What Is Real and What Is Not? Hallucinations, Creativity, and Lives Well-Lived

I rarely read nonfictioschizophrenia-awareness-hallucination-260-70641n, believing that fiction exposes the truths about life and humans better than a scientific approach. One book I inhaled recently, though, was Hallucinations, by neurologist Oliver Sacks. While the book is fascinating on its own, illustrating the phenomenon evidently can be experienced by nearly anyone and caused by birth, injury, drugs, disease, or insomnia, I was especially intrigued by its use in writing and other creative endeavors.

When I took college philosophy and psychology classes, students continually debated the definition and reality of, well, reality. For example, how do I know that the color blue I perceive is the same color blue that you do. In short, how do we know what is real and what is not? Certainly this question slops over into religious faith. Of all the ideas of an afterlife, how can we be sure of heaven, ancestral spirits, Nirvana, or seventy-two virgins?

In short, we can’t. Scientists may have ways to measure, probe, evaluate, but absolute certainty is beyond even them. Throughout Hallucinations, Sacks reiterates the complexity of the causes of hallucinations. The impacts, however, are complex and enthralling. All our five senses can be affected. Because we interpret external sensations for our internal view of life, hallucinations can be a metaphor for all of humanity’s misinterpretations of one another and our values.

War is a prime example. No, let’s take social media as an example. Every simpleton with access to the Internet and the media delivered by it feels perfectly free to state his opinion on every matter under the sun, as rudely as he wishes. While I may believe that Trump’s opinions about immigration deserve no consideration, lots of earnest individuals seem to disagree with me.

Who’s to say who is right and who is wrong? We are able to respond only for ourselves, although we may believe otherwise. If I apply this theorem to writing, I open myself and my work to an infinity of possibilities. Alice in Wonderland, Hunger Games, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Catch-22, every work of fiction is predicated on “what if?” Frequently fantasy and imagination play a big role in creation.

Hallucinations approximate this condition. (I have difficulty distinguishing among hallucination, delusion, and illusion. All seem to be individual responses to what’s out there in the physical world, or reality, as it could be termed. So I’ll just use ‘hallucinations.”) Sacks may not have intended his volume to be a workbook for writers, but that’s one interesting application.

Even more interesting, writing is a way to share our realities. Here are some quotes from famous people that seem true to me, perhaps even real.

  • All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions. Leonardo Da Vinci

  • There is no truth. There is only perception. Gustave Flaubert

  • We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are. Anais Nin

Sadly, Dr. Sacks passed away recently. He left a legacy of his books, insights and thoughts. Sample them at http://www.oliversacks.com/ and http://www.newyorker.com/contributors/oliver-sacks/all/1

The persistence and perversity of synchronicity: how two apparently unrelated books enhance one another and enlighten the reader

sisyphus-2Wow! I think my reading’s affected my vocabulary. But since that’s one of the fun things resulting from challenging books, I won’t complain. I’ll just define the words below.

Recently I picked up two well reputed books. “Travels with Charley: in search of America,” by John Steinbeck, a creative nonfictional account of his cross-country trip, celebrates its fifty-second anniversary this year. “The Dog Stars,” by Peter Heller, a science fiction novel published last year, recounts the story of one of the few survivors of mysterious world-wide devastation.

Strange to me, as I made my way through both volumes, I was struck by their similarities. Both have a man as main narrator, a dog as companion, travel as integral to the plot, and lots of wonderful descriptions of nature—both worldly and our own species. Meetings with strangers (some evil), questions about humanity’s impacts on the environment, insights on human behavior cram the pages.

As I read, at times I had to remind myself which book I held in front of me. No, the pleasant meal John Steinbeck described wasn’t one for survivor Hig to savor. The excitement of a small child at Hig’s visit to his homestead didn’t include Steinbeck as a guest.

Somehow, though, going through the scenes of one book made the plot of the other more vivid, pertinent to what’s going on in the world around me. Fifty-plus years between the creation of each seemed as nothing. The authors seemed to be brothers under the skin. This doesn’t happen, by the way, with television, stage, Internet, or most films. Reading is unique in its ability to entertain and challenge and offer discernments, all simultaneously.

Through chance I picked up two books that enhanced the contents of the other. This happens to me all the time. Psychologist Carl Yung called this “synchronicity,” meaningful coincidences in time that have similar significance and relationship, including those in the mind and the physical world. He theorized perhaps a causal relationship existed.

That I don’t believe. However, another term may describe my situation. “Apophenia,” the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena comes close. As I read about this term, it was coupled with “mental disorder,” and also “creativity.” Hmmm. I know which one I’d pick.

