The Foundational Theory of Chronodiegetics: Within a science fictional space, memory and regret are, when taken together, the set of necessary and sufficient elements required to produce a time machine.-- from How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
The leaves are morphing and falling around my time machine. The swishing of bicycle tires through damp leaves and the smell of wet asphalt pull across two decades. Driving down Covell Boulevard in Davis yesterday, on my way to collect the children parented by my present self, I realized that the city of Davis, itself, is in a way my time capsule. I last lived in Davis between the ages of 18 and 26. So regrets, yeah, I have a few. If there is anyone who has managed to travel that expanse of early adulthood without regret, I take off my non-existent hat to him/her/it. However, in my time machine, the memory drive is the stronger engine.
This set of musings came about while I was contemplating my forthcoming write-up of an interview with the terrific Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, and searching for a lede. The lede still eludes me, hence this rambling blog post of procrastination. Part of my problem in writing up the interview resembles the same difficulty I had in reviewing the book as much as I loved it. Yu, drat him, hits too close to home with his wry insights.
Of course a person would choose to revisit the worst day of his life if given time travel. That might not be the first destination, but it would make the top five, easy. That’s what we do with our past – pick it apart, unravel it, looking for patterns, missteps, course-corrections. We “what if.” What if I had studied more? What if I had changed my major? What if I had thought before saying that? What if I had stayed home that night? On and on, we analyze and recriminate, until we find ourselves looping through what Yu calls the “Present Indefinite.” Unable to move forward, we revisit our past, continually mining it for clues to illuminate the people we have become and the messy lives we inhabit.
Memory and regret drive our time machines. They influence the choices we make and the things/places/people/situations we avoid. Before we moved back to Davis, when I came into town, I would visit my old haunts – walk through campus, the Arboretum, past my old apartments. I wallowed in memory. Yet, since we returned here in September, I find myself confining my wanderings in town to areas that have been more a part of my life as wife and mother than as student: home to school, grocery store, Farmer’s Market, the occasional restaurant (not generally one that existed in the old days). I wandered onto campus once to do some research in the Health Sciences Library (at the western fringe of the University); I jogged once past the house where I lived in vet school; and I have rarely driven by any of my old abodes. I think, like the protagonist in How to Live Safely, I sense some danger inherent to mingling my past and present lives. I don’t think that my past self is likely to shoot her future (my present), at least not literally, but some part of me seems reluctant to let the two play together.
Perhaps that is for the best. Memory and regret are good teachers, but at some point, it is necessary to graduate into one’s own future.
Note: I still have no idea how I’m going to write the interview, but perhaps my future self will come up with something in a day or so.