Talking to Figments
by Chandler Klang Smith
When I stayed at my maternal grandma’s house as a child, I sometimes glimpsed movement out of the corner of my eye – the byproduct, in all likelihood, of catching my mirror image in a reflective surface (the glass dome over an antique clock, the windowed door of a curio cabinet). But I was a reader of the Borrowers books, fascinated by Victorian fairies, and delighted by the subterranean antics of the Fraggles telecast to my living room at home. So to my overactive child’s mind, those glimpses suggested Others: another realm of life intersecting with the human everyday, only narrowly escaping detection at every turn. My grandma’s attempt to convince me otherwise only intensified my fascination. “Those are figments,” she would say. Figments. The creatures even had a name.
In my novel Goldenland Past Dark, one of these figments emerges from the shadows. His name is Wags, and like the reflections of myself that I spied or sensed in the high gloss of my grandma’s piano, the looking glass on her closet door, he is a doppelganger of the young man he haunts, but a doppelganger with a difference: coming as he does from an imagined land, his customs are not our own. He is allowed to say and do forbidden things, to urge his double toward isolation, self-destruction, violence. And since he comes from a far off place, he can do so with impunity. Real America has no extradition treaty with the kingdom of dreams.
I set my novel in the world of the circus because that form of performance inherently suggests this kind of doubling. When I put on a clown suit, I am myself, but I am also the clown. I am both the puppet and the puppet master. And I must inhabit both selves fully, with complete control, if I’m to perform well. Yet something strange arises from this situation, growing in the gap between two selves: I begin to surprise myself. I may even frighten myself.
This isn’t only true in performance. It’s an experience that seems to be a universal product of succumbing fully to one’s imagination. But how is it possible? If fear exists in relation to the unknown, then what is a nightmare? How can my mind keep secrets from me – secrets that erupt only when I’m at my most vulnerable, in the dark, relaxed, unconscious? When I talk to myself (as most of us do), who am I talking to? What would happen if this second person, this Other, talked back?
Chandler Klang Smith is a graduate of Bennington College and the Creative Writing MFA Program at Columbia University, where she received a Writing Fellowship. She lives in New York City. Learn more about her at www.chandlerklangsmith.com.