debbie millman

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Fields of Dreams

Every couple of years I go through a period of intense insomnia, and wrangle up all sorts of ways to coax myself to sleep. My most successful method to date is imagining that I am soaring backward thirteen billions years in time to the singularity we now call the Big Bang. Along the way, I pass unfamiliar galaxies and attempt to understand how they got there and what, if anything, inhabits the odd surfaces. I marvel in front of a black hole and infinitely float towards the event horizon, unable to move into or out of its gravitational pull. Time has stopped in front of this gorging vortex, and I am rendered paralyzed and mute by its power. By the time I finally fall asleep, I fantasize finding success in the discovery of one grand unifying theory of the universe, brashly bringing together Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the science of quantum physics. This, of course, is rendered with no real education in science or math or physics, and by the time I rise the next morning, I have all but forgotten the nonsensical equations memorized on my mystical journey.

Though severely obtuse in regard to all things scientific, it would be an understatement to say that I am fascinated by the theories of our origins. However successful as a tactic for eradicating sleeplessness, I can only wish I had even one shallow answer to the perplexing questions we face as a species.

I also love science fiction and the more speculative genres. I find television shows such as Star Trek and The X-Files and movies like Star Wars endlessly captivating. Not surprisingly, last weekend I went to see the highly anticipated J.J. Abrahms film “Cloverfield,” a Blair-Witch inspired flick about a Godzilla-like alien that lands in lower Manhattan and proceeds to destroy everything in its path. As the film unfolded, I found myself in a bizarrely bewildered state, unable to believe that I had paid money to watch a film about unsuspecting civilians running through narrow city streets while being chased by the thundering, engulfing plumes of smoke and debris from crumpled buildings. I leaned into my friend Emily and asked if she thought the movie could be a metaphor. She glumly shook her head no. “I think it’s supposed to be about a real monster.”

On my walk home, I passed billboards for the Will Smith movie, “I am Legend” and a new television show premiering on the History Channel titled “After People.” The campaigns for both the film and the series contain images of a post-apocalyptic Manhattan, and like Cloverfield, they feature familiar landscapes rendered wholly immobile by our demise. As I viewed the thorny, overgrown locations, I realized that somehow, in the six-plus years since 9/11, enough time had passed to now see these realistically horrific images as entertainment.

Philosophers and scientists alike agree that if humans can imagine something, there is the distinct possibility that it can be manifested. As I observed the trifecta of imagery around me, I couldn’t help but wonder if we had either forgotten the horror of the past or if this horror had become so much a part of our reality that we now simply factor this into our forecast of the future. It is hard to tell.

Why do we remember what we remember? Why do we forget what we forget? In the Harold Pinter play “Betrayal,” two ex-lovers recall a shared experience differently, and argue about who has the more accurate recollection. Pinter makes it clear that though each character’s memory is deeply engrained and staunchly believed, the validity of each memory is highly subjective. This is both a saving grace and a hindering happenstance in our humanity.

Our memories, as frail or fierce or fabulous as they are, help us construct our realities, our identities, and our manifestation of the world around us. When they fail, our world fundamentally changes, and we cease to be what we remember or recognize. Our current reality is simply a collection of overlapping memories, some shared, some not. Each memory we have is cinematic as it gets swept up in the sequence of memories that precede and follow it. Sort of like the ultimate domino effect. The condition of our collective memory has now become the condition of our consciousness and our culture.

Last Sunday night, I once again found myself suffering from insomnia. I lay in bed, tossing and turning, reliving the experience of Cloverfield, witnessing the falling buildings in slow motion, over and over again in my head, rewriting the ending, reconfiguring the storyline, re-dressing the wounds of the recollection. And then I stopped. Why was I doing this? Why was I putting myself through this? I had no idea. And I reconsidered. Rather than relive our destruction, why not embark on my ritual into the far reaches of the universe? For though I may not have even one answer to the questions that face both our civilization and our purpose here, I decided I would much rather obsess over our mysterious origins than be debilitated by our demise.


Anonymous Lisa said...

Here here Debbie. Great Post. We are who we think we are.

Next time I am suffering from insomnia (probably tonight) I'm going to try that whole flying back in time thing.

1/28/2008 08:24:00 PM  

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