Whatever the occurrence might be labeled, I’m glad it exists. Even more elated I discovered these two books at about the same time. Each gave me more to think about with the other.

  • Synchronicity: the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.
  • Persistence: firm continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition; the continued or prolonged existence of something.
  • Perversity: a deliberate desire to behave in an unreasonable or unacceptable way; quality of being contrary to accepted standards or practice.

“Find Me”: a “what if” we don’t want to answer in an examination of reality, emotions, and life through a novel

illusion“Find Me,” a new novel by Laura van den Berg, is presented in a deceptively simple, straightforward style. Written in present tense by its protagonist, a young woman named Joy, often relying on facts and lists, she first exposes her attitude about her involuntary quarantine in a hospital, following an epidemic, which first robs people of their memories, then their lives. She’s one of the few immune. But as the story unwinds, another, even more traumatic fact about her life appears. Abandoned as an infant, she’s lived in a series of foster homes, and the occurrences there left indelible marks that she accepts with equanimity. So we think. By the book’s end, we begin to question her view of reality and hopscotch back to previous scenes trying to dig out truth.

In writing this device is called an unreliable narrator.” It appears in books as diverse as “Alice in Wonderland,” “One Flew Over the Cuckcoo’s Nest,” “Lolita,” and “The Life of Pi.” In fiction, as in life, the unreliable narrator is a person telling the story who can’t be trusted. Either from ignorance or self-interest, this narrator speaks with a bias, makes mistakes, or even lies. 

Why is the unreliable narrator widespread? My guess is because that’s the way life is. Have you ever experienced an incident at which other people were present, then talked about it later, only to discover your view’s and theirs differ widely? Those much-applauded and quoted studies conducted by experts support the phenomenon. Witnesses can be sincere, and believe they’re telling the truth, and hold completely opposite views.

The truth is that we all are reliable to ourselves and unreliable to everyone else. I was called to serve on a jury recently, and nearly everyone questioned said he’d base his decisions on the facts. But studies show over and over that even eyewitnesses can see a situation completely differently. Look at the dozens of people freed over the past few decades when scientific evidence proves their innocence. We quite honestly can think we’re right. . .until this is shown to be wrong.

So in the end, the unreliable narrator may very well be reliable as to what he believes. Who’s to say Joy in “Find Me” isn’t headed to a reunion with her mother?

Spiritual faith abounds with this perspective. The “72 virgins in Heaven” concept of reward in Islam (although misinterpreted in our pop culture) could very well be true for Muslims who belive it. The Catholic Purgatory encompassing purification over time to redeem yourself from sin, the child who believes in the Tooth Fairy long past the age of baby teeth, the millions of women who place credence in a lover’s “I’ll be with you always. . . I’ll take care of you,’ the list is endless.

These are our own perceptions of reality, and to us they are real. Does this mean we’re all wrong? We shouldn’t trust our instincts, perceptions and thoughts? Bow to the supremacy of science? No, for what’s considered “science” seems to change almost as quickly as our emotions.

I think it means we shouldn’t rush to judgment the way we do. We should always be willing to look at different perspectives, honor others’ opinions, put ourselves in the other guy’s shoes. The universe is vast, our world holds quadrillions of fascinating objects and happenings, and differing realities (to some, illusions) are part of that.

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Albert Einstein

When Science Fiction Becomes Fact, the Dangers Aren’t Zombies, Aliens, Robots, Weapons of Mass Destruction, or Comets

Octavia ButlerScience fiction is a genre chock-full of stereotypes. Doesn’t take much imagination to throw in an alien monster or launch a barrage of special effects through images or words about explosions, fires, and destruction.

Then there are the few thoughtful works that hold a mirror up to us and show us the real horror we are or could become. Such is the case with Parable of the Talents, the second book in Octavia Butler’s duet of the near-future. The time is about 2035, the society is ours, gone slowly and terribly astray, like TS Elliott’s vision in The Hollow Men. “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.”

Published in 1996, the book comes sooooo close to many happenings today. Slaughters in Africa and the Middle East; hidden concentration camps of low-income workers and their families tacitly approved by governments; discrimination against the poor like we have in our country; pronouncements by rich or powerful individuals blaming the powerless for their own situations; disappearances of people that challenge the system; arming of the citizenry; ambitious individuals who bend the truth, even lie, as they set up tar-babies as objects for hatred, using politics or religion as the excuse; brutality against women and helpless. While all these evils don’t occur in any one location, they are present in the world today.

