Saturday, 9 February 2013

Interior Lives, Exterior People

*** Spoiler Alert ***

If you are a fan of NCIS and haven't seen episode 2, season 9 (a.k.a. "Restless"), read on at your peril.  This blog post contains spoilers and a link to a full plot synopsis.

***End of Spoiler Alert ***

Last night, after DH and I watched episode 2, season 9 of NCIS, I fell asleep thinking about how everyone has interior and exterior lives.  The episode includes a storyline about a delusional 27 year old woman, who has been living as a teenage girl, running away from her foster families just before her "18th" birthday and then establishing herself as a 16-year-old in a new foster family somewhere else.  She truly believed she was that teenager; it wasn't an impersonation or an act.

Anyway, it got me thinking. We all have a fantasy life and a reality life, but most of us can distinguish between the two. Out fantasy life includes our internal dialogue - the things we can't say or act out.  Here's a typical example from my life:  Tuesday 6-ish pm, my New Boss phones me.  Outwardly, I'm my usual cheerful, chatty, polite self. We talk for 10 minutes. Inside my head, I'm thinking "Will you please just get to the point man and go away!  I'm busy. Got at least an hour's more work to do before I can go home.  I'm already well into overtime and you're wasting my time."  Of course, I say none of those things.  But that's what I'm trying to describe when I talk about internal and external lives:  internally the quiet guy in Corporate may daydream about how he'd seduce the new secretary in Legal; externally, he's still trying to find out her name and if she's single. 

Young children act out their fantasy lives all the time.  As they play a box becomes a castle, a house, a king's throne and then a boat.  They live the experience, peopling the world around them with characters from whichever plot they're imagining.  How many young boys have jumped off the shed roof, believing they're Superman and can fly?

I think a sign of growing up is the disassociation between fantasy and reality; it's knowing the difference between what's in my head and what's actually happening.  It's also knowing that actions have consequences.  For many, knowing the difference between reality and fantasy is the definition of sanity.  

We all - all of us - have a real life and a fantasy life that just exists in our heads.  For most people, the borders between the two are distinct and the fantasy life is kept well hidden, confined to daydreams or the inner dialogue where you're reliving that conversation with your boss/husband/colleague and wishing you'd said x, y or z.  It's what we feed when we read novels or watch films.  I don't know about you, but if I can't identify with the main character(s) and lose myself in their story, I lose interest and stop reading/watching.

Humans have been telling each other stories for thousands of years. Novelists are people who can take their interior, fantasy world, put it down on paper and tell convincing stories with it.  It's a gift.   A good story passes the reality test, i.e. it gives a "yes" answer to the following question: if confronted with those circumstances would I or someone I know act in that way?  Doesn't matter if it's a modern murder mystery or set in a feudalistic fantasy world where an elite troop ride dragons out to fight the enemy.  The characters have to act credibly.  (As an aside, years ago, I tried to read The Da Vinci Code.  Whilst I could get beyond the annoying chapter structure - seriously, one paragraph = one chapter?? - I couldn't get beyond the point where the hero walks into a bank in the middle of France within a day or so of the story beginning and the conspirators know who he is and are expecting him.  Just not credible.)

Where am I going with all this?  Last week, I attended the role-playing games convention, Conception.  Four days of battling demons and enemy legions, from the safety of a comfy chair around a table in the New Forest, using multi-sided dice as your weapons of fate.  Trying to explain RPGs to a muggle is difficult, although the Wikipedia definition is a good starting point:
A role-playing game (RPG and sometimes roleplaying game[1][2]) is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal acting, or through a process of structured decision-making or character development.[3] Actions taken within many games succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines.
At Conception, as at most games conventions, we were using pregenerated characters.   The interesting thing happens in a campaign game when people generate their own.   Often you get clues as to the person they are in their own inner fantasies.  I know one man who always plays a female character and she always the same: a cross between Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Wonder Woman.  It didn't take long to realise that she is his fantasy woman, the one he'd like to seduce.  Another man I know always plays the military hero type: his characters will always do something rash like a HALO jump at night when they have a 5% skill in parachute.  (On that particular campaign, we invented the phrase "going out for an alibi".  While he was off doing something risky, our characters would go out for a meal in a public place, thus establishing their alibis and proving they couldn't possibly be involved in his stupid plan.)

Me?  Often the clue is in the name of my characters:  Dana Scully, Ziva.  I like to play strong, smart females.  Frequently science types.   What does that say about me?

- Pam

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