Mandela Effect

I had a long conversation about the Mandela Effect with Nicole and her friend because he had stated he wanted to see a band in concert, she told him he had already, he told her he hadn’t, and she found pictures on Instagram of him seeing that band in a concert he had no recollection of.

The Mandela Effect, if you don’t know, is the collective false memories that our society has about famous events. For example, most people remember four people in the presidential limo on November 22, 1963, despite the fact that there were actually six. Mostly, it’s pop culture, like the lines “Hello, Clarice” from The Silence of the Lambs, “Luke, I am your father,” from The Empire Strikes Back, or “Beam me up, Scotty,” from Star Trek, lines that were never uttered in any of those movies or TV shows. Some say that they saw video of the man in Tiananmen Square get run over by a tank, despite that no such video exists. There are those who swear that it’s spelled Volkswagon, not Volkswagen (despite that the former is not remotely German). The Mandela Effect gets its name from the fact that Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, despite the fact that a large number of people remember seeing his funeral on TV years before that, and if you go to any page on the subject, particularly pages with comments, people are really freaked out about it.

I have a Mandela Effect of my own, in a guy I went to college with who married someone close to me and is friends with most of my friends from back then and has pictures on their Facebook page of concerts that I’ve been to and is someone I should at least know peripherally, but I have no memory of whatsoever. I’ve spoken to my psychiatrist about this, and he agrees that selective editing of my life like this is highly unusual, even for someone with a legendarily lousy memory such as myself. But there it is, a “this-guy” hole in my life.

There are lots of explanations for the Mandela Effect, including alternate realities and the fact that the world actually ended on December 21, 2012, as was predicted by the Mayans, making this is some kind of weird echo/restart. Perhaps we’re all in virtual reality, and they keep rewriting the Matrix. Maybe something went funky with the Hadron collider.

In the end, though, it is simply misremembering things. Memory is one of the most fallible parts of our experiences as humans, and in a world that makes very little sense, our minds will fill in blanks to make things coherent. For example, one of the biggest bits of evidence that people will use for the Mandela Effect is the Berenstain Bears, the children’s book and cartoon series. People will swear up and down in a court of law that it’s Berenstein Bears, and the fact that it’s not is evidence that something’s not right in the world, not that they just remembered it wrong. When you think about it, -stain isn’t very often the end of someone’s surname. It’s usually -stein. People made assumptions, they were wrong, and they dug in their heels and declared that they couldn’t possibly be wrong, so the universe must be broken. I myself thought it was Berenstein until I learned about its place in the Mandela Effect conspiracy, and I just accepted the truth (i.e. it has always, from day one, been Berenstain) like an adult.

The Mandela Effect is kind of fun and a little bit creepy at times, but there is no such thing as alternate dimensions where they’re known as Looney Toons, not Looney Tunes, as they have been since the forties. This conspiracy is just another way that (mostly) Americans can defy the truth that’s in front of our eyes in favor of our “intuition.” This is yet one more reason we’re still in quarantine six months later when listening to the medical experts could have slowed down if not stopped the spread of a deadly virus. It’s the reason our president can gleefully violate the Constitution and other American laws and get away with it.

You’re going to be wrong about things, even things you’re positive you’re right about. It doesn’t make you less of a person. It makes you more of one.

An Honest Profession

A little over two years ago, Kate and I were on a cruise of Alaska, whale-watching, spa-enjoying, and quaint-stuff-shopping. It was the last real thing we did together, and I will always remember it fondly.

In the town of Ketchican, we wandered around and headed back to the boat, but I stopped. We had man hours ago before we had to board, and I wanted to tour Dolly’s House, a museum upstairs from the Red Onion Saloon. Dolly’s House was not only a brothel, but one of the best and most successful in the Alaska territory.

When the tour group gathered in the foyer, the tour guide, in character in her finest risqué Wild West dress and Warby Parker glasses, looked around the crowd and said, “Seeing a lot of familiar faces among the gentlemen.” We looked at each other and laughed at the absurdity that us straight-laced tourists would go to a whorehouse this day and age.

As we went on, our guide was describing some of the complexities of how business was run, and she said, “And they have to follow the first rule of prostitution. Who knows what that is?”

I raised my hand and said, “Get the money first.”

She looked at me, nodded her head, and said, “I knew I’ve seen you here before!”

And that is how I got called out by a fake prostitute.  

Antisocial Studies

If I needed any further proof that I have completely lost my ability to be a normal, social human being functioning in society, I have it.

