parallel universes


[In another universe, flying places first class is what I do in my spare time.]

Two trains leave the station at the same time. One is going to Kobe, the other to Kyoto. They race side by side, neck-and-neck, until they reach a pair of bridges stretched over a river. They gradually peel off in separate directions, and the few commuters who were watching the other train’s progress look up at the sky or down at their phone.

Which is  to say earlier I was on a train and I thought, “What if I were on that train over there?” What if I’d chosen to live in Kyoto instead of Kobe? What would my apartment look like? Where would I hang out? Shop for groceries? Who would I know that I don’t know now?

I do the “what if” thing a lot as it is, but I’ve been thinking about it even more recently. See, my book’s setting is basically our universe but with some significant changes to the geography and history of our planet, so parallel universes have been on my mind.

In terms of spirituality, I put a lot of stock in the multiverse theory as well as reincarnation. They’re not quite beliefs or any kind of basis of faith, but when I think about the vast number of theories human beings have come up with, I like those two best. I like the idea of infinite universes and I like the idea of being reborn.

Just imagine if you’d won the lottery this afternoon or broken your arm in the shower somehow or complimented someone’s clothes or jewelry or even just their smile and that person turned out to be someone enormously influential to your life.

Imagine smaller things: if you’d called someone you don’t feel close to anymore and asked them how they’ve been; if you’d rented a movie you hadn’t seen since your childhood; if you’d stopped to pet a neighbor’s dog; if you’d worn the red skirt today instead of the black one; if you’d gone to a grocery store just slightly out of your way to get something special for yourself.

The big and the tiny choices alike have enormous effects on our lives, and for years I’ve been fascinated by the endless paths my life could have taken if I’d done just one tiny thing differently. Or one big thing. What if I’d chosen to go to college in my home state instead of in New York City? What if I’d pursued that internship more doggedly? What if I’d dragged my ass up at three AM and gone with my friends to see U2 for free? (U2 came to my university when I was a junior. I’m about as ashamed of sleeping in as it is possible to feel.)

Actually, in my freshman year of college, I was frequently stricken by thoughts like, “But if I stay in tonight, what incredible opportunities am I missing out on? I’m glad I asked! Here’s a list, self.” It usually didn’t stop me from staying in and reading or writing or watching movies, but I did torture myself a little every time. “You could be out making new friends and memories and instead you’re in your room and you know exactly how this will pan out.”

Nowadays I’m happy with the way life is unraveling, and every morning I wake up and make goals I know I can achieve that day. So while I don’t torment myself with what-if, I DO have fun imagining alternative lives.

What if, instead of Japan, I’d moved to Ireland? What if I’d kept in touch with that one friend from kindergarten? What if I’d actually eaten dinner when I got home instead of sitting down to write this entry before midnight?

That is an excellent question.

It can be enormously fun to imagine parallel universes – I invite you all to try it while I cram food joyously into my face.

Good night, citizens of the multiverse!


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