I had this recurring time travel fantasy, that went something along the lines of this: Upon finding a working time machine, I would go back to 1983 to have sex with 1983 Linda Blair, and afterward, I would travel back to 1971 - no location in particular; the place I see in my head’s just some nebulous Midwestern city - and live there for a couple of years as a hippie before ultimately killing myself.
There’s a lot to unpack there, and quite honestly, the geek in me wants to start with the mechanics of the fantasy itself, before we get to the implications. So let’s indulge him for a bit.
Now, I happen to subscribe to the many worlds theory of quantum mechanics, which would make the paradox that happens in the above fantasy irrelevant. (But it does bring up a whole other set of issues.) For a basic understanding of how this theory applies to time travel, think of Back to the Future, Part II, when Marty (or more accurately, Old Biff) creates an alternate 1985 timeline with the Grays Sports Almanac plot. Essentially, whenever you travel through time, you’re not actually travelling through your own world’s history, but rather you’re accessing a parallel world, which may or may not mirror our current Earth.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that there are infinite parallel Earths out there, and all of them hew pretty closely to our own. When you go back in time to this alternate Earth (“Earth 2”), you’re free to muck it up as much as you like, as your own Earth (“Earth 1”) remains unchanged. So, in this scenario, I would be traveling through “time” to have sex with alternate universe 1983 Linda Blair, then would be traveling to ANOTHER alternate universe to go live in their version of “1971 Chicago”, for example.
Obviously, the glaring problem with that (aside from the obvious) is that there is no guarantee that the alternate world is anything like our own - once in the machine, I might be headed to a world that looks like Dimension X from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Or I might be headed to a world very similar to ours, but in this version, something happened that prevented the birth of Linda Blair, and then my whole reason for going back was invalidated. Shit, assume things go without a hitch. Remember: You’re still in a whole ‘nother universe. There’s theoretically ANOTHER YOU in that universe that you have to deal with. (My guess is that most of us would go Highlander on that sumbitch.) Things like this. But at the very least, the traditional time travel paradox is averted, so that’s something.
(This is personally why I enjoy the MW theory - the possibility of endless possibilities.)
But that’s no fun, and indeed - most people don’t think about the whole “many worlds” thing when they fantasize about time travel. They want to go back and screw with OUR timeline, damnit! So let’s imagine a stable time loop, one where time eventually curves back onto itself - this is how we get into the fun with time paradoxes.
I would imagine that, if I were to go back to (our) 1983 and bang 1983 Linda Blair (and I admit that I haven’t quite thought out the logistics of that plan, but then I also imagine that if I had a functioning time machine in my possession, figuring out how to have sex with 1983 Linda Blair probably shouldn’t be THAT much of a stretch, assuming I don’t fall prey to the Dunning-Kruger effect), I would in effect be destroying the future as I know it up to that point, launching off into a new version that would be mostly unfamiliar to me. (This is based on the assumption that everything in the past happened as it was supposed to happen, which led to the creation of our current world as we know it, and even the smallest change in the past could have far-reaching consequences. You’d recognize that last bit as the butterfly effect.) But by that point, I wouldn’t be concerned with the future - either the old one or the new one - as I would then be putting the second part of my plan into effect.
(Aside: It’s entertaining to think about how potentially apocalyptic going back in time to have sex with someone could be.)
So, after getting me some sweet, sweet 1983 Linda Blair (and there’s a reason for that particular version of Linda Blair - I’ll explain in due time), I would be traveling back to 1971 - and since I already mentioned it, to 1971 Chicago - with the assumption being that, while the future from that moment in time is pretty much screwed, the past up to that point remains as constituted (again, for sake of argument, I’m assuming that changes in the timeline only affect future events, and do not retroactively change past events - although quite honestly, anything is possible once you start messing with the space-time continuum).