Today at the pet store, the clerk was delighted by my Doctor Who mask, and he started a conversation with me about it. And I just stood there, staring blankly, like I was in a spelling bee, and they asked me to do Zstylzhemghi. I know I should have answered in depth and asked him some questions, but I had no idea what to say or how to say it. The moment passed, and I knew I had dropped the ball, and that’s been haunting me all day.

I used to be social. While not an extrovert by any means, I used to be friendly and chatty and attentive, and now I’m decidedly not. One of these days, I’m going to need to make more friends, and I can’t if I’m always standing there, like a deer in headlights.

Oh, No, Mr. Build!

When LEGO started to transition from freestyle building to model building, I was resentful. I spent a large fraction of my childhood with my LEGOs, creating worlds from a handful of styles of bricks. My imagination could fill in the rest. I was sad that the next generation of youth was going to have these rigid rules forced on them about what they should be playing with. What was the purpose of a set of blocks if they could only go together a certain way?

My attitude on that changed many, many years later, as a plague wept the nation, and there wasn’t much to do. I decided that I wanted a TARDIS for my LEGO-compatible (but not actually LEGO, let’s be clear on this) action figures to play with, and I remembered that LEGO had made a playset. It’s out of circulation, so I had to pay an obscene amount of money for it, but it arrived in the mail, and I spent an afternoon following the directions, watching as the familiar shapes and colors met with new shapes and colors and formed a TARDIS, a console room, and a pair of Daleks. I had to put it in a display case because Henry the Cat insists on knocking it to the floor whenever he feels not loved enough, so I can’t play with it anymore, but I still have that powerful feeling of accomplishment from converting a pile of modular plastic into something that looks mostly like something I watched on TV for years.

Months later, I’ve been living a routine of writing my book, going to work, watching TV, going on walks, and going to bed, with eating in there someplace. I decided to break out of the cycle and drop another ridiculous sum of money on another LEGO kit, this time just for the joy of building it.

People who suffer from attention-deficit disorder sometimes go through something called “hyperfocus.” I’m pretty sure people who don’t have ADD have experienced it too. It’s when you set yourself on a task, and nothing else matters. Your house could catch fire, but you don’t even care because YOU HAVE TO DO THIS THING. I can get this way with writing, though not lately. Today, though, as I poured the thousand-plus little pieces onto my desk and opened the instruction manual, I was there. I’ve been at it for two-and-a-half hours, and I’m only a third of the way through, and I pried myself away to get a glass of water, go to the bathroom, and pet Henry, who can’t wait for me to finish, so he can knock it off of a shelf.

Me, I don’t want it to ever end.

Hope & Change

What if everything that’s going wrong with this country politically—the hatred, the distrust, the bad faith, the hundreds of thousands of deaths, could be traced back to a single event twenty-six years ago? Without that event, our country could become a more reasonable, equitable place? What if you could make that event go away? Would you do it?

But making that event goes away would change everything. It would smooth away some of the adversity that makes you who you are. You might not be friends with the same people, you probably wouldn’t live in the same place. Your economic situation could be different. You could even have a different partner. And almost certainly, every single person born in the last twenty-five years would cease to exist, replaced by other people, who I’m sure are lovely, but they wouldn’t be your sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and friends. Would you still do it?

That’s the question I’m asking in my current novel. I’ve identified an event in 1994 that has led directly to where we are now, with federal agents kidnapping innocent Americans off of the streets (but, ironically enough, not the Americans that stormed state capitals with AR-15s on their backs), and I’m asking if everything good that would be altered in history was worth it to change our decades-long slide into fascism. Do you have a duty to the hundreds of thousands of those who have lost their lives so far and the millions more living a nightmare life of poverty, or do you have a duty to the members of the Zoom Generation who have touched your life?

Would I do it? Would I change literally everything?

And the answer is, I don’t know. I really don’t know.

Cat Nap Fever

Lately, I’ve been feeling … I don’t know if guilty is the right word … about Newcastle, because all he does is sleep. He will aggressively snuggle with me about once or twice a day, he likes to watch the birds sometimes and tries to attack them through the window. He and Henry will wrestle every other day, and occasionally, he will run the length of the apartment and back again. Of course he eats and goes to the bathroom. But that’s all he does.

I shouldn’t be so concerned. He’s sixteen years old. I wouldn’t expect a senior citizen to go running around like his cousin, who is a third his age. I just don’t want him to be napping all the time because he’s depressed. I don’t want him to be wishing he’d stayed in Reston with the other two cats, group snuggling. Is he bummed out that my roommate has been gone for the past two months? Are his needs being met? Is he seeing and smelling enough to stimulate him? Is he happy? And then I remind myself, he’s not a person. He doesn’t think like we do.

