It all started when I decided to write a self-aware character.

Well, that’s not when it all started obviously. That decision was reasonably predictable given my prior interests as a writer, and my even being a writer can be traced back to formative experiences and moments, which you can causally trace all the way back to my birth, which in turn followed logically enough from my parents’ lives and births, and that of my grandparents, and we can go back to millions of years of evolution if you like, and before that the formation of the Earth, of the stars, all the way down to the Big Bang, if that is how it all started – because, after all, doesn’t science always change its mind about these things, and besides, science is built on pretty shoddy foundations, philosophically speaking – but even if we take for granted science and the Big Bang theory we’d still have to go before the Big Bang, if we’re following the past-bound logic of this train of thought, although, according to the theory itself, there was no quote before because there was no time before the Big Bang, though this is counterintuitive because even if there was absolutely nothing before the Big Bang, there had to be time, time just happens, it doesn’t require matter, or existence, or the universe even, it’s like a number in that sense, it’s a concept we apply to reality rather than a component of reality itself, so that it’s really in the mind, but then, seeing as everything I’m saying is just words and words come from minds too, then everything I’ve been talking about, my parents, evolution, the stars, the Big Bang, all these words, they all come from my mind, so maybe the real beginning of all this goes back to the genesis of mind, not of reality, but then, doesn’t the mind come from reality, which thinking that takes you to this loop of mind from reality from mind from reality, and so on, such that we can find no grounding, no start at all, so maybe there is no beginning, but reality and mind are both infinite, and infinitely of each other, like two mirrors facing each other, or simpler, like the front and back of a coin need each other to exist, neither prior to the other, maybe mind and reality are like that, but this, well, this leads to its own absurdities, let me tell you. Point is, the part of my story that I want to tell you about can roughly be said to have “started” when I decided to write a self-aware character.

Although, before I get into that, I should let you know that I’m telling you this story from the psych ward at Woodstock University Hospital. As I’m speaking – and I say “speaking” figuratively because I’m not speaking, though I’d like to think I am; I’d like to think I’m speaking all this into a microphone in a recording studio; and you, you’re in the future listening to the recording, a future in which this monologue is a well-known work of art, and you’re listening to it because you’ve heard it promotes spiritual consciousness and philosophic freedom in life. So, you know what, that is the “you” I’m going to refer to when I say “you,” the “you” in the future listening to this recording; and it is the world in which I am in a recording studio that is the world that I will come from and take for granted as I [pause] speak from now on.

That being said, I’m a world-jumper, that is my gift, that is what I want to tell you about. As a world-jumper, I can jump back out to my quote actual reality and tell you that there I am not speaking, but rather sitting in a corner of the co-ed rec room at Woodstock Psych thinking all this. And as I sit and think, it is in the pose of Rodin’s The Thinker that I sit, not and never in the death-worshipping lotus of the so-called enlightened.

I’m telling you now about being in a psych ward so that you don’t feel duped later, like in Fight Club or Shutter Island, where you realize only at the end, “oh, guy was crazy, that explains everything.” That always feels cheap. To be clear: I’m not crazy. Yes, I’m in a psych ward. Yes, society by and large deems me crazy, or would deem me crazy if they knew the facts about me. But I’m not crazy. I only got here by duping them. I’m redefining sanity as I speak anyway. I’m redefining everything. But that’s getting ahead of myself. I was telling you about deciding to write a self-aware character.

It began as a simple enough idea. Write a character like any other; call her, say, Talia. You know what, Talia Samsung. In the world I’m thinking into being, I have a deal with Samsung to promote their brand. God, creation is so easy!

Like any character, Talia has a history, she has a job, a girlfriend (why not?), etcetera. Only difference from your typical character is that Talia happens to know that she’s a character. She knows she’s written.

Immediately some questions come up. Like, if Talia knows she’s a character, why does she do anything? She knows I’ll just write her to do whatever I want so why would she have any motivation of her own? This wasn’t as tough a problem as it initially seemed. I, for example, don’t believe in free will, so while I don’t think I’m quite written, I do believe I have no metaphysical control over my actions. I’m not unique in this. Plenty of people believe in determinism, or destiny, or an omniscient god – if god is omniscient then he knows the future, which means the future is already determined, which means we have no free will. How do we normally deal with this? We say something like: “I know I don’t have free will, but I feel like I do and I need to act like I do in order to get around. So I’ll just pretend I have free will in the everyday, even though I know I really don’t.”

Something feels wrong about this pretend strategy: we have to formulate it like it’s a choice we’re making, though part of what we’re saying is that we have no choice to begin with, even to make a disclaimer like that. At some point we have to give up and accept that we don’t fully understand; that we somehow do manage to get on along even as it seems impossible that we should be able to. So it is for Talia. Somehow she gets on along. Because I write her to.


NEXT: 2. Talia Attains Self-Awareness