Thursday, October 6, 2016


            Here’s a passage from a short story I read:

When pop singer Zayn Malik left the boy band One Direction, physicist Stephen Hawking offered the following consolation to millions of grieving teen fans: “My advice to any heartbroken young girl is to pay close attention to the study of theoretical physics. Because one day there may well be proof of multiple universes. It would not be beyond the realms of possibility that somewhere outside of our own universe lies another different universe—and in that universe Zayn is still in One Direction.”

I don’t recall who wrote the story, and I can’t confirm the Hawking quotation, but no matter.

            And here’s a poem I wrote a few years ago:


We are what we choose, of course--
this house, this car, this apple,
this moment when I drop the newspaper
to examine the finch at the feeder
or rise from a warm bed, step
out under a dark sky suddenly
alive in starlight, new constellations
taking shape as the universe
seethes against my eye.
but we are also the rejected choices,
the person we didn’t marry who appears
years later at a party, the career
as an architect, and the choices
that drift away without our knowing
we didn’t make them--they, too,
attach to us like shadows, like
an undiscarded stillborn twin.
think of your unchoices, list them
at the bottom of this page. Let me
help you get started: the life
you did not live as an Indian,
the books you didn’t need to finish,
the brown uniformed UPS man,
the mural over the fireplace showing
the dense green receding textures
of your imagined woods,
the waltz on the beach to silent music
and the applause of German tourists.

            That last example is one that Kim and I actually did, but it suits the poem better as something we did not have the guts or opportunity to do. I don’t dance. (My Native American name is “Dances With Difficulty.”) But we did waltz that once, on a beach in Florida. I only presented our choice as an “unchoice.”

            Hawking probably got his idea from my poem, but that’s beside the point, which is: If Hawking is right, how do we gain access to those other universes?

            You can do it as you are falling asleep, or maybe just as you are waking up. (The technical term for this is “dreaming.”) But no, some might say, that is only a dream! Such objections are based on a false distinction between dreams and “reality.” Just because you can’t hear a high-frequency dog whistle doesn’t mean that the sound isn’t real. Similarly, just because an experience can be labeled as a “dream” doesn’t mean that it’s not a valid experience. Using your imagination can accomplish the same thing as dreaming, with a greater sense of control.

            Another way to access another universe is simply to make the leap into it. That’s what Kim and I are doing. (“Trust me,” Kim says, and I do, though I also subscribe to something my friend Mark Jones said about people's reaction to change: “I’m all in favor of change, as long as I don’t have to do anything differently.”) There are things that people in their 70s are doing if they are being realistic, but we have chosen not to live in that universe.

·      Realistic people pay off their mortgage. We have applied for a mortgage. The other person not being realistic is the mortgage guy who signed us up for 30 years.

·      Realistic people move from chilly northern cities to warm and sunny Florida. We are moving to northern Michigan.

·      Realistic people our age begin to simplify their lives. We are starting the process of building a house.

·      Realistic people understand the importance of friends and, especially, family. We agree, but we are moving hundreds of miles from our sons, and over a thousand miles from our daughter and our friends in Gainesville. We trust that our friends and family will travel Up North to visit us, and we now have delightful new friends in our realtor and her husband.

·      Realistic people choose to age near top-notch medical facilities. That’s what we are doing, though it will be a new batch of doctors, dentists, therapists, etc.

            We will share the details of our variant universe once we are living there and can take some pictures – maybe in a month or two.

            Meanwhile, take this advice from e.e. cummings:

listen: there’s a hell

of a good universe next door; let’s go

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