Now, I chose 1971 Chicago, as I have this idealized (and probably unrealistic) vision of the 1970s in general, much in the same way that everyone seems to have this nostalgia for the 1950s as being more like the version shown on Mad Men and less like the version that actually happened. To me, the 1970s were more “creative” and “free” and “open” and “five or six other adjectives” as compared to now. This was a time of experimentation and rebellion, of concepts like free love and togetherness being bandied about, and it seems like it would fit my personality. So, I stay there for a couple of years, just experiencing the whole vibe, man - the color and the shape, the sound and the fury - and then I end up killing myself, causing a version of the grandfather paradox.
Now, here’s the thing: Why would I kill myself? Why, after all of the trouble I went through, would I just end it?
It actually ties back into the reason why I had this particular time travel fantasy in the first place.
Note that I said “had” in my introductory paragraph - I “had” this recurring time travel fantasy. It wasn’t something that I’ve ALWAYS had whenever I fantasized about travelling through time. Honestly, a lot of my previous fantasies were much like everyone else’s - I’d go back in time to right some wrong, redo some action, and/or explore alternate paths that I could’ve taken but didn’t, because reasons. See dinosaurs, witness the deliberation and conjugation of the Emancipation Proclamation, kill baby Hitler, et cetera. But at the end of the adventure, I’d return to my current time, return home and all that good stuff. The “time tourist” fantasy of time travel, if you will.
Where it changed for me was roughly around 2007, when I graduated from college and entered the professional world, and everything that came along with it. No need to dwell on this particular period in my life (mostly because I already wrote a book about it #BrknHrtd), but I will say that at the time, I was looking for something to believe in - beyond all the usual causes, which did nothing for me on a personal level - and philosophy became a viable (and interesting) option, existentialism in particular. I’m not entirely sure how or when or why I latched onto the discipline, but I did, and one of the key tenets that stuck with me was the fundamental idea that “existence precedes essence” - to grossly oversimplify here, it means that we, as humans, are not born with any predefined identity; thus, we are free to choose that identity for ourselves, and it’s those identities we choose that define the values we hold.
(For instance, one isn’t necessarily born with a disposition towards being a waiter, or a conservative, or a Canadian, eh - you are a human being first, and THEN you become any or all or none of those things. The choice is yours to make.)
(My apologies to any conservative Canadian waiters out there, of course. I don’t mean to insult your existence.)
Now, for someone who had basically functioned in one capacity his entire life (“The Good (Blank)” - Son, Brother, Student, Teammate, Employee, Negro, take your pick), this concept intrigued me, for two reasons. (1) It didn’t feel like I had chosen this “role” for myself, but rather had it foisted upon me, and (2) this capacity only really worked if and only if I was receiving a commensurate amount of feedback in return - in my case, praise; some good ol’ fashioned ego stroking. And even before I graduated and found out that praise in the adult world is harrowingly fleeting (unless you go down the rabbit hole of trying to please everyone to get that praise, often at the expense of yourself), I realized that defining myself solely as The Good (Whatever) wasn’t quite enough for me - I wanted more. (Despite not knowing exactly what that “more” entailed.) And on more than one occasion, where I found myself alone, because the friends/family/community/complete strangers/ideals I had invested in were off doing their own thing, I realized how being The Good (Whatever) only worked if I was able to be The Good (Whatever) in relation to something else. I couldn’t be The Good (Whatever) for its own sake - it didn’t make sense, and quite honestly, it doesn’t work that way.
(Don’t get me wrong - being good for its own sake has its own intrinsic rewards, but even I couldn’t be THAT altruistic all of the time. I had to get SOMETHING out of it.)
(I am but human, after all.)
