Quantum Crashing (or, Crisis on Infinite Me)


Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of the best thing that ever happened to me that hasn’t actually happened yet. I know, this sounds like science fiction, but unfortunately it is just the reality of the film industry. Because nothing about this one-year-old event has been made “official”, I can’t get into specifics – and yet, I have already said enough to explain the crux of my angst. For an entire year now, I have been living in Hollywood Limbo; celebrating something I cannot celebrate, having accomplished something I have not technically accomplished.

Basically, I have spent a year stuck between parallel universes: one in which I am a working professional writer with traditional markers of success, and another in which I am a professional writer who so far has nothing tangible to show for it. I am Schrödinger’s cat, stuck in a lead box with a possibly-decaying radioactive particle, both alive and dead at the same time.

On the plus side, I now know what it feels like to operate on a quantum level. On the down side, it kind of sucks big time and I hope it ends soon.

The most common theory of parallel universes – the Many Worlds Interpretation – springs from the theory of quantum mechanics. As I mentioned in Quantum Leaping a couple weeks ago, quantum particles don’t exist in just one state or another (moving or still, for example), but in what Neils Bohr called a “superposition”: they exist in all possible states at the same time. Bohr noted that our observation of them is what breaks superposition and forces them to, basically, pick a state and stick with it.

I would really like someone to try to observe my career right about now so it would be forced to pick a reality. Of course, it could pick the dead cat reality instead of the live one, so maybe I’ll just stay right here in the box for the time being. Be careful what you wish for, right?

The many worlds theory of parallel universes goes one step beyond Bohr and says that while to us an observed particle looks like it chose just one of its possible states, it actually split the universe into several realities – one for each of its possible states. So, when we open the box to check on the cat, in our world she leaps out alive and pissed off, but we also create a parallel universe in which Fluffy was not so lucky.

This too shall pass, Fluffy.

This too shall pass, Fluffy.

And thus it goes, on and on, splitting off parallel realities with each point of decision or action. Fluffy jumps out of the box and can either scratch our face off or hide under the bed; boom: two more worlds exist, one with eyes glaring out from the darkness and one where we’re bleeding profusely. We, of course, see only one continuous reality from our perspective, but just on the other side of the fabric of space-time there are other versions of us with more or less blood on our faces and/or a dead cat.

I find the idea of a multiverse comforting at a time like this weekend’s anniversary, not just because it nicely captures the schizophrenic feeling I’ve had for the last twelve months, but also because it helps put things in perspective. Naturally, it has been really difficult to be on the verge of a dream come true for so long, and to watch that dream be deferred again and again. I feel like Archie ‘Moonlight’ Graham from Field of Dreams, standing on the base line of a magic ball field, one step away from the life I was meant to live. Medicine was Archie Graham’s true calling, and I also want to step over that line into my life-long career. But with each day that I wait, I am terrified that writing will turn out to be my version of Moonlight’s baseball career – something I come so close to, have within my grasp, but never quite catch.

And on top of that, I am mortified that in my late thirties I am again barely able to pay my rent.

It is nearly impossible in times like this, when we feel helpless and on the verge of hopeless, not to examine our path to this point and our choices along the way. The “how did I get here,” “what if I’d done this instead” mental spinning that is not good for anyone. To stop myself, I like to think about the fact that somewhere, out in the multiverse, there exist theoretical versions of me that did make different choices – many of them worse ones – and that no matter how frustrating, depressing, embarrassing, or just plain crappy I consider my life and myself right now, somewhere there is a parallel universe with a version that is worse. Somewhere out there, there is even the worst version of me that could possibly be. Suddenly, things don’t seem all that bad.

Of course, there also exists the remote possibility that I am that worse possible version of me. Does anyone have a radioactive particle and a lead box I can crawl into?