This is the part of quarantine where I’m starting to crack up. The rest of the city is acting like the pandemic is over when it’s actually as bad as it’s ever been, if not worse, and instead of relaxing my protective measures, I am solidifying them. Thanks to grocery deliveries, the only reason I leave my apartment now is to go to the drug store (they won’t deliver with my insurance for some reason). With my world having gotten smaller and smaller, and is now only about 800 square feet, this means I may be worrying a little too much about things that aren’t a problem.

I tell you what, though. That cat is one hell of a cute sleeper.

A Positive Spin

I think I’m making a huge mistake, narratively, in my novel, but I’m not sure I want to fix it. Basically, the law and order principal of my heroine’s high school asks her to trust her (the principal) with the kind of secret that could end the heroine’s life at that school if it gets out. This would be the perfect opportunity for betrayal and creating an impossible social situation and the kind of chaos that my stories thrive on.

But I don’t do that. The principal keeps her word. The secret is safe.

Right now, I severely distrust authority. From the top to the bottom, I don’t believe that authority, in general, has my best interests at heart. I saw my high school principals, in one way or another, betray the students they were supposed to protect. One went to prison for it. And yet I don’t want to teach my heroine the same lesson I learned. Her life is hard enough as it is. I want her to be able to trust someone in power.

As a weaver of plots, I chose the boring path, the overly optimistic one. This isn’t Game of Thrones—this is a YA novel about a teenage witch. Let me have a little light.

Finding Your Audience

In this FB group I’m a part of, there was a discussion started for authors. One of the authors responded with his calculation of exactly which books were going to be bought (Hindu myths, if you were curious), and how he was going to basically write books for the sole purpose of selling many of them.

Later that day, I saw a YouTube ad that told me that the only way to sell a lot of copies of your book is to research which audience you want to sell it to you, and if you’re sitting around, writing your book, you’re making a huge error because writing is step 6 in getting your book out there (steps 1-5 come at a fee, of course).

I found myself deeply offended with this one-two punch. The current hurdle I’m facing is getting people to buy the books I wrote for myself, for the sake of writing them and writing them well, not to make a quick buck. Writing is not some moneymaking scheme to me, it’s who I am, to the very core of me. The first thing I do when I sit down to put together a book is write, not do market research. I crossed my fingers that this guy’s writing algorithm fails, and nobody buys his books, and I cast judgement on the shallow people who would buy something that panders to them like this.

But then I started thinking. Exactly what part of the Marvel movies that I’ve seen all of in the theater do I think was a deep, personal reflection on what the directors had to say, from their heart? When was the last passion project I watched? I am one of those shallow people I’m complaining about. People are going to watch and read what they want, even if it is cynically concocted to push their buttons. That’s going to be an obstruction for me as I continue this path I’ve decided to take, and as long as I put my soul into my laptop, it’s going to be one I am going to have to live with.

I still want that guy to fail, though, because he was being a real smug asshole about it.

The Write Decision

Okay, so this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to do it. I’m going to dip my toe into the pool of self-publishing. Based on everything I’ve read over the course of the day, I will have the most success if I start out with a series of three or four, which I have. The first step I’m going to take is to pull these books out of the mothballs and give them a serious edit. Step two will be getting covers for all four volumes. The tricky part of step two is that, I shopped around, and a cover is going to cost me between $250 and $300 each. I have enough money to afford this. But it’s a serious investment, and that is making me really cagey. Step three is getting people who will read for free, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Basically, going through traditional channels has gotten me nowhere (but I do plan to start back up on that), so I need to take matters into my own hands.  

Desert Flora Through Time and Space

One of my earliest memories is when I was a really, really young child, and I stumbled on my dad watching Doctor Who for the first time. The image seared into my brain was a man with brown, curly hair and a large, red scarf, made up to look like a cactus, stumbling around. Scared the living crap out of me.

Almost forty years later, I’m watching “Meglos” again, and two things occur to me. One is that the model work on the pirates’ spaceship was outstanding, and I have no idea how they did it at that budget.

More importantly, in the eighties, most movie and TV producers would look at a script and say, “Put our lead actor in full cactus makeup? That would be ridiculous! Not on my watch!” But Doctor Who producers read the script and said, “Tom Baker as a cactus? That would be ridiculous! I don’t care what it takes, make it happen!”

And that’s why I will always love Doctor Who best.