So, once enough time had elapsed, and The Good (Whatever) had become The Good (Nothing) through sheer attrition and disuse, I found myself with a need to try to replace that (Nothing) with (Something). Now, the preference was (Something) that was meaningful and personal to me, but my inner pragmatist, scared at the thought of having to face the (Nothing) on a daily basis (because you just can’t go from (Something) to (Something Else) without some (Nothing) in between), tried to muster up the ol’ “Hell - ANYTHING that works, just to avoid being (Nothing)” attitude, but the idealist in me countered with “Seriously? So you’ve forgotten the whole bit about ‘The Good (Anything)’ already? Means NOTHING to you?”, then
Pragmatist: Look, you fat-necked bastard – idealism is for the classroom, this is the REAL WORLD! You have to do SOMETHING!
Idealist: So we can fall into the same trap as before? Work in service of something, only for it to no longer need you? Discard you like so many pieces of rotted fruit? Rip you apart at the seams like a tight-ass pair of jeans? Who’s the fat-necked bastard now, you…pudgy…necked bastard.
Idealist: Yeah, no. I heard it right as it was coming out. Ran out of steam at the end there.
Pragmatist: As you often do.
Me (to Idealist): Oh, come ON, man. NO comeback?
Idealist (to Me): Hey! I come up with big ideas! Never said anything about them being fast!
And on and on and on, back and forth, for a good two to three years, really. I suppose it was this clash of values, and the whole “trying to rewrite my operating system” thing in general, that led me to - if we can continue the metaphor here - a series of Blue Screens of Death (or Red Rings of Death, for you traitorous XBoxers out there #GreatnessAwaits), followed by the eventual (inevitable?) machine instruction, HCF.
Halt and Catch Fire.
In case you haven’t seen the AMC show (for the record, I haven’t ) or don’t frequent Wikipedia as much as I do - or just don’t care too much for the geekspeak - I suffered an extended mental breakdown. By this time I had already begun my examination of existentialism, to see what would work for me, IF it would work for me, and due to the breakdown, I frequently ventured into existential nihilism, because, y’know. Fun.
Yes, on more than one occasion, I thought about committing suicide. But I didn’t, because obviously. Unless my ghost is able to manipulate keyboards and word processors and whatnot. But then again -
(Y’know what? Let’s end that particular tangent there before we go down the “Brain-in-a-Vat” rabbit hole. Even though I’m not entirely sure that I’m not there NOW.)
But yeah - I did think about killing myself, in this vein: Due to existentialism (and increasingly, existential nihilism), I believed I had no purpose whatsoever in my life. (Note: This is disingenuous, but again - for sake of argument.) I no longer was The Good (Something); theoretically I was free to choose whatever I wanted to be, to make my own meaning. But the nihilism came about when I “realized” that there really wasn’t anything that I WANTED to be. Remember those anecdotes about what you do in your free time is what you should do as a career? (Example: You work on cars, you should be a mechanic, or you play with computers, so something in IT, or you like throwing parties, so you should be a murderous clown, et cetera.) I applied this to myself, and I found that most of the time, I didn’t want to do anything. Literally NOTHING. I’m not saying that I wanted to do nothing but relax - I’m talking about how I wanted to CEASE EXISTING ENTIRELY.
Honestly, around this time my life really wasn’t progressing the way I had envisioned (culminating in what turned out to be my grand six-month sabbatical up north), and so I wondered if the simplest solution (not the BEST, mind you, but the simplest) was to just end it all and be done with it. Wasn’t sure if this meant that I was going to do this “life” thing all over again (although me from that time - let’s call him Depressed Me - didn’t want THAT, if it meant replaying this whole sad sequence of events all over again), but at the very least, my current nonsense would be over with.
Ultimately, I decided otherwise (mostly because I actually found something to do with my life - something like this thing right here, that you’re reading right now), but during my fight to step back from the dark, swirling miasma of The Void, I inevitably thought about all the things that I did, or rather, DIDN’T do, and how my life would’ve changed I had done just one thing differently. Talked to that woman, or applied to that job. Moved to that city, or even just not spent so much on those hundred thousand things that I ended up throwing out later, because these so-called “dating experts” on the interwebs claimed that “women don’t like dudes that have D&D books on their shelf - man up, brah”.
