I had coffee with Reality the other day. In the past, we haven’t always been comfortable with each other. Oh, we would nod in passing to acknowledge the other’s existence, but it always felt awkward.
Anyway, that morning I saw Reality hunched over a mug and sitting alone in a corner. I gave my usual, “Oh, look who’s here,” nod, but I didn’t get a response. I grabbed a mug of Sumatra (black, no cream, no sugar) and eased past the morning java zombies. “Mind if I join you?” Reality glanced up and launched an eyebrow. I took that as a yes and pulled out a chair.
We sat for several minutes, with the silence only broken by an occasional sip. Well, if we were going to get anywhere, it looked like I had to be the one to start. “No offence, Reality, but you don’t look so good. What’s going on?”
Sip. “Did you come here to gloat?”
“What? Why would I do that? Look, you look like you’re having a hard time and I was trying to be nice.”
“Sorry.” He stared into his coffee for a moment. “Did you know it took me four attempts to order my coffee this morning?” I shook my head. “Every time I gave them my name, they said it was offensive and that I wasn’t welcome here.”
My eyes widened. That’s usually the kind of response that I get. “I don’t understand. You were always the center of attention. Everyone wanted to hang out with you. People searched everywhere for you. What happened?”
He sipped slowly. “You know how different groups of people think that they’re the only ones who really know me?” I nodded. “A long time ago, some people divided up human intelligence into different facets, as if they were independent and contradictory entities. They pitted cognition against emotion and both of those against volition. For a time, rationalists ruled. The logical aspects of intelligence were prioritized above all else.” He took another sip. “The pendulum has swung back and the prevailing belief now holds that non-rational thought is superior to rational thought. As a result, logic has not only been devalued, it has been discarded as worthless. Since so many people saw me as associated with rationalism, I’m no longer welcome. Since you write silly fictional imaginary stories, I thought you’d be pleased.”
I took a deep swig and pondered the situation. “No,” I said. “I find this rather troubling. You see, the only way that an imaginary world works is if the reader understands the difference between what is real and what is imagined. If the idea of a three-headed squirrel accidentally eating the moon seems ‘normal’ to a reader, the imagination doesn’t stand out. It gets lost in the noise.”
Just then, a young woman stopped by our table. “Do I know you? Did you used to be famous?”
He raised his mug and sighed. “You probably knew me as Reality.”
“Ew.” We watched her flee.
“That is so weird,” I said. “That’s usually the reaction that I get.”
“It’s all so unnecessary,” he complained. “There just no reason for the conflict. Why is it so hard to accept the idea that rational and non-rational thought can be complementary rather than contradictory? Why are humans so obsessed with dividing up their minds and personalities into artificial constructs?”
I emptied my mug. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s because it’s easier to break complex problems down into small pieces, solve one part, and then go to lunch.”
“Or get more coffee.” I pointed at my empty mug. “You see, we’re drowning in a flood of information we don’t understand, ideas that are too big, a world that’s too complex, and a life that is often hard. It can be overwhelming and some people have given up on trying to make sense of things. They don’t want to feel stupid, so they tell themselves that the smart thing to do is to solve one little piece of the puzzle and take a participation trophy to commemorate their victory.”
“Yeah, I know.” I grabbed his mug and stood up. “I’m going to get us a refill. In the meantime, I think you should wear a name tag.”
“You mean, ‘Hello, my name is Reality?’”
“Yeah. Look, you can either sit here whining about your hurt Feewings or you can be yourself. Where’s the Reality I used to know? Where’s that guy who read Alice in Wonderland and said he didn’t like it because it wasn’t real?”
“I said that about your stuff, too.”
“I know. I read the reviews. Look, I’ll get the coffee and you just sit there and be yourself.” I gestured towards the rest of the room. “They’ll come around in time.”
For the first time that morning, Reality smiled. “Thanks. I appreciate it. You know, I wouldn’t have imagined that you and I would get along this well.”
“Imagining isn’t your thing,” I said. “You should leave it to the professionals.”
“About that,” started Reality. “We should talk about some of your delusions.”
“Can’t hear you,” I interrupted. “Coffee time.” That conversation required a lot more caffeine.