Where Was I . . . Keeping It Real!

Janice Palko

By Janice Lane Palko

I lie. Let me clarify that. I try not to in my daily life or when I write articles for this magazine, but in my spare time, as you may know, I like to write novels. Fiction is not true. It may seem that way. In fact, novels may seem “realer” than real life sometimes because they usually have an ending that ties up all the loose ends of a story and makes sense of all that preceded it. Life often doesn’t make sense or doesn’t end with all things tied up in a nice bow.

However, these days, it’s becoming harder to separate fact from fiction, especially when it comes to reality. In our recent issue of Pittsburgh Fifty-Five Plus magazine, I had the pleasure of interviewing two women who are reading their way through some of the best novels ever written. One of the things they noticed is how novels written in the centuries before now went into explicit detail when describing places and objects. That was because in those days, they didn’t have access to Instagram, Google Images, YouTube or the Internet, so a writer had to paint those pictures in their readers’ minds by using lots of words.

One of our advertisers is using Virtual Reality to help their Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, and I think that is fantastic and very exciting. But in other ways, it seems we’re trending to other extremes and allowing virtual reality to substitute for real life. We hear news stories of virtual sex robots or the first Virtual Reality Roller Coaster Ride in LEGOLAND Malaysia, which sends riders wearing Virtual Reality glasses into a world completely composed of LEGO bricks. When I asked an un-named twentysomething family member if she wanted to go to a concert with me, she replied, “Why would I pay money to see them in concert when I can watch them on YouTube?”

Why? Because Virtual Reality or a video is not the next best thing to being there. Actually, being there or experiencing something personally is the best thing. Case in point. In my Christmas novel, A Shepherd’s Song, I have my two main characters attend a performance of Handel’s Messiah at Heinz Hall. I have never seen Messiah, so I made the whole scene up, including the part where my characters kiss during the Hallelujah Chorus. This year, however, I thought it would a nice way to celebrate the holidays by actually taking in this year’s performance at Heinz Hall. And I’m glad I did because it illustrated how much more interesting, provocative, spontaneous and beautiful real life can be.

When it came time for the Hallelujah Chorus, the audience traditionally rises. As we stood, and the voices of the chorus filled Heinz Hall, the elderly black man two seats over on the aisle raised his hands in praise to God and sang along in such a lovely baritone, that it brought a lump to the throat. Midway through the piece in the row before me, a young man covered in tattoos and piercings, suddenly removed his baseball cap out of respect. Their unscripted, unexpected real actions surpassed any virtual reality anyone could have dreamed up and will be something I will never forget.

Virtual reality has its place, and even though real life can sometime be messy, harsh, confusing, depressing or sad, it’s those real moments of grace and beauty that break through into our lives that make it all worthwhile.