Separated By Oceans

Well these bottles look nice, and cold, and fulfilling
So I wander outside to relax by just sitting
And the darkness descending, it seems sort of fitting
As the sun makes its way out of the bright sky
Kind of like you did when you said goodbye…

As I drain down the first, I feel less afraid
And my thoughts turn to all of those memories we made
So many have not even begun to fade
Your face, and your voice; your laugh, and your touch
I never imagined I could miss them so much…

I had everything resting right there in my hand
But it slipped through my fingers like such fine grains of sand
Ever since I’ve been so lost, stumbling through this wasteland
I can’t even remember why we said goodbye
Sometimes the most beautiful fairy tale goes awry…

As I savor the first few, I explore the vast flow
Of these feelings which seem now to lessen the blow
But I can’t ever relinquish the reality I know
We were beautiful, we conquered, we realized the cost
Yet we fumbled it, somehow, and tripped as it tossed…

It’s getting real dark now, and I can’t fight this worry
As the stars start to shine in all of their glory
For each one’s a memory, a deep-rooted story
I could assign every one, and not even start
To dip into the contents leaking from my heart…

Now I notice some storm clouds coming from the west
As I finish the first half and long for the rest
And remember the feelings never quite expressed
When all of our love was at its most fragile and bare
If only I’d realized the prime time to share…

How could such beauty be left by the side?
Why would we let it escape us with pride?
I don’t even know how many times that I’ve cried
So crazy how all of the words worth the most
Can just linger unspoken and fade like a ghost…

It’s starting to rain now, as my head feels the beers
But I’ll just stay here and reminisce all those good years
At least no one who passes will notice these tears
But I can’t say the same of this pain I still feel
I guess there are some wounds even time will not heal…

Well these bottles are empty; the clouds are still pouring
My poor head is spinning and my sad thoughts are roaring
I can’t say I really look forward to morning
Another long day I’ll spend just going through motions
Through this loneliness now separated by oceans…

Posted by Eli Stanley | at 4:43 AM | 3 comments

Engineering Nostalgia

Have you ever noticed that a certain song, or a certain smell, or a certain taste invariably brings back vivid memories of a certain period of time from your past? I’ve been aware of this sensation for a long time now, as long as I can even remember. There are still songs and smells and tastes that momentarily invoke such intense memories of childhood or, most profoundly of all, my years spent in the height of my junior high school years where I was most happy with a specific group of friends and adventures. I cherish these tenuous ties with the past, and I’ve come to realize, sadly, that they will only fade with time. My hope is that the most meaningful among them will always persist. Perhaps the most deeply engraved of them will always provide this nostalgic effect, however brief it may be each time, because they’ve managed to dig themselves a burrow some level below the threshold of passing memories. I am convinced that those sensory ties which somehow become attached to individual memories are one of the most powerful links to be utilized in making sure that the most cherished memories of all can be held onto, can be nestled into rightful burrows of their own so as not to ever be lost altogether.

I think one of the problems is that the memories themselves will continue to age as one grows older, persistently crowded out by newer, fresher memories in each moment, and the relevance that the sense which is tied to them has will continue to be spread over more and more more-current experiences. Realizing this, I’ve made efforts to isolate those particular senses which I’ve recognized are linked in this way. A particular Glade air freshener (Hawaiian Breeze, I believe) still never fails to bring me back into my dear friend Dave’s old room in Cheyenne and so I will never  use it myself. I’m afraid that the aroma will begin to attach itself to the present day, and gradually remove itself from those precious memories. But picking it up off the shelf and inhaling its sweet fragrance will always put me back into those cherished times, into that beloved room and into those dear memories and into the fun-filled company of a friend so favored. Left to such few and far between indulgences, the link should remain strong, and I can always rely on it to transport me at my whim.

Another powerful example is any of many songs that I used to listen to consistently for a certain period. But every time I listen to one of these songs now, its relevance shifts at least very slightly into this moment, becoming bit by bit more attached to a more current time frame. Even so, many songs still provide this most enjoyable sensation, even as I continue to enjoy them. Some songs I’ve already realized have lost most of their relevance into the past, yet even so every now and then one of these songs still manages to transport me so vividly into a memory. There must be some subtle factors which continue to play a role, perhaps a certain emotional state or an extra sense such as smell, which still even today invoke the nostalgia at its deepest. And some songs, the ones at the very height of this power, have hardly even faded at all even though I still put them on all the time. They’ve managed to stand the test of time even still, even when I’ve enjoyed them countless times throughout the years, even though I’ve experienced so many new memories in their presence. They still take me back, still hold that original link. I am so grateful for this. These examples are definitely the most deeply held, the ones persistently refusing to be outdone in the present.