(Ah, the What If game. Depressed Me was the king of it. Sunk hundreds and thousands of tokens into the machine, never paid off ONCE. Such is the heartless bitch that is the What If game.)
You spend enough time playing the What If game, and you REALLY start to flesh out all of these hypothetical scenarios. My problem was that, since I really had nothing else going on at the time, I basically did nothing BUT this. What can I say? Depressed Me lived up to his name.
Kinda-but-not-really aside: They say depression is an inability to imagine a future. Depressed Me’s problem - apart from the everything - was that, aside from being unable to imagine his future, he really couldn’t remember his past all that well. No, really - outside of maybe five or six events, I do not remember my childhood at all, up to a certain point. If you imagine my memory as being like a book, then the first sixty to seventy pages are blank. My memories are there, I know they’re there. They’re not like they’re deleted, like pages being ripped out of the book. No, they’re just blank, like a printing error gone awry - I don’t remember the contents. Which is why those five or six seemingly random memories I DO remember are so clear in my head - they sit in stark contrast to the pages upon pages of blankness around them.
(In case you’re still wondering, yes - this is absolutely true. It’s like infantile amnesia, if it went all the way to age eleven instead of age four or five.)
Now, I say “up to a certain point” because that “certain point” is “a car crash that I was involved in around 1995”, but I hate saying it like that, as the implication is that the car crash lead to the clearing of memories, and that’s one hundred percent post hoc ergo propter hoc - I cannot, and probably will not, ever prove that the two events are related. They just happened around the same time, and that’s all I can give you. I personally do not believe in coincidence, but this would be the one glaring exception.
(By the way, this leads to another of my favorite rabbit holes - memory. Here’s an interesting question: Imagine you participate in an activity, but subsequently suffer a bump on your head and forget about it. Later on, someone else tells you the details of your participation in that activity, details that you think you once remembered, but have completely forgotten. That person’s account is so detailed that it remains in your head, clear as day. Is this still a memory? Do memories have to be self-originated in order to count?)
(Have fun with that.)
So, unable to imagine a better tomorrow, and only remembering the bad parts of the past (mostly the post-2007 stuff, which lead to the namesake depression), Depressed Me needed an out. While I hadn’t yet resolved to off myself - though I thought about it ALL. THE. TIME. - instead I tried to seek out things to distract me, things to provide me with some escape from the black hole I found myself in. And as it so happened, these things were things that happened to involve time travel. I guess I gravitated towards time travel because it not only offered me an escape from my present (which, without my future or past, became my default), but also allowed me a chance to finally get a win at the What If game by basically invalidating the rules - by being able to move through time and space at will, by having a giant reset button at your disposal, the possibilities are endless, and assuming enough time, you could guide yourself to the best possible resolution, Zack Morris-style.
Outside of taking wanton potshots at myself, THIS became Depressed Me’s favorite pastime. But the problem with this is that it’s all hypothetical - OF COURSE time travel doesn’t exist. (…) No matter how much I could gameplan something to the best possible ending, I still had to face the real world, where it felt like I was living in, maybe not the DARKEST timeline, but certainly the most depressing one. And having to face that reality day after day inevitably meant taking some of that negativity into the time travel hypothesizing, which is how I came up with the aforementioned fantasy.
It actually started out as a joke - one day, I was doing the astral plane across the interwebs when I discovered pictures of a rather young and a rather buxom Linda Blair, mostly topless, in various poses. Hilarity ensued, and after I cleaned myself off, I found myself returning to these pictures again, and again and again (aw, yeah - again and again!). To the point where I paid forty dollars for the October 1982 issue of Oui Magazine on eBay, featuring everyone’s favorite Exorcist moppet-turned-sex symbol on the front cover. (It’s actually a pretty memorable cover, too. Just sayin’. Google it.)
