I’m surprised no one’s yet mentioned his story, in the above-named collection, “Between the Conceits,” whose opening line is “There are only eight people in London and fortunately I am one of them.” Great story; very strange.
The collection is called “Grey Area.”
I’ve known for a long time that most people aren’t real. I would estimate the number of real people a little higher than 500 though, given the number I’ve met.
I’d say it’s between 1 in 20 and 1 in 5. The concentration of reals was quite a bit higher in college than out here in the so called real world.
I’ve never had any luck creating people though. Scylla, if you’ve got a few moments free could you cause a woman fitting the following to come into my life? Intelligent, available, non-religious, beautiful, light brown eyes, dark blonde hair (probably just a little longer than shoulder length), between 5’6" and 6’, sexy, night person, light (even pale) complexion, average or thin body type, loves music, likes cats, slightly crazy. Preferably named “Sarah”. Fill in other details as you see fit.
Oh, and please +/- 5 years of my age, 23.
Come here, Scylla. You sit down next to me on the sofa, we’ll put the blankie across our knees and I’ll read you a story. It’s a really good one. You can look at the pictures and help me turn the pages. Yeah, it has some scary parts near the end, but everything works out ok. Ready?
There was once a Velveteen Rabbit, and in the beginning, he was really splendid…
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day…
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
Actually, I think that the people and things I love are what make ME a real person, not the other way around.
A guy calling himself “TheNerd” has THIS laundry list? Hey, maybe you’d better scale it back to, “likes dorks.”
I mean Dr. Johnson refuted the theory of the unreality by kicking a stone, but I can’t go around kicking my roommates. Or my professors. Besides, maybe my foot’s unreal anyway.
- Margaret Atwood, The Edible Woman
That little old Polish lady who walks her chihuahua in my alley lost her whole family in the camps. She is the last one, she survived by hiding in sewers, by eating insects & rats, by fucking prisoners and commandants in return for a crust of bread or a shoelace. Every night she dutifully says the names of her parents and brothers and sisters before she goes to bed.
That short-order cook who made my pancakes has a baby girl he thinks is the most beautiful creature in the whole world - sometimes he’s scared to touch her because she might break, and he doesn’t understand how ended up here, a father, in a foreign country, making my pancakes.
The driver of the eL train contemplates suicide every night. Sometimes he wants to kill himself - he fantasizes about not stopping the train at the next station, not stopping it ever until all of his pain goes away.
The bank teller who cashed your paycheck gets down on her hands and knees every night and scrubs her kitchen floor with a toothbrush because she’s afraid of the germs. All day while she’s counting your money and making line entries, she’s thinking about the germs at home. There are circles under her pretty eyes, and you tell her she should get more sleep.
Your parish priest really wanted to be a jazz musician, but his calling was strong enough to overcome even the pull of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. At night he plays jazz and sips bourbon from a flask until the music and the liquor and the glory of God make him weep.
Your mother has always wanted to be an poet. She writes poems in secret, agonizing over each word and comma, not showing them to you or anyone - when you ask her what she did today she’ll tell you about everything (laundry, saw a movie, paid bills, walked the dog) but the poetry. The poetry is the most important thing in your life.
There is a man in the hospital. He is old, he is dying, the nurses must treat him almost as if he is a baby. “And how are we doing today? Would we like some jello?” When they bathe him and dress him he weeps silently from the humiliation of it. When they leave him alone, with the TV muted in the background, he remembers his comrades from the War and the French peasant girl he lost his virginity to in the woods.
People are real. All those cardboard cut-outs, the supporting players in your life, hum with life, with passions, with regrets, with pain, with humiliations, with dreams. They are real. See it.
Scylla, you don’t play the violin, do you?
My reality is music. Everyone has a theme; some are louder, some softer…and some are rests. When I pay attention to a theme, it becomes more clear, but not more real. Even the rests are real, although I find them boring.
Even the land around me has a theme–rocks and trees and animals have their own notes. Maybe (OK, you see it coming, but I have to deliver it) you just need to find the right “rock music”.
Yes, I know. It just doesn’t always seem that way. That’s why I wrote it.
Excellent post, magdalene.
I had figured somebody would have said “they are all real,” by now.
Maggie came pretty close. Maybe I was too obtuse, but I’m surprised that answer didn’t occur to be anybody else strongly enough to post it.
Back in the 80s, I noticed that certain people would show up again after not having been around. These were people that I often didn’t know well and I had no reason to see them again. But they’d pop up from time to time. In a crowd, on the street, at a party… I wondered then if maybe there were only a few “real” people and if maybe the rest were “extras”.
Actually, this seems to be a pretty common thing. Most of my friends and I had this same feeling when we were growing up. I also thought that there were construction crews building scenery when I wasn’t around to witness it.
I had the opposite problem, actually – I felt that everyone was real except me. But this is as real as it gets, bub.
Magdalene your post gave me the chills.
The problem is, everyone might be real, but how many of them are worth knowing?
And I can’t beleive no one said it before:
[matrix voice] Take the RED pill [/matrix voice]
Scylla, they’re not cardboard cut-outs. They just don’t have souls. That is what I used to think when I was a youngster. I thought that God only had so many souls (like 500) and whoever didn’t have one was just an extra, cardboard person. I remember going through my yearbook in like 7th grade or so and red X-ing the ones who had no souls. The ratio was like 1:25 IIRC.
In Sharyn McCrumb’s “Zombies of the Gene Pool” there’s a character who was heavily influenced by an SF story she read as an adolescent (I can’t remember the title of that story, or if it was real or McCrumb’s invention). The premise of the story was that there were only so many real people in the world, the rest were just robots to complete the world for the real people. Even as an adult she would find herself thinking, “Well, she isn’t real” when stuck behind silly bimboes* at the salad bar.
*Speaking of bimboes, “Zombies of the Gene Pool” is the sequel to “Bimboes of the Death Sun”.
You know what disturbs me?
I travelled a lot for a long period of time. Never stayed anywhere more than a couple of months. But wherever I went, I was sure to recognize faces on the street. As if Central Casting was running out of extras, and they had to reuse some of them, knowing I might notice…
Anyhow, Robert Heinlein wrote a great short story on this very theme. It’s called “They”. It was anthologized in The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag which actually has a few interesting approaches to the same topic.
Well, magdalene’s post was very eloquent. However, I’m pretty sure magdalene doesn’t know my mother (or Scylla’s mother), or Scylla’s parish priest (I don’t even have a parish priest). She can’t possibly know all of those things about those people. In other words, most (all?) of those heartbreaking, humanizing details of other people’s lives–passions, regrets, pains, humiliations, dreams–about which she so movingly wrote were…
[sub](I’m not really a solipsist, though.)[/sub]