Science fiction movies are filled with tropes about parallel universes and travel to them. It makes one stop and wonder about the different ways one’s own life could have been different. I like to think of my own life as a kind of tree, where each pivotal decision point can be represented as a branch. You can trace the decisions which brought me to the branch that I am occupying now by following out the living branches and ignoring the withered branches of possible decisions that I did not take.
The current branch that I am occupying is the branch where I am a philosophy major at William Jewell College. But, given that I have traveled the winding road of decision points, I have a pretty good idea of what could have been. I know that one of the withered branches, for example, is that I could have been a history major at Rice University. Still another withered branch is the one where I am an English major and I dedicate my life to writing some great romantic masterpiece.
It is this particular withered branch that I would like to explore. I spend a good chunk of my time before bed toying with this little writer-fantasy of mine. This is probably because as a child, the first career that I wanted to have was that of a writer. I was an ardent fan of Georgian romance novels in particular as a child. That influenced almost every aspect of my life, right down to my mannerisms. For example, I had a habit of saying that people were seven and 20, as opposed to saying numbers normally, and I insisted on having tea parties to discuss some imaginary social scandal or another.
What changed for me to abandon my pretensions of being the next Jane Austen? A large part of it was that my dad had cancer for the first time when I was in first grade. Romantic novels and Rococo playfulness are fun, but there were more noble pursuits at hand for me. I cast aside all thoughts of writing coy dialogues and studied the latest developments in neuroscience, with the naive belief that doing so would somehow help my dad recover from his glioblastoma.
Given my disdain for all the medical sciences and that no 10-year-old, no matter how desperate, can ever come up with a cure for cancer, it is of no surprise that I am no neuroscientist. Still, I did not return to writing romances. I had become somewhat disillusioned with the world after the years of my dad’s cancer treatments. I stumbled into history and then into philosophy by chance. I had no major aspirations when I was younger, apart from being a writer or a neuroscientist, both of which were swept away.
And so, I ask myself, what would have to be different for me to have stuck with writing? Obviously, I think that my father not having cancer would have probably helped a great deal. I would not have suffered from my so-called “Great Disenchantment” that effectively killed whatever romantic-Byronic aspirations I had. But probably what would have helped fuel my writing ambitions would have been having a deeper connection with my family in Mexico.
I was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. The entirety of my extended family lives there. Until the age of four, I also lived there. I moved to the United States with my mother because my father was offered a job in an aerospace engineer company. It was a good opportunity for the budding marketing salesman, I think. But it means that where I could have been raised surrounded by my family – my grandparents, my cousins, my aunts, my great-aunts, my great-uncles, my uncles, etc. – I mostly interacted with my mom and my books.
In other words, instead of being taken up in a huge web of social relations, where I would have implicitly learned a much more nuanced conception of what-it-is to love and to be in a loving relationship, I really only had my mom as the measure of what the nature of love was.
My mom, for reasons which were out of her control, was often emotionally drained. Looking back on some of my old writing for school, I can clearly see the ways in which my co-dependent relationship with my mother clearly demonstrated a lack of nuanced understanding of love. What I thought was a cute dialogue reads as desperate, clingy and sad.
So, in another possible world, the one in which I don’t move to the United States, I can see a much more well-balanced writer-me sitting in my grandmother’s house clacking on a typewriter and writing what is some hopefully less-sad romantic dialogue. Not to mention that elementary and secondary education in Mexico has, as part of its regular curriculum, extensive lessons in French and English, so the dialogue could potentially be written in French. That’s even more inherently romantic.
Being around my family in Mexico also means that I would have been more exposed to a more distinctly European culture as well. My grandmother is fond of taking yearly trips to France or England and would have taken me to these trips had I been around to take them with her.
I think that these trips would have been useful to my awakening my young writing spirit. I would have probably been given a lot of free reign to fraternize with the local youth, and I would have been more confident as a result of growing up around my rowdy cousins. It would have been a good opportunity to get into some scandalous situations, like fall in love with some Parisian damsel and get a little tipsy and get a stick and poke with her and write her some poetry. Then come back home and write about our whirlwind romance, immortalizing our love.
This possible writer-fantasy universe of mine is just a fantasy. It is true that I am probably a lot more nervous and cynical than I would have been if things had been different in my life. Still, I like being a philosophy major at William Jewell College. And it is not as though I have completely given up the writer ideal. In many ways, I am the same person that writer-me is. I may be less bombastic and spontaneous, but I am still sentimental and hopelessly in love with love. And maybe someday, I will sit at a typewriter in my grandmother’s house and write some corny dialogue, just for fun. And maybe in another universe, some other me is putting down the quill and picking up some Kant, just for fun.