Been away for a while, with most of my writing energy going toward the novel. Like most things, the longer I go without posting a blog, the harder it feels to get back into it. It’s all about Newton’s law of objects in motion really—whether it be going to sleep, waking up, writing, working out, performing music, being social, or whatever else in life, a change of state requires far more energy than just continuing on with the way things have been going. Okay, so I’m no physicist, but the metaphor makes sense for me. It helps me remember that as hard as getting up or leaving the house or doing much of anything new may feel in the moment, it will feel so much easier in the moments after I finally start.
It’s far easier to keep looking back than it is to move forward. The past, no matter its messy contents, is at very least familiar. Human memory being what it is, our recollections are more of previous recollections than of the actual events as they objectively unfolded. Assuming there is such a thing as objective reality outside our sensory perceptions, our sense of experiential identity is a cascade of emotional overreactions and misunderstandings. We base our whole sense of self on such flimsy, clouded data. At a certain point, the story we’ve told ourselves the longest becomes the definitive edition, regardless of its many inaccuracies.
Last year I read two books with the same general plot basis: a man dies and comes back to life at some point in their past, retaining the knowledge of their previous life. These two books, The First Fifteen Live of Harry August by Claire North and Replay by Ken Grimwood, are both magnificent, and I’d recommend them. I’ve yet to read another popular one with what I think is a somewhat similar concept, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, but I’ve heard good things. The two I read both handle the logistics of their protagonists’ death and rebirth in different ways, such as in one where the death occurs at the same point with a floating time of rebirth and the other where the birth is always the same with a differing time and means of death. One explores the subject matter from a more investigative, sci-fi/philosophical sense, while the other is a more personal memoir type story. I won’t spoil anything beyond those details.
Besides these books, the idea of going back to some point in my past and being able to relive experiences with my current knowledge has been on my mind because of a long running dream plot wherein I find myself back in high school or college. After hundreds of these types of dreams, the basics tend to only serve as a jumping off point for more twisted, often nightmarish shenanigans.
It’s a strong undercurrent of common existential angst for the so-called human condition that pits our conscious drives against the oppressive weight of hindsight. If only...
Of course there is no going back.
Even if we could, besides the immediate shock and possible dread of the time travel, our inaccurate recollections could leave us almost as unprepared as we were the first time around, maybe even worse because of assuming our preparedness. After all, if I’ve spent all these long nights wondering what might have been, if I ever actually get the change to try it out, the stage fright could be crippling.
What does a conscious mind wound back on itself even look like? If I retain the memories and sense of built up identity of my present self but in the body and universe of the past, what are the consequences for the idea of the soul or the mind or the self? If my physical present brain traded places with my past brain, assuming it wasn’t rejected by my immune system or caused massive shock due to however many years of neural reshaping, the amount of physical issues with the transition expand far beyond my minimal base knowledge of brain physiology. How would a brain work in another body anyway, even if it was a body the brain previously knew? Ten years ago, for instance, I played drums far more often and far better than I have in years. Would I lose those skills or would they exist in my body as some kind of muscle memory I’d have to adapt back into?
My current brain chemistry is shaped not only from a lifetime of regular experiences but also traumatic experiences and the psychiatric tools used to help me cope with those. If I went back into the past as a consciousness somehow apart from my physical brain, would I no longer have PTSD or my current levels of related depression and anxiety. Surely, going back itself would be a form of trauma, the shock of which could spiral into something far worse. If I went all the way back to the beginning, the shock of being an infant (or worse, a fetus) with the consciousness of a 28 year old could potentially cripple my psychological development beyond repair. If I went all the way back but only remembered my previous life in stages or it took till a certain age to set in, that might be easier, though this could still lead to a level and kind of overwhelming neurosis.
If it could be controlled and tested, it would probably be best to only go back a short time, at least at first. Being like time travel though, this would mean one of a few general outcomes.
1) I can’t change anything and just sorta go along for the ride. Either I’m still an active participant just with an extremely overwhelming sense of deja vu or I just kinda sit in the movie theatre of my mind and watch it all happen. I’d watch myself make the same choices and the world would spin on as it always did. Maybe I’d wonder if I was actually dying, and this was simply my life flashing before my eyes in its very last moments. Maybe my inability to change anything would be like a karmic lesson for why I shouldn’t have gone back in the first place. You can’t fight fate or whatever. This could be the worst of all possibilities.
