A few nights ago, I couldn’t sleep despite only getting four hours of sleep the night before and driving about four hours that day with no naps whatsoever.
Some people might say that’s insomnia, but I think I stayed awake because I started watching the Venus and Serena documentary and that story is just so captivating. But even after the documentary was over and the lights were off and my head was on the pillow, I couldn’t go to sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking.
I thought about a concept I had first conceived halfway through Senior year at Princeton. In the throes of existential crisis #237, I thought how grand it would be to have duplicates. You know, like clone myself into five or so identical copies.
Okay, here’s where it’d get a bit dicey, but I don’t mean Orphan Black dicey (but seriously, you should watch that show), more just difficult to engineer: there would have to be one main consciousness that could jump between bodies such that “I” could experience many different things. One Erisa would pursue medical school, and while that Erisa toiled away in the library every second of every day, another me would be traveling the world doing Peace Corps-esque service while exploring new cultures. And perhaps while that Erisa slept, I would switch to inhabiting the consciousness of yet another Erisa who would set up camp in LA and try to make it as a writer.
And then there’d be hobo Erisa, who would financially mooch off all the others while doing literally nothing but moving around, squatting with friends, and watching Netflix.
How amazing would that be!?
Well, a few weeks after the initial idea I had a Tom Cruise’s character in Vanilla Sky moment and was like, “actually, that would suck.”
You see, the way I envisioned this working is I’d be capable of accessing all the memories of any given consciousness upon entering it, so I wouldn’t be an incompetent doctor. I’d just skip having to be present for the hours upon hours of studying/testing required to survive medical school.
But that’s the problem. You miss the gut-crushing feeling of laughter at a joke or situation that isn’t even that funny but you and your friends are just at that Golden ratio mix of sleep deprivation and caffeine rush that nearly anything is liable to ignite endless choruses of laughter. The joke will NEVER be as funny as it is in that instant.
You miss that intensity of presence in those moments you didn’t plan or couldn’t anticipate. I suppose this would be a good thing for bad memories, but a tremendous loss for the positive ones. How large do you want the amplitude on the sine wave of your life? Or, for the non-STEM people reading this: “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have: the facts of life.”
I think my desire for duplicates stemmed from a fear of time. There is not enough time in one lifetime to do all the things I want to do. There seems to be not enough time to even try many of the things I could consider doing in one lifetime. But with duplicates, I would have 5, 6, 7, 8 lifetimes. Everything could be explored.
I wasn’t fully conscious of this at 3 AM post Venus and Serena documentary (seriously, check it out). I hadn’t distilled the uneasy Vanilla-Sky-esque feeling accompanying the concept of the duplicates into a fear of time.
But clearly time was on my mind, because of my subsequent thought experiment.
Face down on my bed, I imagined just one duplicate. A second Erisa whose mind I couldn’t inhabit. (I really shouldn’t say second because they’re duplicated of each other, you know, like how in mitosis the two resulting cells are both daughters and the mother has “vanished.” Although, I guess I wouldn’t be undergoing mitosis necessarily since I’m a multicellular organism and that would be CRAZY. I don’t know. Reader, you pick how you want me to duplicate myself: mitosis or petri dish rapid-growth cloning.)
Anyway, I imagined these duplicates being very similar at first, in both look and behavior. They’d go together on the cross-country road trip. On a macroscale they’d observe the same things. But on the microscale their experiences would be very different. Perhaps while one was filling up the gas tank, the other would use the restroom and see something or hear some music that would start her on a different train of thought. And slowly these miniscule moments would lead to large-scale differentiation between the duplicates.
Eventually we’d go our separate ways and that rate of divergence would increase substantially.
This all seems very obvious, I know, but let’s not forget I was sleep deprived when the thought popped into my head. Eyes closed, head pressed against the pillow, I thought: “what would it be like to meet up every years with the duplicate and catch up over coffee?”
I could imagine those initial conversations at the beginning of the road trip since it would be like talking to yourself in the mirror, only the mirror moves.
But 20 years down the line? Mentally and physically we would no longer be the same. What if we argued? How strange would it be to no longer understand the point of view of your duplicate, and vice-versa?
I fell asleep shortly thereafter.
When I woke up, an email was waiting in my inbox telling me I’d gotten a position teaching science at an elementary school in Taiwan.
This was a position I applied for out of the blue. A position I never expected to get. A position two days prior I said I didn’t even want.
So when I read the email I was shaking. I didn’t even want the position and here I was conscripted. Maybe I made a mistake in applying. But then why did I apply? Why did I use that energy?
What I hadn’t done yet was ask myself: “Why? Why was I feeling this way NOW?” We ask “why” of the world when we strive to understand it: why does the moon move across the night sky (fun fact, I didn’t realize it did this until senior year of high school. Like, it’s obvious but I had never observed it so… dumb I know.)? Why do spotted hyenas have a matriarchy? But it seems like too often us humans don’t ask our individuals selves: “Why? Why did I react this way to this stimuli?”
Halfway through that day, my brain asked why I didn’t want The Taiwan Gig (that’s what I’m calling it. It just sounds cool, you know? Like The Straylight Run.) The answer was encoded in my melatonin and Venus and Serena documentary-filled mind. I was afraid of time.
You see, in addition to The Taiwan Gig, I applied to some seasonal jobs. Gigs that would last at most about three months.
But The Taiwan Gig is at least a year. In my head, that seemed infinitely longer. I thought the year could be a waste. Stupid I know, since no time spent living can be wasted unless the person living it fails to extract utility from the moment, be it learning from a mistake or enjoying laughter at the absurdity of some human behaviors.
But sometimes it feels like this indecision and fear is the marrow in my bones.
It must be irradiated. It must be replaced with stronger stuff.
Maybe this is what I will try to do with my year in Taiwan. Be present. Realize nothing is a waste. The two go hand in hand.
Also learn Mandarin. I already know one word: hambaobao = hamburger. Too bad I don’t eat hamburgers…