Protagonist Lauren Olamina has moved, escaped, from LA with her doctor-lover, to establish a tiny community in northern California. There they struggle to raise crops, build homes and businesses, and occasionally fight bad guys and rescue a few from the huddled masses. But they can’t escape the evil of authoritarian—or greedy?—do-gooders who want to wipe them out. Lauren’s husband, friends, and neighbors are killed, her infant daughter snatched from her.

Fortunately, steeped as the novel is in religious ideas of one sort or another, one holds some promise. Lauren’s vision of spirituality is a philosophy called Earthseed. It preaches acceptance, tolerance, and community purpose. Despite a vision of the future so close we could turn the corner and be living it, optimism is possible.

Butler, an African-American woman who won numerous awards, including a MacArthur “genius” grant, was unusual in the scifi field. Unfortunately she died in 2006. Although she’d planned additions to the series, none were published, as far as I can tell. I keep thinking, wondering, what she would have thought about Obama’s election, about the mouthings of politicians who think (or at least claim) they have all the answers, the attacks of some against public education and tolerance. Equally, what would she have thought about wave after wave of extremist, violent terrorism launched in the name of God, regardless of the affiliation or country of origin of proponents.

I’m sure she would have laughed about the popularity of zombies, vampires, robots, and other easy-to-sketch villains. She knew that the real horrors of the future lie within humans themselves, and she warned us as best she could while she encouraged us to think about the consequences of our actions. . .and inactions.


Your-next-favorite-book-Promo-pic-1-bigJOINING TOGETHER WITH AUTHORS FROM COLORADO ROMANCE WRITERS TO kick off of the super serious shopping season with Black Friday.

Whether you’re shopping for presents for your book club or you need some escape time from the holiday hustle and bustle, we have the books for you.

Seven of my fellow authors and I have gotten together to offer you a whole slew of romance books on sale for the next four days.

No matter the genre of romance you love, we’ve got something for everyone, from paranormal, to mystery, erotic to sweet, novella to anthology to full-length, and they’re all only 99 cents each!

Here’s our Black Friday offering especially for you. We hope you enjoy each and everyone of them, but remember, the sale only goes to Cyber Monday.

Ghosts of Christmas Past: A Haunted Holidays Novel by Jessica Aspen

Jen MacNamara flees the Christmas wedding of her best friend and cheating fiancé and runs to the country to spend the holiday alone. It’s the perfect plan, until her unexpectedly sexy neighbor and landlord, Nate Pierce, insists on bringing the holiday to her—complete with a Christmas tree, hot chocolate, and an unexpected kiss. And that’s not Jen’s only problem.

The cozy country farmhouse is already occupied by something evil. Now Jen’s nights are spent wrapped in sensual dreams of a past life, and her days growing closer to Nate as they solve the mystery of the malevolent ghost that haunts not only the house, but also wants Jen dead. Click a link below to get it now!

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Ibooks, AllRomanceEbooks, Add to your Goodreads shelf. Visit Jessica at www.JessicaAspen.com

Curvy Temptation: Curvy Love Book One by Aidy Award

Curvy girls deserve a happy ever after too. Vanessa hasn’t let her curvylicious plus-size body keep her from having a solid career, great friends and a crappy love life. Oh, wait – yeah, her sex life blows, and not in the fun way. A string of unsatisfying relationships and a best friend who drags her to a BDSM club help her step full swing into her dirty thirties.

Cade the stoic Dom, always in control but never in love, is drawn to Vanessa’s size 20 submissive streak. He can’t keep his hands (or his tongue or any other part of his body) off this voluptuous new sub. But Cade’s the one person everyone has told her not to develop feelings for. This Alpha male drops his subs the moment they express deeper feelings for him. What’s a girl to do? She’ll have to dump his ass before he discovers how she feels or be the curvy temptation he can’t resist.

If you like curvy girl BBW romance, a hot alpha hero, and some BDSM power exhange between a sexy Dominant and a new submissive, you’ll love this book! Click a link below to get it now!

Amazon, B&N, iBooks, AllRomanceEBooks, Kobo, GooglePlay  Visit Aidy at www.AidyAward.com

The Christmas Gift by Leslee Breene

An Ebook short story for the holidays! In 1883, Miriam Cole travels to Denver at Christmas to deliver her orphaned baby nephew to her married sister. The sweetness of his touch upon her cheek makes her heart tighten. When the time comes, how will she ever let him go?

“With both verve and delicacy, Ms. Breene reminds us that miracles are indeed possible.” ~ Jane Choate, RWA author of Keeping Watch – Harlequin Love Inspired.  Click the link below to get it now!