1b) I try to change things but the timeline corrects itself. Minor changes here and there are either completely ignored by the sequence of causality around me or something else happens instead that leads to the same conclusion. It’s like going back in time to save Archduke Ferdinand, but the international tensions were such that WW1 starts up anyway based on some other spark. While I’m not a big fan of the hand of fate as a concept in fiction, destiny often seeming like a lazy motivator, I do believe that we don’t have as much control over the beliefs and actions of other people as we often think. If someone is set to dislike you, they’re gonna find a way no matter how hard you try not to make one particular mistake. Maybe they already didn’t like you. Maybe their dislike is based on rumor. Maybe getting one person to see you in a slightly more positive light doesn’t bring about the level of satisfaction you had hoped.
2) I change things so much that I never would have gone back in the first place, and, now living in this new reality, I lose all memory of my previous “life that never was”. This could be optimal if the change I make really does improve something about the past based on my foreknowledge. However, this does bring up the possibility that this is not the first time I’ve gone back in time and forgotten about it. Maybe I’ve spent years or even centuries rewinding and trying to fix or shift the one thing I thought would make everything “right”. If I never learn to accept my past and learn from it in the present, though, I’m doomed to repeat this cycle forever, never moving past the moment I leave to go back in time. Perhaps, wishing things had been different is a necessary aspect of existing as a conscious being caught in a time-stream that only moves one way.
3) Any changes I make create a brand new reality, branching off at the point of the change as a “parallel/alternate universe”. Multiverse theory ensues, etc. If I’m able to retain my memory of my previous life, then I can compare and contrast my new one, but like the protagonists of North’s and Grimwood’s stories, having to go through the drudgery of certain life experiences all over again can go from boring to frustrating to even severely traumatizing. Sure, maybe this time around I won’t care so much what my peers in high school think of me, but I’d also have a very hard time caring about my schoolwork, especially algebra 2. Of course retaining memories of experiences from a previous life would likely include retaining the changes in mental health and personality. Trying to explain to a therapist that I’m dealing with PTSD based on experiences that haven’t happened yet or open up about being from the future could lead to being diagnosed with something serious enough to hinder my plans to change anything. On the other hand, without a confidant of some sort, the emotional weight of time travel could be prohibitive as well. At least in this version, I might be able to succeed at making a change and living in the universe of its consequences. I’d be able to hold onto my reasons for making a change, and whether I am cognizant of it or not, a split timeline means I don’t end up destroying the universe in the timeline I left. I’d just disappear, die, or maybe go into a coma. However, if my traveling consciousness isn’t the original but actually a copy, then there would be no change to the original timeline. In that case, maybe this has happened plenty of times before—perhaps to all of us—and we’re all just left as the version of ourselves left behind wishing and wondering.
Family and friends would likely be able to see past even my best attempts at acting like everything is normal. While it’s unlikely anyone would jump to the conclusion that I’ve time traveled, it would be difficult to hide that something has changed. Besides trying to justify my odd behavior in simply coming to terms with the leap back, making different choices on my own would likely be insufficient to accomplish real change. At some point, I’d have to convince others to act differently as well, beyond simply accepting my new odd behavior and attitude.
I’ve yet to consider the kinds and amounts of energy required to send a consciousness back in time. Even if it’s as simple as reforming my past brain into the shape of my current brain, that would still require a certain level of energy plus however much it takes to send anything back into the past. That energy would need to come from somewhere. Perhaps it would require the energy of destroying the entire timeline from which I’m escaping. At that point, whatever choices I’ve made and am trying to unmake could never really balance out with the guilt of killing the entire universe. Plus, what if simply going back affects other people.
As with many kinds of sci-fi or fantasy ideas, the negative consequences can end up far exceeding any positive ones upon closer inspection. Trying to count and make up for all of those could easily get in the way of my original mission, whatever that may be.
I could keep going on for a long time, but that’s all I’ve got for the moment.
In any case, all this served as an introduction to my recently released new song, Dead End Drive. It doesn’t really have anything to do with time travel, but it does emerge from the same sort of pained regrets from thinking too long and too hard about the past. Caught up in that shady bog, it’s all too easy to drown.
Ultimately, I hope to come to the conclusion that my past doesn’t define me. Nor do my nightmares about the past or my worries about what folks thought or think about me. I hope that you too can find some encouragement to keep pressing on and pushing forward, even when those tendrils of time try to drag you back and hold you down.
Listen to and download DEAD END DRIVE right here.
This track counts as the fourth and final of those I recorded with Joe Casey from a few years ago, funded by some really great folks who didn’t want me to give up after my crowdfunding efforts fell through. I couldn’t have done it without the family and friends who’ve believed in and supported me. I certainly couldn’t have done it without Joe Casey’s brilliance and hard work as well as the incredible drumming skill and artistry of Joe Tounge. Thanks to them and thanks to you for sticking with me.
This is hardly the beginning, but it is in no way the end. I’ll keep learning and growing and trying new things and making art from the heart. Stick around, and I promise to let you know as soon as whatever’s next comes around.
Thanks for reading and listening,