I recently traveled to Vancouver with my sister Liz. As I was walking through Minneapolis St. Paul airport, I passed my old high school classmate, Mary. Except it wasn’t really Mary. After all, this young woman was about 18 years old, and Mary, well, Mary had surely aged along with me.
As Liz and I pedaled bikes around the Vancouver seawall, we passed a couple of people walking. “What the heck is Danielle Fox doing in Vancouver?” she exclaimed. The woman we had passed was a doppleganger for a friend of hers from 25 years back. Except of course, she looked exactly as she had back then.
Perhaps Mary was a time traveler, zooming from 1969 to 2012 while apparently sitting in homeroom. Did she pretend she had to go to the girls’ room and then will herself to the future? Did she leave a placeholder Mary at her desk, studiously bent over her English homework, while the real Mary gallivanted over space and time? The other students, instead of snickering at her mousy countenance, her averted gaze, should have been asking her what secrets she was withholding.
Of course, I’m time traveling as well, moving across the planet, crossing time zones. One minute I’m in Asheville, the next, I’m in Vancouver. All I have to do is walk with a roller bag around a vast building with tall windows for a couple of hours, head down a ramp, sit down in an uncomfortable seat, and voila! New time, new place.
The only problem with my time travel theory, is that Minneapolis Mary was a waitress at the Cinnabon. Which means that it’s more likely that Mary was bilocating in addition to time traveling. After all, you can’t hold down a job in one time and be a high school student in another. Or can you?
Bilocation is the inevitable result of our modern need to be many places at once. While the internet and all of our gadgets have been incredibly helpful in bringing us into virtual bilocation (I can be having a Skype meeting with someone in France, while talking to someone on the phone in NYC, while secretly petting my cat in Asheville), the art of actually being in two places at once is still beyond me. Or is it? Futurists are predicting that the human being as we know it will be unrecognizable by the year 2030. Calling this shift the Singularity, they have predicted everything from some sort of Star Trek Cyborg to beings who completely transcend the physical plane. But what if our “quantum leap” is merely recognizing our true nature?
When I was in my twenties, I was traveling through the Midwest with a mime troupe. One night, I had a dream. In it, I was sweeping a stage. An elderly woman approached me and said, “Good luck, Lavina.” I turned to her and said, “My name is Lavinia, not Lavina.” But she was gone.
The next day we arrived in Decorah, Iowa. As we drove through the corn to the (then) sad downtown, I exclaimed, “Who would ever choose to live in a town like this!”
In the morning, we did a show for the local high school, and that night, as I was warming up for the evening performance, a girl came up to me. “Are you Lavinia? I heard the director say your name at the show this morning. My name is Lavina.” I felt an odd thrill as she reached for a broom and began sweeping the stage. She was wearing bellbottoms and clogs, a look I had loved in my teen years. Her hair was cut in a Dutch pageboy: bangs and a blunt cut, the same hairstyle I had had till my early 20’s. Coincidence? Of course, it had to be. But I couldn’t resist. I walked up to her. “When’s your birthday?” I asked. She looked up, surprised. “July 16, 1962,” she replied. My birthday is July 15, 1952.
“So….I had a dream that someone was wishing you good luck,” I said casually.
She looked up. I continued, “An elderly woman with a gray streak in her hair?”
Lavina stared. “That’s my grandmother. I told her yesterday that I wanted to become an actress. And she said, ‘Good luck.’
The next day, our troupe gave master classes, the students were divided among the company and Lavina was in my class. She was a natural: understanding the technique as if she was born to it. At one moment, my eyes filled with tears – I was watching myself. I chose to be born in Decorah, Iowa. But how could that be?
After the workshop, Lavina raced down the hall to talk to me. “I have a question,” she blurted. “I know I’m talented, I know I can do anything. But every time I have to audition, I freeze. What can I do?”
How well I knew her dilemma. I could jump on a plane and travel to a foreign country without a penny to my name and somehow make it work. I could camp in the wilderness with a pack of matches and a sleeping bag. I could stand up to the school bully and make him feel like an insect. But for years I had struggled with the agony of rejection at auditions. To give your heart and soul for 60 seconds or less, then hear the words, “Thank you,” was like descending into a vortex of self-recrimination. “I should have chosen a different song. That monologue was a stupid idea. I’m not tall enough.” Over the years, I had learned that it wasn’t personal; it was not about me. Yet a voice inside still chided. Now here I was, telling myself ten years from now, “You have to remember it’s not personal. Don’t ever think it’s about you. You are brilliant and no amount of rejection will ever change that.” I swallowed back the tears. What would it have been like if someone had told me that when I was in High School? And then I realized, I just had!
There are some philosophers who posit that each one of us is actually part of a greater self, an oversoul, a cosmic “I”. Time is not some line that needs to be followed in an orderly fashion, but more like a grid of infinite events. If this is so, then at any given moment in “time”, there’s a Lavinia who is timid, one who is courageous, and one who is incredibly stupid. One exists in Decorah, Iowa simultaneously with an older one in New York. Multiply this possibility through the eons and there are infinite Lavinias trying and failing or succeeding, sitting down together in cafes in 19th century Vienna and 31st century Patagonia. Maybe it’s so much simpler than I think. Instead of trying to master techniques like time travel and bi-location, I merely have to access the many fragments of myself. If I could learn to listen to the wisdom of Lavinias who failed to try, who tried and failed, who tried and tried, and who didn’t need to try, I just might be ready for 2030 when that Singularity arrives.
In the meantime, I eagerly await meeting some of my other selves in 2013. Have a Happy New Year!