Taste is a tougher case; I think this might be (for me, at least) because there are not very many examples of unique-enough tastes that are specific to a narrow time period. There are a few, though. The first that comes to mind is a certain flavor of Doritos (at the time it was a “mystery” flavor, I think it ended up being cheeseburger or something similar) which when I have happened to find them again strikingly reminds me of a certain time period several few years back when I was playing a new game and eating lots of them. Another example is candy corn, which never fails to put me back into the mind of myself as a child enjoying the treasures of a long Halloween trek.

I wonder often whether some of these particularly powerful nostalgic links will continue to persist even as I join the ranks of the elderly. So far some of them seem so much more deeply ingrained into my mind, and I sincerely hope that I can hold on to these fantastically enjoyable experiences. I’ve thought long and hard about where this phenomenon originates, how it’s formed and how it can be retained as best as possible, and I think I’ve gotten a pretty good idea about how to keep them close, and even help to create new ones, most efficiently.

I’ve developed a strategy for willfully creating this phenomenon. I call it “engineering nostalgia.” For me this whole concept has been most powerful in relation to a certain clearly-defined and memorable timeframe of the past (not so easy to anticipate at the time) and, more specifically and controllably, in relation to more trivial things like playing a certain video game or listening to a certain album. If the video game or album is new to your experience, it is for good reason much easier to coordinate complementary senses to go along with them. What I’ve learned to do is this: when you begin playing a new game (or reading a new book, or visiting a new place), also buy a new CD (or at least begin playing one that you haven’t listened much of). The closer they coincide as brand-new experiences, the better the effect. If you can get hold of both a new game and a new CD at the same time, and begin experiencing them simultaneously, this is the ideal situation. For extra effect also buy a new air freshener and a new flavor of some snack, such as Doritos, you’ve never had before and combine them all.

So put in the new CD (and the new air freshener, and open up the bag of chips) as you begin playing this new game. Further down the road, even years and years later, any one of your senses, randomly reminded of any one of these sensations, will bring you back to this time period when you were playing this game and listening to this album and breathing in this aroma and tasting this snack and you can bask in the resulting nostalgia. It is a wonderful thing, made even more wonderful when you can willfully induce it.

Of course, playing a new video game is just one example of a time when you can anticipate a nostalgic bond able to be formed. There are many, many others, if you are careful enough to provide for them, such as a vacation to a new place or moving into a new house or buying a new car or beginning a new hobby. The possibilities are practically endless, because it really comes down to anything that’s new enough in our experience to be so impressionable. And the base act doesn’t even need to be new to you, it just seems easier to me. But maybe the secondary influence is what’s new. You might have been going for nightly walks for months already, but if you have a new album in your mp3 player then further down the road of life those songs are very likely going to bring you back to those walks, to the times when you were just getting to know those songs, and you will miss those times. You will long to be on that very same walk again, wishing you could experience it for the first time all over again.

Nostalgia is a funny thing, I’ve come to find. This feeling of such deep familiarity and longing seems to be not necessarily due to the belief that a certain timeframe was so “good,” but simply because it is gone. It is familiar, we know exactly what came of it, whether good or bad, and there is comfort in this. Even the not-so-good memories sometimes invoke this feeling. There are some periods of time that my rational mind would never even consider revisiting because of how rough I know and remember them to have been—but when some sense is spontaneously stimulated in just the right way to invoke the memory, I cannot deny the nostalgia. Part of me longs to be back in this time despite my avoidance, despite the knowledge deep within myself that I did not enjoy it. But it would be comforting even so, I realize, even if only because I know that things turned out alright, I survived to the present with a healthy grasp of new learning experiences, because this particular memory had its particular impact on the present. On the other hand, both the present and future are perpetually shrouded in mystery and we are always anxious for it to some degree, which I think works to reinforce the longing for the past. We don’t have the comfort of knowing how the future turns out like we do with previous events. But there is beauty in this mystery, as well—the future holds immeasurable possibilities that we humans alone have the ability attempt to foresee rationally and, most importantly, to shape so according to our desires.

