “Get in here before you get arrested!”

Back then, I remember thinking that the costume looked pretty authentic. Later, I was surprised to learn that George Reeves had actually been wearing a unitard (a wrinkled one at that), and that the big bullet-repelling S on his pecs was not tattooed directly onto his skin. Somehow, realizing that made him a bit less super.

Likewise, it was years before I really knew what Godzilla or King Kong were supposed to look like, and then I was amazed to discover that the images I’d imagined were so much better, richer, than the ones that were actually in the movies.

So how do these things play into my creative process?

I suppose it’s that my friends and I learned early on to find wonder in sticks and static. We learned that the things we could create on our own were as good as or better than the ready-made wonders the world served up. Knowing that set me on the course to being a guy who bends reality and writes stories.

What awakens my wonder? That’s easy. It’s knowing that I have the ability and license to transform the ordinary.

It’s imagination.

About the Guest Author

Lawrence C. Connolly


Lawrence C. Connolly

Lawrence C. Connolly’s books include the novels Veins (2008) and Vipers (2010), the first two books of the Veins Cycle. Vortex, the third book in the series, is due to be released in 2013. His collections, which include Visions (2009), This Way to Egress (2010), and Voices (2011), collect his stories from Amazing Stories, Cemetery Dance, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Twilight Zone, and Year’s Best Horror.

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