“I’m not strange, weird, off, nor crazy, my reality is just different from yours.” Everyone. Internet. 2020.
My brazen plunge into a fictional existence began in August 2019 when a fellow wanderer I worked with and befriended told me that the world was falling apart. Like some wayward prophet he described feeling it plucking at his nerves, a livewire held there. Impending doom.
Our short friendship lasted a few months. In that time I watched him spiral from a Zen-like nomad into a self-medicated wreck. Alcohol, marijuana, he overindulged to the point of mindless wanderings into the woods. He would disappear for days on end.
The day before he left, he admitted he had problems. Deeper, mental imbalances. We knew as much. I’d helped as best as I could. Encouraged any flirtations he made with stability in his life. We shared interests, had a similarly twisted sense of humor. In a perfect world, we’d have stayed friends.
By the time he left though, he’d lost touch with reality. He could sense the strain he put on the relationships he’d made. In a moment of lucidity, he asked to meet and explain why he had to leave.
He’d been down this path before. The chaos wreaking havoc on his mind would pit him against the ones he loved. I tried to get him to seek help. Asked if he had family. He assured me his brother would come to pick him up the next day. Before sunrise, he’d left.
He’d arrived on his bike, a backpack, tent, and fishing pole, his only possessions. He’d ridden up and down the coast, never staying anywhere long. He scavenged. Dumpster dove. Foraged.
Most of this he took with him, but at his campsite, he left behind the few bulky items one wouldn’t want on a long distance bike ride. I doubt his brother ever came. I have reason to doubt he even existed.
Before he left, he made sure to tell me to stay safe. Me. As we talked inside the sheltered walls of my fully decked out motorhome.
“Something is coming. I can feel it. A live wire jammed against my nerves. The world is going to get crazy soon. Be careful.”
Even when he said it, I couldn’t dismiss his concerns. The political situation had spiraled out of control. Riots. Talks of impeachment. People snapping up guns like the apocalypse was nigh. I wanted to assure him this was part of the mental struggles he’d admitted to. I couldn’t.
That very month, unknown to the world, the Coronavirus had begun to infiltrate Wuhan.
Years before, we all got so used to saying how it was getting hard to tell the difference between the news and The Onion. How we ended up living in a Simpson’s episode. The trend was disturbing but more meme-worthy than action-worthy. Besides, the problems seemed so large, so intractable, what was there to be done but snark on?
Then a fucking trope came to life last year. A wise drifter who warned me of calamity and disappeared.
And I’m begging for you to tell me it was all bullshit because separating fiction from reality has full-on jumped the shark.
Somehow, we’ve gone post-satire. An alternate universe where fiction becomes truth. As a lover and writer of the art of speculative storytelling, this has wrecked my ability to do my job.
I carry a business card, one I made years ago which has my name, contact information, and a little slogan: “Making shit up since 1974.” ’74 being my date of birth. Whimsical, fun, the implication that I always had this daemon of fiction inside me.
Somehow, it escaped.
This isn’t an isolated incident. In 2012, I sold a short story where the protagonist lived in a near-future America. A war in Iran spurred on by a far-right administration had nearly caused a third world war and the U.S. broke into three entities, their only cross-border industry? Sale of firearms.
2019 I started the Ace Grant series. An urban Fantasy that shined an unapologetic light on American history, particularly the racial divides we experience. Not long after, George Floyd was murdered and the Black Lives Matter movement exploded.
There’ve been more breaches with reality. Buried in the pages of Crimson Son. Other short fiction.
I’m not claiming responsibility for any of these events, just an outsized share of the guilt. Writing close to the pulse of any living thing, a mirror held in front of the mouth, you’re bound to catch the breath. That’s the whole point. Yet fiction, the spark of life growing in my breast since a crawled toward the light of the world has evolved into a weapon, a twisted shaper of the real in service of a new master.
Constantly watching my worst speculations materialize takes a toll. When the fiction approaches you in the flesh, unbidden and fully clothed in reality? That’s a whole new level.
We’ve all felt it. Not just me.
The internet has become this perfect portal for outright fabrication and lies. A tool meant to free us with infinite wisdom, instead an oracle in the pay of shadowy forces. As a creator of fiction, it’s hard not to feel somehow to blame.
I realize this elevates my self-importance meter off the charts. I’ll let the innocent in the world of the viral selfie cast the first stone.
Post-truth is a phrase we’ve all heard often. The idea I struggle with most though is are we post-fiction? Has my tongue-in-cheek Fictional Work become Life?
Despite the disintegration of reality, I am writing. You’ve seen my recent blog articles here. In the future, I may put most of the non-fiction over on Medium and reserve this space for efforts related to my Fictional Work – an attempt at containment.
I just submitted a short story to an upcoming anthology. This isn’t the mad dash, gatekeeper-free self-publishing I’ve been doing for the past seven years. It’s a retreat to a former normalcy. Not in the “Great Again” sense, but in the “please, I’m begging, someone to validate my work or tell me I’m full of shit” sense. The idea that I want to be judged and accept that judgment without rationalizations or spinning off an alternate universe anytime events don’t jive with my opinion.
Folks at home should really give that a go.
You may never see this new story in print and I’m perfectly fine with that. But I sat down in the chaos of this decidedly cowardly new world where we live and hammered out a project from beginning to end.
In the 24 hour cycle of “now fucking what” this is no mean task.
Can I say all this will end soon? That it’s almost over? I don’t know. I haven’t heard from my wise drifter. My fictional year of fictional work may continue into infinity. I might finally write that story about my stolen car. Genre? Hell, I don’t know. That mostly depends on the type of world I want to admit I’m living in right now. My most recent story?