Time may flow invariably and without the slightest bit of consideration for us measly human beings, but we can and must fill it with as much as each individual among us possibly can, and achieve the grandest impact as is our power to achieve. By whatever means necessary this must be done to truly make our mark. Impacts can come in so many forms, from a simple smile that influenced someone else in some positive way, to a deep conversation with a friend which helps them see something more clearly, to a bestselling book that millions upon millions of people read and are affected by, to an everlasting friendship that works to profoundly shape the futures that two people share together and independently because of the impacts they have on each other, to so many countless other possibilities. It’s impossible to know what random trivial or heartfelt acts might be the positive influence somebody needed at that moment. The beauty that is life is in our power to influence, at least to some degree—and every single last moment is precious beyond the most poetic words anyone could possibly put to them. Any means that you have in your power to engineer the nostalgia which is so powerful in appreciating the life you have lived is incredibly useful, and I believe should be passionately fought for. This may be as simple as putting forth the effort to realize that recent events are special and unique enough to warrant the extra care in uniting them with a carefully considered added element so that you can utilize this connection farther down the road. You can bring the joyful moments of your past back to you so much more readily if you have attached something special to them at the time.

So many people say that life is short. And I realize that this is generally meant to be inspirational, but how can life be considered short when there is absolutely nothing anyone can experience that is longer and more fundamental? Life encompasses utterly everything that holds physical meaning, everything that means anything! Every thought, every feeling, every joy, every sorrow, every last experience is a product of life in all of its glory in whatever duration each of us happens to “receive.” I feel like this insistence that pursuits should be sought after, and joys should be appreciated, because “life is short” are degrading the truest beauties that could be relished. If life is short then we might be more likely to hastily indulge reckless behavior, or fail to consider the most meaningful pursuits. Life is long. Life is absolutely everything that each of us will experience, and consider, and enjoy, and learn from. Life is absolutely not short.

It could be argued that one life was shorter than another. As a measure of time in its purest form, this is irrefutable. Tragedies happen to the best of us, without warning or meaning. But as a measure of quality, or of impact, it is definitely not so simple. One person’s life at 50 (or at 20) could have twice the lasting memories as another’s at any age, if such a value could somehow be quantified. But it can’t, really. In this sense it’s a matter of content, of perception and of impact. A life lived in fame is obviously favored to appear to have been more impactful, but is there any way to know? I don’t think any span of life will ever seem to be enough, no matter how long it endured, especially if people are compelled to think of it as “short.” This only stresses that the value of a life is not necessarily lessened much by a short timeframe. It is unfortunate, of course, that any life ends any sooner than it might have under ideal circumstances. But it is what it is, and I sincerely hope that the person in each such case had as fulfilling and impactful a life as possible in his/her allotted time. It’s going to seem short no matter what, if you have such an outlook, even for the longest among them.

And yet I can’t argue with the idea that someone who runs around proclaiming that life “is short” and, in turn, motivates themselves (and others) to live it more effectively, is certainly getting something valuable out of it. I just think the same value, and so much more, can be gotten out of life without this nonsense. We don’t need to convince ourselves that our time is “short.” We need to convince ourselves that our time is precious, and long, and we have all this priceless span of life to fill with as much positivity and goodness as we can manage. Do it because it is so long, because there is so much available to fill it with.

I wonder what is even meant by that generic phrase “Life is short?” Broken down to its individual words, the phrase lacks meaning. “Life” is obvious; it is the perception each of us has of our surroundings in the duration that we have them. It is life, it’s self-explanatory. We all know what life is. “Short,” however, is a comparative argument; there is no “short” without acknowledging something that is not. Certainly, in respect to the lifespan of a giant tortoise (reportedly an average of 177 years in captivity), or of a Redwood tree (reportedly 500 to 700 years) or of a star (our own rather “average” star will supposedly have “lived” for 10 billion years by its end), the average human lifespan is but a fraction—a decent fraction of the giant tortoise, but a mere nanosecond of the “cosmic day” compared to the star. But what real relevance does any of this have? We are not giant tortoises and we most certainly are not stars. Their lifetimes apply to them and reflect upon the grand scheme of things from their individual perspectives but need not imply any sort of shortcoming on our part. So what if a giant tortoise lives 177 years? Its life is trivial compared to ours. Nothing against humongous elderly turtles but, come on, their biology is so much simpler and so much more accommodating of their “long” lives. Can a giant tortoise entertain abstract thoughts and shape its environment to its will? Can it even move faster than five miles an hour? Would anyone seriously give up their human inheritance for these extra hundred years? Stars perpetually burn unimaginable amounts of fuel throughout their ridiculously long lifetimes, but they’re not even sentient. They can’t communicate with each other and share in mutual pursuits. They are stars. Any comparison is silly and fruitless. What real meaning does the comparison of years hold in any of these cases, or in any other?

