Photo Credit: iceberg painting 2, oil on canvas, Philippe Put, taken on August 21, 2013: Philippe Put/Flickr/CC BY 2.0
“Our psychological reality… lies below the surface….” (Nin, Ch. 2, location 816)
Welcome to my new blog! It’s
actually not a new blog – it’s the old blog in a new place.
There’s no better way to
kick off my old blog in a new place than by revisiting one of my first blog
posts. I chose this one because psychological reality is the foundation of everything
I write, from my fiction to my blog posts. Even though I’m moving into
different territory in terms of genre, my fascination with this concept hasn’t
waned since I first discovered it. But the concept has evolved for me over
these last 3 years.
The idea festered for years before I published my first book, Gnarled Bones and Other Stories in 2017. The term was first introduced to me in Nin’s book The Novel Of The Future. I was fascinating by this idea that reality was more than what we experience in our daily lives, something that, as a teenage wrier, I had discovered when I dove into my own stories and lived the lives of my characters.
I know the concept sounds
abstract. But psychological reality is really the opposite side of the coin to
physical reality. We have what we experience on the surface through our contact
with the world. This is the life through the sensations and intellect and the
patterns we form as we go through our daily routine.
Psychological reality is the
hidden aspects of our lives, the things we try to shrug off or don’t talk about
because we know they have a deeper meaning and connection to some of the
unpleasant aspects of our lives. It’s the stuff that doesn’t always come to the
surface, whether we know if or we don’t. It’s made up of a tapestry of
emotions, perceptions, and motivations, and goes beyond what we do or see in
our daily lives, as it forces us to examine how and why we do what we do and
makes us question what we’re really seeing.
For example, a while back, I
wrote a story based on an interesting incident my mother told me about a
birthday celebration she had while I was living in the States. My father was
doing some contract work at the time for a big chemical plant (he was a
chemical engineer before he retired) and was working with a young man whom my
mother met a few times. My father mentioned he wanted to take my mother out for
her birthday and asked the young man to recommend a restaurant. On the day of
my mother’s birthday, when my father asked for the check, the server informed
him it had already been paid. My mother found out later the young man who had
worked with my father had paid it.
The story intrigued me and I
wrote about it using a fictional couple who were middle-aged and had been
estranged for some time. The incident with the birthday dinner took on meanings
behind a kind gesture and became a story of emotional tensions between the
couple, the husband’s failure to understand his wife’s emotional needs, and the
young man’s platonic appreciation for the woman he had only met once but who
had shown an understanding and compassion for his art which his own wife did
not understand. The story that surfaced was more about those difficult emotions
than it was about the birthday party.
A story might be just a
story meant to entertain. I read a lot of classic mystery stories where the
mystery is intriguing and the “whodoneit” engaging. I love Agatha Christie
because she writes stories that lead to unexpected twists and turns and readers
get caught up in trying to solve the mystery themselves. There are no hidden
meanings behind why the criminals commit their crimes. There’s some background,
perhaps, as to what motivated them, but these are more surface level facts,
like a blackmailer who is killed to stop him from draining the purse of a widow
who can no longer pay him.
One of the reasons why I
love19th century fiction is because it is devout of the modern obsession with
realism (though, of course, there was a school of literature at the time that
attacked just this issue). Victorian fiction has been accused of being too
ornate and sentimental and far-fetched. I just read an article where poet T. S.
Eliot slammed Victorian mystery writer Anna Katherine Green for lapsing into
sentimental melodrama. But, in fact, Green’s fiction is about characters and
their psychological motivations and her stories have more psychological reality
than most mystery fiction.
My upcoming historical family saga, The Waxwood Series grew out of my own psychological reality and digs into the lives of the Alderdice family. They are a wealthy Gilded Age family, high up on the San Francisco social register, but the mangled relationships between its members mirrors the kind of dysfunctionality we’re more familiar with today. The series traces the way in which psychological realities such as hidden family secrets, half-truths, evasions, dreams, and unexplained family mementos lead Vivian, the main character of the series, down a path of self-discovery. But the series includes other characters outside the family who also take their own journeys and make their own discoveries. The thread of looking back at the past so that it won’t stop the future runs through all four books.
Anais Nin sums it up when
she says, ““[one can] only find reality by discarding realism.” (Nin, Introduction, location 115, par.
2). This is not to say realism doesn’t have its place in fiction. Historical
fiction is filled with real facts, real events, and real people that make the
past come alive for readers, as well as the social, political and cultural realities
related to a certain era that still speak to us today. But if we become too
obsessed with physical realities, we miss out on understanding life and
understanding ourselves on a much deeper level
Nin, Anais. The Novel of the Future. Sky Blue Press.
The Anais Nin Trust, 2014 (original publication date 1968). Kindle digital file.