How do you know when something is real, or if it is the result of an overactive imagination?
As authors we are used to letting our minds run free, living through other eyes as best we can to come up with the most believable characters. Don't we all imagine what it might be like to be A, B or X? And when we succeed, don't readers love the characters we create, the ones that seem to almost step off the page? I don't actually spend ages trying to walk like an Egyptian, or sit in trees trying to feel like a bird; that would be silly. No, somehow it's all there when I write. The rub of rough fabric on skin, the feeling that I am alone in the world although I never have been. I have never thought that my imagination was getting the better of me, so I offer this experience without comment except to say that I think of myself as pretty sensible and grounded, non religious, though admitting to something spiritual about our lives. I am one who is sceptical about such things as ghosts, rebirth and out of body experiences.
One day, a couple of years ago I was sitting in my garden, looking out over the scrubby woodland on the other side of the fence. It was a warm, summer's evening and I was feeling very mellow, contented, and happy to be in my new home. All of a sudden, without any sort of warning, I realised I was looking out through someone else's eyes. Weird or what? The someone else seemed to be a middle aged man, and he had his hands on his bare knees. He too was looking contentedly out over the woodland, although the fence had gone, and the trees had been rearranged. I remember being enormously excited about it, even while it was happening. "This is brilliant!" I was thinking to myself. "He's an ancestor of mine, a very ancient one." I couldn't make him look anywhere else, but could see his hands and knees at the edge of my vision, and the edge of some coarse, brown fabric which could have been some sort of tunic.
That was all. In less than a minute he'd gone, and I was left wondering what on earth had happened. Was it a brief brain dislocation, over active imagination, or something else? I really don't know. Why I thought he was an ancestor I don't know either. I have no clue to base that on. My family has lived at various spots around twenty miles or so away from this place from at least the 1700's, and five generations of my family have sat on that refurbished bench, but should that make any difference? I don't see why it should.
Besides, this man seemed to be living in a much, much more ancient time than five generations back. If he was wearing some sort of tunic, that could put him at any time from pre Roman to maybe as late as the 1600's.
Was I looking through another's eyes? Who was he? When was he? Was he nothing more than a reflected image from my store of imagined characters, or a real person in the past, sliding somehow into my present? I would love some answers. The experience was so sharp, and so exciting that it would be nice to think that he was somehow real, but it doesn't really matter. What matters is that he's there now, in my mind, waiting for his story to be told. And that will definitely have to come from my imagination.