When working on SURVIVE! in 2010 my team and I watched a great video about how to imagine higher dimensions.
There’s a spot around 4:30 minutes in where the narrator explains one of the ways we can look at the 5th dimension, the dimension above the one we perceive as time, as a series of timelines of ourselves that split. These splits are determined by choice, chance, and external influence and collectively contain all the possible outcomes of from a given point.
In other words, if time is a path we perceive as a linear series of events, the fifth dimension are all the potential variants of that path. Each time we choose vanilla over chocolate, we twist and shift through the fifth dimension.
At least, this is how I understand it. (Physicists, feel free to correct me, it’s hard to know if you’re Youtube source is credible.)
Anyway, since watching that video, and creating a corresponding scene for SURVIVE! from its influence, I can’t help but visualize myself in this way. I see myself at every moment as branching off into a new path, distinct from another one I might have taken each time I make a decision.
Right now I could continue writing this blog or I could leave it unfinished, empty my bank account and head to Fiji.
That Adrienne who is whooping it up in Fiji feels like she lives right next to the Adrienne that continues to sit here and type these words. Once that alternate version of myself is in my head, it’s like I can’t “un-see” her. She’s just there hanging out next to this me creating an avenue for comparison: Shall I write this sentence or drink a Mai Tai?
Luckily, as I sit here, I don’t mind comparing myself to “Fiji Adrienne.” I can’t know for sure (I’m not her) but my sense is that I’d prefer to keep my savings unharmed, my job intact, and my cat alive rather than ditch ‘em all for a few weeks of whooping it up. While it might not be quite as fun at this moment, I imagine that blog writing Adrienne’s life will turn out better in the long run.
The thing is, there are so many other times when I don’t have that kind of clarity.
A couple weeks ago I went to see The Diary of Lisa Q, a pop up performance by Brat, at Quig’s pub. It was a wonderful experiment, the kind of theater I love – a quick and dirty event in a strange and fun space. Actors getting to play, an audience that gets to move around and no one pretending like they couldn’t see me.
And it all would have been so perfect but for that 5th dimension!
So at the start, each audience member was assigned a group with which they will rotate through the 12 stations in the performance. I am, by chance, put in a group with Citypaper reviewer Mark Cofta. I don’t know much about the guy, but of the reviewers in town he strikes me as thoughtful and cogent. Unless I’m remembering wrong, I don’t think he’s ever officially been assigned to one of my shows. I know him by sight (you know, like you do) and I invited him to come see the Giant Squid this last time around. This is the extent of my interaction with this fellow human.
When I saw him I started thinking about what I should say. I do this in advance because I get really nervous in small talk settings. I’d wanted to say something nice, (because you know, professional courtesy) but I didn’t want to look like I’m being too nice (because, you know, professional courtesy).
One scenario through the fourth dimension:
“Hi, I think I know you. I’m Adrienne, you’re Mark, right?”
An alternate one if I were to twist through the 5th:
“Hi Mark. Nice to see you’re here.”
These may not seem terribly different. That tiny 5th dimensional split lay for me in trying to decide whether he’d know who I was – i.e. should I acknowledge that we are theatrical colleagues or should I forgo a potential awkwardness of him not remembering me and introduce myself.
While I was busy figuring out what I wanted to do, he proposed a third timeline and said: “Adrienne right? I’m Mark.”
And I, caught off guard in that instant, created the most socially awkward melding of all alternatives possible:
“Oh, you’re here… I know who you are.”
Just like that, with the emphasis on the “you’re here” and “know.”
“Oh, you’re here… I know who you are.”
Why did I say that? Because each piece was a bit of each timeline I was imagining.
Damn you 5th dimension! It now sound like I have some inexplicable beef with someone I barely know. If you’re out there Mark, sorry for being a weirdo.
This problem is not limited to random encounters with theater reviewers. I, like a lot of artists, copious amounts time imagining my potential other lives. When I first started making stuff I would get SO attached to a particular vision of a show’s outcome. I just couldn’t imagine that fourth dimensional line shifting in any direction other than the one I had planned. I remember when an actor had to drop out of the first iteration of Joe Hill and I cried like a baby. It’s sort of funny in retrospect, but also a little endearing that the vision of a creative product was so firm and strong that to twist away from it could cause such pain.