Perhaps this judgment of shortness is being compared not to the lifetime of another thing, but to the lifetime each of us desires to experience. I think most people probably would like to know that they are going to live well beyond any averaged estimate of their society, or even the record breakers. But this shouldn’t make the life we are living, and whatever life is going to be in store for us, any less incredible or meaningful. It shouldn’t make us feel like it is short.

The average human lifespan is reportedly about 63 years (higher, of course, in first-world countries). As recently as 1796 the average lifespan was around 24 years (again, higher for first-world countries). Some are claiming that, as of today, as many as half of the children born will see their hundredth birthday in good health. And the children of these children may be looking at a reasonable likelihood of living to be 120 or 150! This thrills me to no end. I dearly wish that I had been born in this projected generation that is likely to live to be 120 in good health. The point is, we do have influence on the length of our lives. The evidence seems to suggest there is not some upper limit of barely more than 100 years, like some seem to believe. If life expectancy has been climbing, and continues to climb with appreciable progress, who can say it’s going to stop? Of course there are undeniable biological processes at work; bodies degrade and organs cease to function on their own, but clearly there are means to extend this downfall. We have every reason and every chance to put our unique human potential to work and extend this beautiful and mysterious thing that we call life for as long as we possibly can. Without it there is nothing, and I cannot consider that an acceptable alternative. What is nothing in the face of everything? If there are still more possible ways to advance the average lifespans of our kind, healthily and without significant consequence, then I absolutely believe that we should pursue this. I don’t believe there is some boundary inherently imposed on us by some all-encompassing force, over which we have no “right” to achieve. The boundary is ours to determine, ours to influence and improve upon by whatever means we gain understanding of it and competence to do so.

We tend to live our lives in defiance of the impending doom which is sure to eventually come. We indulge in material things, and in (sometimes foolish) “fun” pursuits, and we shrug off the idea that it’s all temporary. The people who act most recklessly (within reason) seem to be the most highly regarded by others. I mean, I’m all for having a good time, and making the most of my “prime” years, but I also feel like more meaningful pursuits are more advantageous at any age. This trait should not be shunned, but admired and strived for. The generic advice of the elderly is generic for a reason. We’re bound to realize this eventually, so why not as early as possible? We can still be somewhat reckless and have a good time while being considerate of whatever future we are imagining at each moment and efficiently factoring this.

This is all, of course, without consideration of a spiritual afterlife. I need to make that clear. Such a thing is just wildly difficult to mix into an argument (not to mention the number of people who will simply dismiss it). In fact, I respect this viewpoint, the idea of a spiritual eternity, most of all. But even so, even in the face of the promise of the most wonderful, glorious, eternal afterlife, if you believe in this, the physical, worldly life loses none of its significance. My argument does not change at all. Because an eternity of blissful spiritual afterlife is, by definition, going to be fulfilled regardless of the length of the timeframe spent roaming the Earth. What’s another ten, or fifty, or even a couple hundred years in the face of eternity? As a matter of worldly years, it doesn’t matter when you reach this eternity. You won’t even notice. But it makes all the difference here in the physical existence. You will have experiences, and you will impact others, and you will leave some sort of legacy. Another 50 years, if it were ours to be had, holds all the relevance in the world. You’ll never even know, once it’s said and done and you’ve achieved your spiritual afterlife, how long it took, how long you might have had to “suffer” (I disagree) through the physical realm. Any number of years is of no consequence in this regard, but any single year holds unimaginable promise here where the laws of physics bind us and our fellow humans need our help and our communication and companionship.