So, bouncing in between that and my old time travel funnin’ and gunnin’, I thought
Depressed Me: Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if I were able to travel back in time and meet 1983-era Linda Blair?
Pragmatist: Sure, why not.
Idealist: Wait - why 1983 Linda Blair?
Depressed Me: That one picture we really like? It’s from the Italian Playboy from 1983. Two plus two is math, yo.
Depressed Me: You wanna hear a secret? I’d TOTALLY do her.
Pragmatist: …The hell you say.
Depressed Me: I know, right?
But the more I returned to the well, the less it became a joke. Not to the point where I ACTUALLY tried to build a time machine. No - I’m not quite THAT crazy. (…) But more like I started to treat it with an air of seriousness, instead of the absurdly improbable premise that it was. Right before this particular break started, I kept a journal/commonplace book where I wrote down most of my thoughts (because it seemed like a writerly thing to do), and it was things like this
why do i insist on chasing after misery? because maybe deep down, i just enjoy being miserable. get a miserable job, go to a miserable bar to spend my miserable money, meet a miserable girl, have a miserable wedding, raise some miserable kids, and ultimately die a long-awaited, much-anticipated, yet still thoroughly, disappointingly and depressingly miserable death.
that fueled the urge to take this thing seriously. It was like
Depressed Me: I am an unmitigated failure in almost every sense of the word. I couldn’t do what I wanted, and now I’m no longer sure I even WANT to do it anymore. I might as well just end it, and then see what happens next.
Honestly, it wasn’t even the actual time travel fantasy itself, but rather the IMPETUS behind it - since I have no future, I might as well just spend a brief moment of my remaining life doing something I enjoy, before ceasing to be. And it can’t be some bullshit like “go on a cruise” or “eat a hundred tacos”. No, if it’s going to be the VERY LAST THING that I do with my life, it’s going to be fucking BIG. EPIC.
Pragmatist: Wait. So sex with Linda Blair is monumental to you?
Depressed Me: ..?
Pragmatist: Never mind. JUST heard it.
But the world works as it does, and one day, I stumbled upon this website called 750words.com. Saw what it was all about, joined for a couple of months, found myself WANTING to come back each night and just unload EVERYTHING. All my hopes. All my fears. All my dreams. All my anxieties. Whatever was in my head at that moment in time when I fired up my laptop, it went on the site. And I would not stop until I reached my own personal goal of around 1500 words a night, which I usually did in forty-five minutes. Horribly misspelled - I’m a terrible typist, as I still prefer to write first drafts longhand - but I broke through my impulse to stop the furious typing to correct a misspelled word, because I needed to learn how to let it all flow out, and the hell to how it looked.
Besides - that’s what editing is for.
I ended up deleting my account there before I had the idea to export any of my work, which only slightly bums me out, especially since I had been riffing on this odd idea about how my secret desire in life is to be a white woman in a lesbian relationship with an Iranian woman. (Don’t ask. But I might tell you one day.) But I deleted it because I found myself returning to a certain set of themes night after night, and I realized that, fuck man - I gotta do something with this.
So, one day in late August 2013, I sat my ass down and started on a book proper, because I didn’t want to go back to my old rotation of furious, pained self-loving, followed by furious, pained self-loathing. Maybe I was just finally fed up with being in that spiral, or maybe I just wanted to say something profound (and disgusting, and profound once again) before I truly did take my own life. Maybe I just wanted to try something DIFFERENT for once. Or maybe I just wanted to fulfill at least ONE fucking dream of mine, to see my name on the front cover of a published book. Whatever the reason, I stuck with it, and from August to roughly a week before Thanksgiving in 2013, I finished my first draft.
And the rest, as they say, is -
Idealist: Don’t, no. Don’t do that joke. That’s so corny, I will come out of your head and manifest myself into physical form, transform my hand into a T-1000 knife-hand, and stab you until my arm gets tired. And then I’ll stab you with my other arm. And then my leg. And then my other leg. And then – you see where I’m going with this.
