Tetra Lives

Aborignal painting


The world that we call “real”, with its molecules, pine trees, utility bills, and vast expanses of dark matter, is where I spend most of my time. Same as you, probably. Then again, I don’t know where you spend your time. In terms of that world’s ability to put an end to our nonsense and disperse our molecules, it’s certainly real enough.

In some ways, however, that real world happens in our minds, depending on how we process it. Think of someone who is extremely sensitive to sensory stimuli, for instance, who finds soft sounds painful, or someone who has synesthesia, and can see colors with different sounds. Whose world is real—yours or theirs?

I’m advocating the idea, if somewhat abstractly, that what happens inside our minds is real. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve spent time in four worlds. The other three all came from books, one that I was reading, one that I was writing, and one that I was critiquing. I’ve been like a literary Luke Skywalker, leaping from world to world.

The novel I was reading was Ripper by Isabel Allende, who is by far one of my favorite modern writers. The book is set mostly in San Francisco, and it is dense with interesting characters. The novel I’m revising takes place mostly in Atlanta, although I’m starting to expand that out a little, as I’m just now putting a scene in New York City in 1958. Also in the last two weeks I’ve been critiquing a novel for a friend, and that book takes place in Boston for the most part, partly set in the 1930s and partly in our own time.

Thus I’ve moved in and out of various worlds, all of which, at times, were as real in my head as dark matter. Actually, they were a lot more real than dark matter, as I don’t even know that that is, though physicists tell me there really is such a thing.

More real for me was two high school girls going into a warm bagel shop in Brookline, just outside Boston, where a young man was working making bagels. I followed those girls into the shop, picturing them, one tall, one short, I saw them sit down at a table, and I watched the young man come out from the back and catch sight of them.

At other moments, I was in San Francisco with a policeman going to question suspects in a murder case, saw him approach the house of a man who was killed, and I was standing there as he inspected the body, then went to talk to the murdered man’s indifferent wife. I could feel the policeman’s attraction to the widow, as well as his sense that he should treat her like a suspect.

In my own book, during the last two weeks, I watched one of my heroines wake up with a man she spent the night with, and I was there with her (I don’t even blush to say so), when they turned toward one another the next morning and began caressing and kissing. Later in the chapter, I sat with her and looked through her eyes, down at the ground from an airplane window, to see how it felt for her to be on a plane for the first time in her life.

Although most of my time has been here in the world of dark matter and utility bills, I’ve moved between these four worlds every day, so that I might spend the morning thinking about how to format tables in a medical article (my real job world), then at lunch time I would no longer be in Atlanta, but in San Francisco with a woman who gave massages and worked with aromatherapy, sitting with her and her daughter in a cafe. That evening I may have gotten on an airplane to go to Toronto to an art history conference, or else I attended a baseball game in Boston, with a hotdog.

Inside my head, all four of these worlds were real. Moving in and out of such worlds is how I live, and sometimes they are more interesting than the one where my body lives and needs to wash the dishes sitting on the kitchen counter. I wish dark matter would just make those dishes disappear.

I’m sending out a wish to you this week, that you have more than one world worth spending time in.

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Filed under Writing While Living

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