So give these things while you can. Indulge your passions. Make it count. Life is certainly not short, but it is all we have and the moments will flow by like a raging river if we aren’t careful to always make the best that our individual potential can make, and stay focused. Stay intrigued. Stay curious. And for the love of all that is good and just, be friendly and reasonable and share all that you can share with your fellow humans. What else can we do in this time that we have? Petty disagreements and judgments and ill-feelings in general are just silly. You should be ecstatic with joy any time your eyes fall upon those of another human, any fellow human being, especially when you know them personally and have any sort of memories and experiences together. To paraphrase the great Carl Sagan, you could travel a thousand light-years and never meet another. We should all be the best of friends, every last one of us. We should all be experiencing the joys and fascinations of life, and even the sorrows and pains, with one another. We should all be doing what we can to make sure the memories we have made, and perpetually continue to make, are as impactful and long-lasting as possible. We all have ultimate power over all of these things, including also our hopes and anticipations of the future. The best is yet to come.

Posted by Eli Stanley | at 12:56 AM | 2 comments

The Garden of Forking Paths

There is this theory in quantum mechanics called the "many-worlds" interpretation. To my (limited) understanding--not to attempt to claim that I know practically anything about quantum mechanics--it theorizes that there is no "waveform collapse" when two potential futures are reconciled. Instead of one reality, and only one reality, progressing continuously through each and every decision in your life (and everyone’s lives), one world line path becomes two (or more) at every possibility point, separating into alternate, parallel universes, and this branching happens every time a choice is made. While this description may not be the one a trained quantum physicist would try and explain to you, I’ve gotten the impression that this is the general idea when applied to the everyday world around us. So I’ll just run with that; whether or not this understanding is technically accurate and true, it’s incredibly interesting nonetheless.

The most striking disturbance I have with this idea is…what exactly determines when a timeline branches? Does this occur at any conscious decision? Or just those that exceed some somehow-determined boundary of significance? If it's the former there would of course be a truly unfathomable number of such universes, infinite in all practical meaning. And even with the latter, unless the boundary was extremely high, there would be an enormous number of realities still, perhaps virtually infinite as well. There must either be a line or not, and if so, then where is it and how is it determined? And then I wonder, is there a branch for every possible decision one could have made? For instance, if I am asked to pick a number between one and ten, and I pick five, is there a branch for each other answer I could have given, or only one for considering a true-false scenario (I either picked five or didn't play the game)? Technically I could have said anything--one, zero, ten, fifty, rhinoceros… I might not even have spoken a response; maybe I nodded or decided to dance. The Universe shouldn’t know whether or not some potential answer was actually valid within the scope of the question, so I'm intrigued to wonder whether the branching is only done when a choice is made or not made, or if there truly is a branch for every possibility.

My other most striking concern with the theory is that none of this is tangible in any way. Even if one exists in five hundred billion parallel universes, all branched from various moments in one's own and in others' universes, it will go completely and utterly unrealized by each. So does it even matter? Does something you can't possibly hope to demonstrably verify have any meaning whatsoever? While the thoughts of all this bring me some comfort, thinking that there might possibly be versions of myself who made so many of the “right” decisions in life which I only later came to realize in this reality, the impossibility of confirmation prevents most of the comfort I wish I could feel. The excitement mostly fizzles out when I grasp that no possible branching can actually provide any true objective meaning.

Still, I can't help but imagine what this all can imply in the mind, if nothing else, at least at the most significant turning points of my life. I suppose inspiration for self-reflection is worth something, if this theory provides us nothing else to glean. Because there is a garden in your mind, a rich, fertile ground from which any combination of possible thoughts can be planted and grown to whatever lengths and however many branchings you might take them to. All it takes is a thought, a seed, and then some consideration, some nourishment, and your mind is free to wander to your flooded heart’s content, if you just let it bloom. Enjoy the fruits of imagination.