Amazon  Visit Leslee at www.LesleeBreene.com

A Vampire’s Fallen Christmas Star by ML Guida

It’s the week before Christmas but the last thing Jayden Kye wants to do is celebrate. He blames himself for his twin brother’s death. He hikes up to Rainbow Lake to make peace with him, but Jayden slips down a snowy embankment and impales himself on a tree. He is dying.

Eleanor Baines has been a vampire for over a hundred years but she’s never been tempted to turn a human before. Now, facing the sexy rock star, she has a choice, let him die or let him live. She finds herself with a head-strong rock singer who breaks all the rules.

Jayden discovers everything he thought he knew is wrong. His best friend and lead guitarist are legendary vampire killers bent on killing him and Eleanor. He must learn to trust Eleanor, a total stranger, to survive. When his manager kidnaps Jayden’s mother and threatens to kill her, Jayden is forced to kill his best friend, or hand over the woman he loves. Click a link below to get it now!

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Ibooks  Visit ML www.MLGuida.com

The Butterfly Connection by Sandra S Kerns

Murder, encryption, and corporate espionage bring two strangers together to break codes and years of silence to solve a very personal case.

Wanted for the murder of her stepbrother, Emma Simms is on the run. She has to convince her brother’s reclusive partner in the FBI to help her find the real killer. If she can’t, she’ll end up in prison for killing the one person who ever believed in her. Her car breaks down just short of her goal and then a car tries to run her over. If not for the blaring of a driver’s horn, she’d be dead before she even gets a chance to talk to Artemis Jones.

The minute he pulls to the side of the road Artemis knows he’s in trouble. The woman is obviously out of her element. If he didn’t miss his guess, the car he scared off was aiming to run her down. He doesn’t need the trouble of helping a woman in distress, but he can’t turn his back on someone in need. It doesn’t take long to learn she’s not so much in distress as spitting mad and loaded for bear. Unfortunately, the bear she’s hunting is him.

Can the two of them put aside their distrust of others and themselves long enough to find the real murderer? Can the passion they discover survive the truths they find along the way? Click a link below to get it now!

Amazon, B&N, iBooks, Kobo, GooglePlay  Visit Sandra at www.SandraSKerns.com

Heart-Strong by Bonnie McCune

Headstrong. Rachel Kinsey fits the description perfectly. The divorced soccer mom may be ditzy and as sympathetic to losers as a charity, but she knows what she wants. A man completely different from her unreliable ex-husband and the outrageous characters she’s usually doomed to attract.

Enter Jim Landers, the ideal candidate. An accidental encounter introduces her to the tall, dark attorney who loves soccer and kids. The only problem? He’s not prepared for a ready-made family and a woman as comfortable as a beloved sweater rather than a beauty queen. A woman whose kindness, enthusiasm for life, and unguarded honesty may disturb a man who values order, perfection, and serenity.

She should show him how much he means to her, but rejection from an absent father and a capricious ex-husband may have ruined Rachel’s ability to connect to Jim. Will she risk herself, her son and their future by revealing how much Jim means to her?  A touching, tender tale full of gentle humor, about thinking too much and feeling too little. Rachel must learn to be heart-strong in order to find her soul mate. Click the link below to get it now!

Amazon  Visit Bonnie at www.BonnieMcCune.com

The Boy and his Wolf by Sean Thomas

Tanner never thought he’d be back in Amber Pines or back in Dash’s bed. But four years and 1,000 miles wasn’t enough distance to make him forget the power of first love. Sure, he spent his time training with one of the world’s top Hunters and he’s no longer the scrawny teenager he used to be. But now that his former pack is threatened, Tanner is again involved in the dangerous life he thought he left behind.

Do Tanner and Dash have a second chance or has his werewolf made his heart as impenetrable as his body? With an all-out battle raging, Tanner must find his place in the new Amber Pines or be shut out forever. If you’re looking for Teen Wolf meets Queer As Folk, you’ll love this book. Click the link below to get it now!

Amazon Visit Sean at www.SeanThomasAuthor.com

Three Strikes in the Let It Snow Anthology By Holley Trent

The one woman the “Dark Dom” Max Fletcher wants is the one who doesn’t want him back. But magic has been known to happen during the Den of Sin’s Winterball. There, if he can warm his sometime-submissive Giselle’s heart for the night, he may be able to win her for good.

Read this sexy story and five more steamy holiday romances, including offerings by New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors, will keep you warm through winter’s coldest nights, so Let it Snow. Including Suzan Butler, Emily Ryan-Davis, Cari Quinn, Vivienne Westlake, Sadi Hallar, and Holley Trent. Click a link below to get it now!

Amazon Visit Holley at www.HolleyTrent.com