Wrinkles in Time: The World Is Your Oyster

Articles about parallel universes possibly being real have been wandering into my Facebook newsfeed recently.

The idea that several realities could exist at once is not news, or even mildly strange to me: I was a voracious reader long before I should have been, and I now create my own alternate realities as a writer of comedy and horror (the two are mostly separate).

Those who have read The Chronicles of Narnia may recall the wood between the worlds, where two children jumped into puddles of water in a vast, verdant forest. Some of those puddles were doorways into worlds strange and terrifying. Some were simply puddles of water.

I suspect that I am both clumsy and single because at any given time, at least 30% of my mind has checked out and in the background, is quietly, gleefully exploring the wood between the worlds.

I am clumsy, for obvious reasons. Happily, I retain just enough hand-eye coordination and motor skills to avoid getting killed/maimed by my furniture. I am single because being constantly and partially away from this reality makes me very situationally unaware.

Exhibit A: during a recent dinner with my stepmother, I was completely unaware that the chef (yes, he was easy on the eyes) kept casting interested glances my way. My stepmother helpfully provided me with this information about the distracted chef. In her infinite wisdom gleaned from our trip to Barcelona—where I consistently failed to observe various Spanish men throwing adoring glances my way because I was too busy falling in love with the city—she was fully aware of my abysmal lack of situational awareness. I’m not sure what the chef was looking at, because I’m fairly certain all he could see was the back of my head. The question of why he found this view so captivating will remain a mystery for all time, along with such other questions as: “Why do my socks keep getting divorced and skipping town without telling me?”

This is not the first time that my poor situational awareness has caused me to be oblivious to pertinent information about interested men in the immediate vicinity, i.e. 1) there are men nearby and 2) they are signalling interest in me. I am confident it won’t be the last time. It’s gotten so bad that at this point, I do not realize people are into me until they kiss me and follow up with a memo carved in stone, delivered by one of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons.

I don’t mind the clumsiness; you stop noticing the constant collisions with door jambs after the first ten years of your life. Missing out on amorous adventures might seem like a punitive opportunity cost, but it really isn’t. Not when you consider the far higher opportunity cost of missing out on all the delicious things provided by your time in the wood between the worlds.

You see, when you regularly travel between realities in your mind, when you dance across the threads of another world’s narratives regularly, it does strange and exciting things to your brain. Lateral thinking is one fortuitous side effect. This occurs when your train of thought goes from point A to Q to H and then to the number 42, while someone who is not a lateral thinker would progress in an orderly fashion from point A to B, B to C, and so on. This may seem a pointless and haphazard way to amble through life, but there is a method to the madness.

Lateral thinking and creativity are, in many senses, the same thing. This might not seem like a huge deal, but I’ve found that creativity is the key to unlocking great stories and ideas. Some of them are lucrative, and some of them bring joy or other lovely things to people. Occasionally, there is a happy confluence of the two.

Whenever I’m speaking at writers’ festivals or workshops, and writers—especially young writers—ask me That Dreaded Question about what inspires me, I inwardly deflate. Outwardly, I am effusive and chirpy, and I give them a response that appears to suffice, like: “I draw inspiration from everything!” (Not a very helpful answer, honestly). Or “I have to work at it; everyone does.” (Not entirely untrue, but this is an unsexy answer that nobody cares about or wants to hear).

How do I explain how it really works? How do I tell them that I am not entirely in this reality at any given point of time, and my brain makes interesting judgement calls on which functions to sacrifice when 30% of my mind is exploring the wood between the worlds? I can’t possibly share this alarming truth with these starry-eyed fledgling writers. If I did, they’d be confused and possibly concerned for my sanity—and worried about their safety in an enclosed room with me.

I don’t want to tell them that it’s not magic. I’m not a wizard, and I cannot consistently churn out narratives, big and small, from comedy to horror to sociopolitical commentary, without first feeding the stories, both passively and actively. Passively, from my constant time in other realities, in those very many puddles in the wood between the worlds. Actively, by allowing all the sensory stimuli I encounter—old and new — to nourish me in the ways that matter.

You see, the truth is that everything feeds the stories, directly or indirectly. It could be the way the light hits the leaves on the tree by your window at four p.m. on a clear day and turns them into tiny, gilded miracles. It could be the (almost) shamefully erotic sensation of savouring an oyster: plump, silky flesh that tastes and smells of the ocean, with that little fanged kiss of lemon juice, like the last, witty word in a sentence you have very much relished.

It’s most often the simplest things: eating, taking a different route on the walk home from the train station, a thunderstorm, or being in a new place, whether it’s a new country or a different part of the city. These are the things that feed my strange, world-wandering brain.

The catch to creativity is this: it’s hard work. You have to train yourself to let your mind constantly make lateral, seemingly disjointed associations in response to the stimuli around you. You will find yourself cooking up fictional life stories for people whose only crime was to sit opposite you on the train and possess an interesting face. You have to encourage yourself to do weird, slightly creepy things like this all the time, even if this is something that you already understand and occasionally indulge in.

If I didn’t consciously make a continuous effort to feed my creativity, it would not be possible to keep churning out the many, many narratives that I bring back from the wood between the worlds to this reality.

Writer padawans, I’m sorry I kept giving you such terrible non-answers, but this is the truth: there is no magic in the process of getting inspired to create what you want or need to create. You have to make your own magic.

Trust me: when you do, it’s spectacular.

When I put active effort into feeding my creativity, everything is instantly and tangibly better. The quality of my fiction sees exponential improvement, even when I’m not planning to write any horror shorts and I simply write a few for fun. I’m more productive, I get problems solved faster and more efficiently, and I’m happier. I’m also less likely to run over people in the supermarket who stand around gawping at thin air (just kidding about the last one, I promise).

Supercharged creativity isn’t solely for those whose purpose is to create fiction/ art/ music/ those twee little things on Etsy that you kind of regret buying. Once you’ve figured out how to make it work for you, creativity is like the pill in Limitless: it will transform you into the awesome version of yourself that you didn’t know existed (sans the side effects). Note: this does not mean that creativity will turn you into Bradley Cooper/ make you wake up and discover you’re married to Bradley Cooper. It’s transformative, but it’s not that magical.

Parallel universes, you say? Bring them on. If we all spent a little more time in the wood between the worlds feeding our creativity, we’d be much better off in myriad ways, and the world—truthfully, all the worlds—would be our oysters.

Yum.

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