Perhaps the most significant factor of all for the ways in which a person’s world lines might have branched furthest is in the environment one grows up with. Every time my family moved (my mother was active duty Air Force) was certainly a very significant "choice-point." I was born in Maryland and then lived in Washington D.C., Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, Wyoming, and then Missouri again. Any one of these could have ended up being my family's permanent residence under other circumstances. If there is an alternate universe for each of these possibilities, in which I've grown up in a completely different environment, surrounded by utterly unfamiliar landscapes and cityscapes and circles of friends and acquaintances, they would of course have progressed in radically different ways from this one and from each other. I would have grown up with strange people and likely done things I never even dreamed of in this reality. In an alternate universe there could be a version of myself, doing whatever it is he might do, who has lived in Maryland his whole life, who never moved away in the first place. He’s been there all his life. How bizarre that idea is! I mean, I’m trying to imagine and I just don't know…I am utterly biased towards the life I have actually led. It's very difficult to imagine a life that progressed completely differently since a point before I was even two years old. But it could exist, and how interesting would it be to meet him? I wonder what he’s made of his life up to now, what friends he’s chosen, what pursuits he’s held on to, what successes he’s enjoyed, what failures he’s endured and learned from. I wonder what he’s like, how good of a person he is. I wonder if we would be best friends.

This also means that there could be a version of me who never moved from Cheyenne, Wyoming so many years ago. Cheyenne, where I grew up during my most formative years and have retained, even to this day, some of the most powerful friendly bonds I’ve ever made. This is the thought that hits home most of all--that in some unreachable parallel universe may be a version of me who didn't miss out on the Cheyenne life during all these long years since my family moved away. He was there all along, oblivious to the suffering of the “me” who wasn't. Of course, this version wouldn’t have it all good. He would never have met so many of the incredible friends I’ve made since my family moved to Kansas City. For all the memories that I could possibly imagine might have had the chance to have been made if I had been there in Cheyenne all along, there are a comparable number of experiences that I actually did make here where I’ve been. Of course there are pros and cons at every point, which I guess is why I am so struck by this whole idea, but it’s so completely fascinating regardless. This is not regret or despair, but awe and wonder at simple possibilities my mind can fathom.
I just wish I could communicate with him, if he somehow truly exists in some parallel realm. I wish I could ask this incarnation of me how those… wow, eight years, now, as of summer 2012, have been. Were they as wonderful and blissful and full of nonstop joy and appreciation as they've played out in my head countless times? Did the friendships last and stand the test of time even better than they have through my occasional visits? Are we having the time of our lives together anywhere near like we’ve had in so many of my dreams manifested in the deepest sleep? Am I on a bright career path? Did I fall in love? Has it lasted? Am I better off?

I would ask him about all my friends over there. How did things go when I was around all along, as opposed to only briefly during some select summer or winter vacations? Are things as great as I have always imagined they would have been, or have I perhaps been over-projecting my guilt of leaving? Is everyone still good friends with each other? Did I help to provide some sort of social adhesive to people who otherwise would have drifted apart? Do we all still have as much fun in this world as we have when I come to visit from my own? Or are things largely the same, on the grand scale of things, minimally affected by whether I’m actually there or not? It wouldn’t even truly matter what the realities may be, because they are all ruthlessly interesting regardless, no matter how much positive influence I might be projecting into such a reality where I might have actually had a role to play in its overall “success.” Of course I want to have had, and may see myself as having, such an impact. But actually knowing the full truth is its own joy altogether.

I would then ask him about Dave, unquestionably the deepest, most profound, intertwined and enjoyable friendship I have ever had. How is Dave? What is he like, having had me there all this time? As things are, Dave and I have taken, in some ways, very different paths since we parted ways in 2004. There are some things that we don't quite see eye to eye on now, but many, many that we still do… but these differences are trivial, and the floodgates inevitably open so wide when we reunite. And all the long years and all the daunting miles that have haunted our separation are swept away as all the memories and all the connections we have ever formed come flooding back in like a raging river, unstoppable and undeniable. Then it's almost as if those years and miles were never even in the way to begin with, and we can enjoy the shared glory of our friendship for whatever time we have. At best, usually, I get this for two weeks of each year. But how different might it have been if we had remained neighbors perpetually? How much positive influence might I have had for him and him for me? It's difficult to say, to say the obvious. I get chilled just putting serious thought to it. My mind gets a bit cloudy; there are far too many variables. But I imagine, with all the honesty I can muster, that it would be an incredibly beautiful thing, for each of us and in each other. I feel like it would outshine any downside to having remained there all along by enormous degree. Such is this single connection.

