Einstein Should Have Warned Time Travelers About Motion Sickness

If you shop in Panama, these guys will help carry the groceries

Traveling to somewhere you’ve never been, especially when you stay for more than a few days, exerts odd temporal and spatial pressures on your consciousness. That Heraclitus quote about never being able to step twice in the same river is of a piece with what I’m talking about: your traveled self is not the same self untraveled. And extending upon that, the “home” you return to seems a little slippery too: I keep glancing around here like there’s a joke being played, like the walls of the house are hastily thrown up curtains with a corner out of plumb.

For three of the last nine months, my gal Alice and I have been living outside the US: a two-month stint in the Bahamas last fall, and now just back from a month in Panama. Among all the things that bit me in those thermal zones must have been an unbalance bug, because my thinking has been just a wee bit off since then. Nothing major: just the usual “Is the life I’m living real or just a series of disconnected contingencies?”

If This Life Isn’t Real, Would You Mind Adjusting the Sound Track?
Rack one up for the contingency corner. It’s not that I’ve ever doubted that our scraping skating on this little ice chip of a planet was held together by hand-tightened screws (and punctuated by pratfalls and whoopee cushion sounds), but going and living in other cultures, even insulated by the knowledge that you’ll return to your own, is oddly jarring. Or maybe it’s just that the literal jarring of crashing my host’s car into a high-grass-concealed curb and smashing the front suspension while there torqued my steaming cranium a mite.

To the point (god, man, finally—this ramble is wearing on me): I’ve begun to write some of the literal (and some merely mental) adventures that took place overseas, out of my alleged comfort zones, because if I continue to wait, I fear that whatever lies and distortions I do distill in that writing might not bear even a shadowy relationship to fact. The fish-out-of-water story—when the gaspings of the fish are sharply rendered—can still provoke interest. It’s just odd to come back and have the home water taste just a little weird.

Godspeed Brother Ray
Ray Bradbury died this past Tuesday, at 91. If you have read his writing (and by golly you should), you know he was a fine, imaginative storyteller. If you have read of him discussing his writing, you know he was an enthusiastic advocate for the work, for getting after it every day, and every day discovering what the work can pull out of you, and what you can pull out of it. See you later, Ray. I’ll bet the green dudes on Mars are raising a glass of something potent in your honor this week too.

4 thoughts on “Einstein Should Have Warned Time Travelers About Motion Sickness

  1. Oh well, I’ve only had a passing acquaintance with this reality thing anyway. I’ve recently found out that the Grand Watchmaker is a stubborn child with a chancy temper who can’t be counted upon to put the right number of spoons at the table. So I’m dieting.

  2. For some people (and by “some people” I mean me), every day life can exert odd temporal and spatial pressures on the consciousness. No need to travel to feel surreal, sometimes temporarily dislocated or even hopelessly lost, in the real life. And what a mighty uncomfortable set of sensations it can be, as some people know. After all there’s something deeply embedded in our wiring that makes us want to feel safely situated, especially in whatever place we call “home.”

    But as Ray Bradbury (god rest his so-called Midwest surrealist soul) said, “Half the fun of travel is the aesthetic of lostness.”

    So Tom, maybe you’re like a team captain for The Aesthetes of Lostness?

  3. AD, I know what you mean about the dislocations of “regular” life. Or am I actually now troubled by those voices? At least they only tell me to eat sandwiches and not kill people. But yes, it can be an unsettling sensation not to feel quite at home.

    I think I’m more of a cheerleader than a team captain though (don’t captains have to be on the bottom of that pyramid?).

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