Pragmatist: I’d actually pay to see that. But, not a lot. Not in THIS economy.
Idealist: What’s the maximum you’d pay for me to do that, then?
Idealist: …Yeah, I’d probably still do it.
Pragmatist: You whore.
Idealist: Hey! Contrary to what you may believe, being an idealist is a shit-paying job! I need cash too! Can I not grow as a human being? Can I eat? Can I live?
Confession: I started composing this entire thing about two weeks before my thirtieth birthday. (Author’s note: In two weeks, I couldn’t figure out a better title for this thing than The Birthday Thing. A writer, am I.) Should everything go according to plan, I’ll have this up on both my Facebook and my Tumblr at precisely midnight on July 5th. (Although I should wait until 1:42 PM, since that’s TECHNICALLY when I was born. Not a first-hand memory – I remember seeing this on my birth certificate. Although how cool would it have been for Zero-Year-Old Me to know how to tell time?)
I’ve been thinking about it a lot - the big 3-0, this seemingly meaningless-yet-paradoxically-meaningful marker in our lives, this wholly arbitrary point in time where we’re supposed to measure ourselves against every other thirty-year-old in the history of the human race, and see where we are in our lives as compared to them. This used to fill me with SO much anxiety - I mean, compared to my peers, I’m WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY behind. I’m not married, I don’t have kids. Not dating. Shit, I’m still living in my parents’ house. It was actually one of the reasons I stopped going on Facebook so much - I’d go on, see other people posting endless pictures and updates about their lives, their families, vacations and whatnot, harbor a deep desire for all of that, feel so utterly ashamed that I’m not even CLOSE to that, become enraged about how others have it “better” than me, and then inevitably suppress the sociopath inside that wants to go all OFWGKTA on the world.
In fact, and I doubt many of you noticed, I actually deactivated my account for four months back in 2013. And my god - it was GLORIOUS. No longer was I subject to the tyranny of expectation, either from myself or others. I no longer felt an obsessive-compulsive need to compare my life to everyone else, especially since (as I’ve discovered) what I want is kindasorta really different from a lot of other people. I’ve returned, but I’ve barely used it, because I found that I no longer have a burning desire TO use it. I suppose you could say I just filled the need that Facebook fulfilled (however perverse it may have been) with something else, and I while I don’t necessarily agree, nor do I necessarily disagree. All I know is that I no longer need it the way I used to. No doubt, it’s still (debatably) useful for keeping in touch with friends and family, but it no longer fills any need in my life. It’s a tool, and nothing more.
I actually feel the exact same way about the 1983 Linda Blair/1971 Chicago time travel fantasy now. This is huge - remember how I said I “had” that time travel fantasy? While I still think about it from time to time, it no longer occupies the same space it used to in my life. That is, I’m no longer obsessively concerned with my own past. It’s not perfect - far from it - but I accept it for what it is, even the parts that I don’t remember, because it’s MINE, and mine alone. I would not be ME without it, and I am actually legitimately thankful for that. I may not be who I want to BE (yet), but I am definitely getting closer to loving who I’ve BECOME with each passing day.
In other words, it’s not that I don’t think about it anymore. It’s that I don’t NEED to.
Crazy thing is, I’m still glad that I had the fantasy, and the experience that led to the formation of the fantasy - while I’m a fairly committed existentialist, I still believe in determinism to a degree, and I’m fully convinced that everything - and I do mean E’RYTHANG - that’s happened to me so far was wholly and completely necessary to me developing in the exact way that I did. And because I value myself as I do, it only stands to reason that I would value the forces and experiences that led me to developing as I did. I literally would not change any of it for the world.
Besides, if I did go through with that cockamamie plan of mine, I imagine that at some point, I’d have to fight 1983 cocaine-fueled Rick James.
…Yeah - I saw that episode of Chappelle’s Show.
No thank you.