So it ends up being a little awkward, this longing to be in both places at once. If it were somehow possible to combine the best of both worlds it would solve so much. If only I could just cut Cheyenne out of the earth (people, power, plumbing, everything) and fly it over to Missouri and lay it down in some nearby open area, some already-prepared jigsaw puzzle piece of an empty space to drop it in. If I could incorporate the friends from both sides into my current everyday life, if I could have all of my deepest friendships right here, each and every one of them within the reasonable means of each and every other one of them to connect with, I would be hard-pressed to desire anything else in this world.

And then I wonder what if each romantic relationship had not ended? This is another huge significance, assuming that each relationship was aimed at the long run, if it had gotten far enough to be established as such, as they should be. Inside alternate branching realities, based on different sums of decisions and factors, each case could have progressed onto some wildly different path. So perhaps these are still going strong in some alternate universes, where whatever it is that messed them up was somehow avoided by some pivotal decision unrealized in this one. The ability to observe the results would be most interesting in these cases, as well. How far would they have gone by now? Would there be a marriage on the way? Might I have a family yet? Could things have been worked out effectively, or was it doomed no matter what? Was the outcome I’m familiar with inevitable? These curiosities are impossible to determine, ultimately, sitting here surrounded by the perpetual flow of a single course of history… and that frustrates me. Unknowns are so frustrating, and I now realize this is one of the reasons why this whole theory is so captivating to my mind. It provides for me a means to ponder on what could possibly have gone differently, and produce an outcome entirely separate from the one which I’m so fundamentally familiar with. It doesn’t need to imply that you wish this imagined outcome to have been the case, it only means that the alternative is interesting in that it never came to be but you know it had even the slightest chance to. Because the willful mind is such an incredibly wondrous thing, providing for us the limitless possibilities to imagine countless realities as suits our whim, and consider what certain outcomes might have come about given alternate circumstances. And perhaps we might even learn something useful for this objective reality which we actually have control over.

What if my father had not left ten years ago? That would be another extremely different reality, another one I can hardly comprehend--the impact would be huge and profound. It’s amazing how some things become so normalized, so ingrained into our minds simply because it’s all we know, because we can only experience one single timespan, because that’s how the world around us works, apparently. It becomes hard to imagine things any other way. And when you try, you get this vague idea that it would have been so nice, but…getting more than that out of it seems difficult. It's hazy, like there is some general sense of how things would be, but... the data is just simply insufficient. There are far too many variables, again. You can only wonder, and imagine what that version of you is experiencing in the world that you project for them in your mind.

And what if I had picked a different college, or a different degree program, or not moved out with my brother several years ago, or even not written this? There are so many possibilities for things to have gone differently. And of course there would be unfavorable parallel universes, as well. There would be one in which I dropped out of high school (since the thought crossed my mind), or never went to college, or never bought my current vehicle, or never had that very first conversation with Dave, or for that matter any other person who’s ever been in my life.

The fascinating thing is that any, or, really, all, of these twists and turns throughout the garden of forking paths might be true realities of other representations of me. And of you, and of everyone, with some details changed. I suppose this is why they say the past is so dangerous. Not completely, of course--everything can be seen favorably, at least constructively, in some way. The good memories are, of course, positive reinforcements, and the more the better. The bad ones, however, are useful in their own ways—they can be warnings, lessons, and points of comparison. They can be things to avoid, experience to pass on. Optimism is a very, very powerful thing.

So it's all a profoundly interesting thought experiment, really, this little introspective here. It’s a daydream session, a trip down nostalgia lane with a fun twist. I'm sure everybody is aware of various moments where their lives took a decisive turn in some direction. Does it interest others that those choices might have spawned their own realities? Even if you can only ever attempt to imagine their implications, this can still provide some valuable insight for you if you can relate to it effectively. And hopefully you can shape those insights into positive applications for what you actually do have knowledge and control over.

I'll say this: if I could somehow verify that these alternate realities do indeed exist, and if I could somehow determine their locations in space-time, I would do everything in my power to tear a wormhole in the fabric of space-time right here in front of me with my bare hands. I would figure out how to navigate myself through them in any direction that I choose and give myself free reign to visit some of these other possibilities. Just to see for myself. I wonder how some of those other realities have turned out. And even if I come across a particularly beautiful one, I'll come back, for sure…

at least to say goodbye.

Posted by Eli Stanley | at 10:15 PM | 4 comments