I have been fully immersed in the world of the my novel writing over the last few months. The characters are real to me and their lives, choices and experiences are a daily consideration and deliberation. Every hour spent on this work is an hour in absentia. I am not here really, and yet the contemplative, slow work progression makes me feel focused and contented. It is draining work, that seems to sap my ability to write in other ways - such as for this blog, or for the other blog I run for my online business YOGICOMM. But I continue, for this novel writing is the most important work of all for me.
It is a constant challenge to find time to dedicate to a project that is abstracted from your ‘job’ commitments, relationships and civil responsibilities. A first novel is a scary and illusive thing to pursue. There is nothing to show for it whilst it is being created and no one (including you) really knows whether its total crap or not. Its just a document on my Macbook. A blip on the ether. And yet it represents hours and hours of iteration, reiteration, drafts and redrafts. It represents energy, emotion, tears and sweat.
The perspective an author embodies in writing a story is dizzyingly empowering, especially so if the story is written in the third person, like mine is. You delve into your characters minds, and pick out thoughts, impulses or emotions. You can then zip out and contemplate a scene, employing opaque conjecture regarding the character’s movements or motivations. At any given time, there are several threads of a story unfolding, weaving in and out, away from and towards each other. There are differing time-frames, off course, and also cadences of time - one chapter could sweep over generations, whilst another painstakingly describes a moment. Pre-eminent limitations of the human experience - space, time, singular consciousness - pose no obstacle at all to The Author.
It is incredible to contemplate a protagonist’s action as a singular occurrence amongst a range of possible causal trajectories. The author not only presides over this occurrence (thats obvious) but has the perspective of multiple possible trajectories for a single person over time, and can see how a single range of choices can bifurcate into whole different range of outcomes and possible lives for the character and the world around them.
I would love to preside over my own life like this. I took ‘choice A’ over Choice B-D - what are those Nina’s who took, B, C and D doing right now and who are they? I encourage you to ask this of yourself, particularly in the present and forecasting trajectories of you into the future. All of those persons are all possible as you weigh up your choices now.
Throughout reading the brilliant novel by Paul Auster, 4321, one is forced to contemplate the life story of one boy, Archie Ferguson, over four different parallel narrative threads. It is a monumental volume that reads like a majestic saga drawn over mid-twentieth century America, and yet, it follows the life of one boy four times over. It is possibly the most ambitious novel I have ever read, and Auster delivers this magnum opus with characteristic humanity, humour and lightness of touch. Confusingly, at moments during the novel, the reader is suddenly flung out of their position in the front-row looking in on Archie’s life given the all seeing eye of the author’s narration, to a back seat, as a voyeur of a meta-narrative process, during which Archie is seemingly also the author as he plans to write a book about his life, told in four ways. It is a destabilising and refreshing read, like being plunged naked into an ice-bath on the edge of an Arctic shelf, straight from the cloistered drabness of festive season shopping, drinking and socialising.
The deeper question is, why are we committed to imagining ourselves as singular and having developed over time on a solitary chain of causality? To what degree do those choices you don’t make, and versions of ourselves we didn’t journey with, exist?
Realising that this train of thought I was pondering was getting ‘far out’, I consulted a physicist in Amsterdam. Although he had no bold and conclusive answers (this is not the job of theorists, this is the job of politicians), he did propose that I consider the Multiverse Theory. We chatted for hours about how Auster might knowingly or unknowingly be deliberating on this concept through his storytelling.
The Multiverse theory can be understood by beginning here: People are objects made up of particles. But particles are air - 99% is made up of empty space. Only 1% is not made up of empty space, and this is the particle matter. So we are much more ‘space’ that we are ‘object’. Moreover, this matter is both a particle and a wave - it moves, a fundamental characteristic of particle matter is flux. But when we study or observe something - take a dog - we observe it as one whole static particle. This is equivalent to stopping time and this is contrary to the essential impulse of reality. We study the dog. Every time you look at the universe you stop it, you observe - and this is the frozen particle.
As we push play and time moves, we see that we are not particles but waves of energy, oscillating between two points (sinusoidal). So every time we look at a system or an object we hold it in our comprehension as one thing, and therefore we stop it transforming in a flux through our looking and cognising. Our computation is to assign fairly static notions of meaning and identification to the world around us. We can comprehend change (the dog grows old) but not on a quantum level. Our encounter of our world in this way renders us a stationary by-product of a massive moving universe in a state of flux.
When you look at something you define it to one state. But, if you look away, and the physicists are correct, this something could be scattered across a multitude of different states. You turn again, you look, you freeze it.
Imagine now that you could observe all the different states of something at once? What would that look like? This would be the pattern of the multiverse. Does this pattern encompass in its vast expanse one person’s life told through multiple trajectories? If it does, this would be the life of multiplicity - where histories and futures are flung wide into the open seas of possibility, and it is just the present we have, this fleeting, glorious singular moment in which you are one, all one held in the scope of your own reckoning. From this perspective each moment is an instant, and an opportunity to feel with humility and nuance, part of the mantra of diversity and change.
I asked the characters in my novel whether they felt confined by my singular telling of their life stories. I am listening carefully for an answer. I think at times we all feel like the choices we’ve made and the things we’re doing right now in no way fully capture our full range of potential, past, present and future.