I don’t ever do that now. You grow up after a few of those. You learn that there are always other paths the work can take. In fact, I find that I stack several alternate versions of the future next to each other so that if one becomes untenable for whatever reason, I can just grab the next one off the pile.
There are ways this is useful. It certainly makes one more flexible. It inures you a bit to inevitable disappointment.
There are also ways it’s not so useful.
While I don’t exactly want to go back to crying over actors, there is a problem with spending too much time with the various possible versions of oneself – it actually removes you from the self you’re currently being.
This happens a lot planning my upcoming work schedule. There is a certain amount of betting and hedging that is always going on. I have to weigh the probability that this project will get funded or that one will fall through. I need to juggle the off chance that this thing will really be worth it versus the money that it will make me. And I can feel sometimes that the betting keeps me a little removed from really investing in any of it. It means I try to take on more things than are possible, such that I can’t really do either to the level it deserves.
You know that feeling when you are considering taking on two projects that will overlap
On the one hand there’s the you that does project A to the best of your ability. That “Project A” you is palpable – you can imagine the you doing that thing and getting a lot out of it. Maybe it leads to a nice review, more work with that company, or pays well. You can feel that best case outcome of Project A version of yourself.
Then there’s “Project B” you. That “you” is also just as imaginable. Maybe this you gets to do the project with collaborators you love, takes more interesting risks, or forwards your aesthetic. Project B’s imagined awesome outcome for yourself is similarly something you can imagine and see.
At that point you’re faced with a split through the fifth dimension, just as I was a moment ago when thinking about Fiji. These two outcomes are both possible. And when you can so concretely see and feel why each outcome is something you want, it’s hard to give up either version of yourself. You want to be the “you” in both Project A and B. The problem with that pesky 5th dimension is that you can feel the alternate versions of your life so close at hand. It feels like we can be both of those selves. It feels like we can do both.
But when you don’t actually choose (by choosing both) you’re actually not getting both versions of reality. You’re just creating a third timeline of a “you” that never has to admit they can’t do everything but probably isn’t really getting to be either of the two imagined outcomes. Because the outcomes we imagine are predicated on really being able to give our all to the thing we’re working on. Like my response to Mr Cofta, you can be so distracted by the idea of what you imagined that you end up with a bastardized version of both.
In doing this we’ve committed to both and neither. We’re not quite living in a world where we give our all to any one thing, but create an amalgam where a little piece of everything takes up our attention. Why did that show turn out so shitty? Well, it might be any number of factors. But if everyone involved was doing eight things at once, it’s possible that it’s because no one really planted their feet on the floor. That everyone’s mind was half in the room and half in the other thing they were also doing later that day.
Humans don’t have dual processing power. We can’t run too many scenarios simultaneously. We get caught in between option A and B and the result isn’t equal to either.
“Oh, you’re here. I know who you are.”
Being an actor or designer one gets in the mode of always having to juggle the potential number of things they could be doing (or sadly, not doing) in a year. No one wants to cut off potential opportunity. No one wants to see lines in fifth disappear. But while Fiji Adrienne is an idea that I can imagine, I can’t actually be in two places at once.
I don’t think we can really be in two artistic places at once either.
Maybe I am a dinosaur. Maybe there those of you out there that really can do it. I don’t know, though… I can only speak for myself. But I know my best collaborations have come when the people involved only had to do one thing. When that singular work was the only thing demanding their creative attention. When in the off hours they could dream and ruminate on it. When everything around them could become a potential answer to the creative questions we were seeking.
It’s difficult to ask. It’s rare that it’s possible. But I think it makes way better stuff.
“One at a time” is my new rallying cry: Everyone in the room committed to just one creative timeline. Though we can feel the call of those alternate selves, the ones who do any number of exciting potential things, let us remember that we can’t be all of them at the same time and be our best. When we spread our “selves” out across them, they all are a little less strong.