When I was thirteen years old, my family moved. My new neighbor, Howie Friedman, introduced me to marijuana and teen boredom, possibly not in that order. His parents were trendier than mine so they had cable television, a novelty in those days, and a refrigerator stocked with cool condiments. We would get stupid and lounge in front of his TV, eating mustard sandwiches, too stoned to move. One day, his mother came home and I guess she was disgusted at our condition. She snapped at me, “Is this what you are going to do with your life?” I looked up, unable to do more than move my head, and said in total innocence, “Of course not. I am going to write a novel.” We could leave this as being a typical teen stoner story but for one major point. After listening carefully to other people and watching me carefully, it has become my belief that people know what their life is going to be. We all already know our own futures down to the tiniest details. I feel like I have double vision. I can almost see time as one big reality; past, present and future rolled up into one big ball of yarn. In order to operate on an ever-day basis, I have to block that out and see time as a line, one half stretched out behind me, solid and unchanging, the other half stretching forward invisibly into the future. I know that to be inaccurate for several reasons; however I need to generate that illusion in order to appear sane to those around me.
I think we hide prescience from ourselves for various reasons. Maybe we want to be surprised. Life is more fun that way. But I think there is more. I remember reading a Justice League comic book in which the superheroes had dreams showing them what the villains would do. They each cut straight to the end, trying to thwart the villains before they had a chance to implement their strategies. It ended up backfiring. The superheroes succeeded in the end but knowing what was going to happen really just messed them up. It got me thinking. If I could see my whole life laid out before me in absolute detail, what would that do for me? Would it help me succeed? Actually, no. What it might do is help me appreciate certain things more than others. As Ursula LeGuin wrote in The Left Hand of Darkness when telling about prescience, foretelling the future is useful only to show the utter futility of knowing the correct answer to the wrong question. When I read a biography of a genius or artist that suffered years of rejection and failure, the happy ending puts the failure into an entirely different perspective, making it seem like part of the success. But it doesn’t really lessen the actuality of years of waking up depressed. And the fact is that for every success story there are millions of people who struggle and fail.
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