Ode to my imaginary constructs

People sometimes wonder how someone as feral as I am came to be a writer, which is all about connecting and communicating with other people. For me, the connecting and communicating with others is more of a bug in the process than a feature.

I mean I want people to read my books because otherwise I’m merely howling into a void and I could do that without working so hard on crafting a coherent and engaging story, but mostly the appeal of writing for me is the opportunity to spend time with my imaginary constructs.

I don’t call them my imaginary friends because they’re nothing like actual friends—they do what I tell them to do and wait quietly when I’m away for a while and I spend as much time with the bad ones as I do with the good ones, which I assure you I do not do in real life.

There is a rich and rewarding inner life that these constructs contribute to as together we explore questions of honor and goodness, experience kindness and cruelty, and navigate a vast universe that is only knowable to me because I interact with these constructs—not as if they were real but as if they hold secrets I would like to know and which I can only ascertain by putting them into various situations and seeing what happens.

I suppose it is a lot like scientists and their lab rats but then again it’s nothing like scientists and their lab rats because the lab rats have an objective existence outside of the scientist’s brain.

It is more akin to a thought experiment where a philosopher sets a scenario. Suppose a runaway train is about to crash into another train, which will kill a thousand passengers and you could throw a switch to divert the train onto tracks where it will instead hit and kill ten workers. What would you do?

In my admittedly limited experience of philosophy classes, most people wouldn’t do anything. They don’t want to take the responsibility for the lives, whether saved or lost. They say things like, “I assume god wills it and who am I to thwart god’s will.” Or, “You can’t really know what would happen so it’s better to stay out of it” no matter how much you argue that no, in the case of this thought experiment, you do know what’s going to happen when the trains crash.

Whereas I and most writers I know would throw the damned switch. I suspect we would also stick around to see what happens next.

Anyway, there is something magical about being able to say “hypothetically speaking, what would happen if . . . .”

It is not really about living more than one life—that’s what reading is—it’s more about exploring what heaven and earth are made of, or at least what the human parts of it are made of.