Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Sliding doors, continued

Picking up where I left off this morning...

I have noticed this with other friends, that the patterns and routines of our time together have been set from the first, just as if we'd settled back nto old, long-established habits after a time apart.

This has happened with the friends I've made in cyberspace whom I've since met offline.

With the friends I met first in the analog world I could say that we were brought together by our already sharing habits and routines....

But with my initially virtual friends the routine of our frienship involved keyboards and computer screens. We couldn't repeat any patterns. It all should have been brand new. But it felt old.

It was deja vu all over again.

Linda would have said that the reason it feels so familiar is that it is familiar. We are unconcsiously repeating patterns that we set in a former liftetime.

Uncle Merlin, who studied physics and astronomy in college and has kept up his interest, is fascinated with the idea of alternative universes. I haven't talked with him about this, but I think he might say that the feelings of familiarity don't extend back through time but across it. It reaches through the boundries of other universes in which we've all met but at different moments and in different ways. If I met you yesterday afternoon at Barnes and Noble because I picked that time to go get a cup of coffee, there is a universe, or universes, in which I skipped the coffee and so you and I are still strangers. But there are other universes where we are not only not strangers, we've been friends for a long time, only instead of your being a cop and we met because you pulled me over last month, you chose to go into denistry like your mother wanted and you pulled my tooth last year.

Every choice we make causes a new universe to wink into existence, a universe in which we made a different choice. But, Uncle Merlin would say, these two universes aren't separated, they aren't discrete, they aren't cut off from one another, and they aren't truly different. We exist in both of them, in all the universes that our choices have caused to pop into existence. It only seems to the piece of us that is physically trapped in this universe that there is just this time and this place. In reality, our lives are happening, our selves are living, in all our universes. We are in fact having our cake and eating it too. And our feelings of deja vu, of having been here and done that, of knowing people we have only just met as if we'd known them all our lives is the effect of something occuring in one of mulitverses bleeding through into another.

Here we know each other only through our joint effort of rearranging pixels on our separated computer screens.

There, we went to college together, dated, broke up, hated each other for a while, and now, only because you had a bigger heart and more courage than I had and you picked up the phone late one night when you heard our song on the radio, we got back together, got married, started a family, who are all asleep now as you and I sit together at the same computer screen, reading the blog of some stranger we both feel as if we must have met and been friends with for a long time.

Meanwhile, in the multiverses, you hung up before you finished dialing my number and that's why we're both inexplicably sad tonight and you did finish dialing but I couldn't let go of my grudge and hung up on you and that's why somewhere else, where we never dated, you married my roommate, and I've dropped by to watch the ball game, we're inexplicably angry at each other.


A psychologist might say that it's all just our minds playing tricks on us. That feeling that what we're doing at this instant is something we've done a thousand times together? Our imaginations have taken a new memory and refiled it in our heads, placing it among all our oldest and dearest, fooling us into treating it as if it had been in that drawer forever.

Not only that but we edit our memories even as we are filing them, in the microseconds between what we just experienced and its being fixed in our brains our imaginations have been to work, altering, coloring, intensifying or diminishing, comparing it with other memories and getting them mixed up together so that a brand new memory is permeated, for good or ill, with the old, like a piece of toast swirled through the leftover yolk on a plate, and we taste both the bread and the egg and can't be sure which we're enjoying..or not enjoying.

And on top of that in editing our memories we are editing ourselves. We are changing who we are. Our sense of self, of being a self, a discrete, permanent, consistent I, is an illusion, the result of a self-construction that breaks down and has to be put back together continually. Every reconstruction varies a bit from the last. We make ourselves believe there has been no change by adding and subtracting memories and perceptions that help or get in the way of continuing the illusion of an integrated self.

But who is the me that is building these constructions and allowing himself to be fooled by them into thinking he/I exist?

A novelist of Proustian sensibility and insight might say that we are just better at getting to know each other and making friends than we give ourselves credit for. Our minds work faster than we know; it takes time to assign words to what's happening, too much time, what's happening has happened by the time we've found the words to describe it to ourselves. And more besides. So much, so fast that we can't be bothered to describe it, we let it pass without words, and what we don't assign words to remains invisible, at least to the top levels of our awareness.

In a matter of moments you and I have told each other a hundred truths about ourselves with our eyes, our smiles. Your eyes crinkled in a funny way. I shrugged. You pushed your hair behind your ear. I stuck my hands in my back pockets and shook my head, laughing, and suddenly we're on our way to the movies already agreeing that I'll buy the tickets and you'll get the popcorn, and all this before we've shaken hands and exchanged names.

We've worked out the patterns and routines of our friendship without a word and by the time we do get around to putting it all into words, those patterns and routines have already taken on an ancient familiarity.

That shock of recognition when we say, "I know you," comes late in the game. It's a redundancy that our addiction to words has made necessary. Saying what has already been "said" pulls it out of the past and reruns it as if it had just happened.

The words clarify and intensify and make concrete what had been on its way to being ephemeral. Words are clumsy but good. And maybe that's why it's possible to know someone, to sense that we've met only as words on a computer screen. We are used to our friends being the words we assign to their and our mixing up of selves.

In another lifetime, my big sister reached out and grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the way of an ox cart.

In another universe, my father accepted that transfer and a brand new teacher, the ink on her diploma still wet, took the second job she was offered, the one out of state, and Miss Wilcox became my English teacher my freshman year of high school.

And in this lifetime, in this universe, I looked up in dismay and confusion from a sample syllabus and my eyes met those of a smart and sympathetic woman who saw I needed the kind of help she could give.

And when the meeting broke for lunch, Linda walked over and put out her hand and saved my life.


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