Sunday, November 25, 2007


It is getting colder and colder here, but soon I will be warm again. My body has steadily armed itself against winter's invasive chill, as autumn abruptly sneaks and shifts into a harsher form of frost, but upon returning to the Philippines in less than a month, the sun will once again, almost improbably, inevitably blatantly, find a vulgar means by which to reclaim its rightful domain over my prickly flesh. My body will unconsciously relax, then relent. The normal systems of seasons will once again be abolished, unwillingly, by my skin's mysterious coping mechanisms. All sense of cycles, of leaves falling, ice crackling, plants sprouting and birds singing exist now in an alternate area of my life. I have not seen snow in two or three years. It is there, in other places, of this I am sure, but not on the streets I have tread. My ears have not turned pink with the brunt of February's blatant daggers. March's steady thaw means nothing to me now. The seasons shift and change from country to country with a pace that leaves me scrambling for some sense of stability. Measuring time by the shifting of the winds and the date on the calendar seems like a relic from another version of my past. By allowing a new form of weather to guide me, one that bobs and weaves from country to country across this Asian archetype I tread, I find myself looking at life again, adjusted. Like studying a new language, I am forced to recognize different ports and alternate access points. The world is bigger and wider than I once imagined it to be, with new words and unfamiliar winds. I can now step out into the day and confront subtle breezes and staggered syntax with a brazen sense of foolish confidence, for I now know that I will use each of my steps to somehow create a pace and face the confusion. I will somehow, weather willing, find my way to where it is I am supposed to be, no matter the season.

Friday, November 23, 2007


I saw a teenage student sleeping on the train the other day. A teenage boy, standing up. Leaning against the door as the carriage richocheted through the night. He was wearing a dark blue suit with bright gold buttons lining the front from stern to collar, the standard uniform of Japanese adolescents across the country, a lingering remnant of the Prussian army's influence on the orient. As he slept, being swayed this way and that way by the gentle but insistent rocking of the train, I thought: He's going to miss his stop. He' standing, but he's sleeping, and he's going to miss his stop. I was sure of it. But then, only moments later, the train stopped, and the boy's eyes popped open, and he stumbled out the door, bag in hand, jacket tucked tight. I'd underestimated him. He'd known all along where he was going, and when he would get there. He knew his path, and what was expected of him to stay on its course. I saw something that was not true, without his awareness, and believed it to be so. Suddenly I felt smaller, and wondered what unseen stranger might be watching me right now the same way I'd just watched this boy, and forming similar certainties about my life based on a casual, superficial glance. I looked at everyone around me and realized I knew none of them, nor could even guess at their depths. We were all separate but united by our walls. And the fallibility of my own judgements suddenly felt like a tonic, like cold water swabbed gently on a warm forehead.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Is Japan becoming a fascist state?

You would certainly think so, given the attention given in the Japanese English-speaking media (as small as that is, and as localized as it necessarily is) to the fact that visitors to this country, as of a few days ago, must now submit to fingerprinting and photographing upon arrival at the nation's airports. Must stand in line for an extra twenty, thirty, possibly even sixty minutes. Must be faced with the humiliation of being branded a potential terrorist, essentially, each and every time they enter the country, as the new procedure is, ostensibly, being initiated to prevent Japan from ruthless attacks by nefarious criminals.

Where are our human rights? the detractors claim. Is Japan becoming even more xenophobic? (Which is an unsettling claim, given that the country isn't always so hospitable -- legally, at any rate -- to foreigners in the first place. How much more 'Big Brother' can we get here?)

All of which I agree with.

But, sad to say, I find myself shrugging my shoulders. Not all that agitated over the new regulations. Wondering, to a degree, what the hell all the fuss is about.

Maybe if I travelled more frequently in and out of the country, I would recognize the situation as the pain-in-the-ass it undoubtedly is. Maybe if I was an ethnic minority, I would see it as a gross infringement on my rights, an attempt to keep tabs on my whereabouts, an actualization of a permanent, lingering suspicion of all things foreign.

As it is, the way I see it is: Japan doesn't fuck around.

By that I mean, they don't do anything half-assed. (Officially.) When something is done, instigated, legislated, all efforts are made to make it appear to be full-throttle, full speed ahead. (Officially.)

So if the country is trying to prevent terrorist attacks, is trying to regulate precisely who is and who isn't coming through the gates that lead to their cities, then fingerprinting and photographing is certainly a first step.

Is this fair?

I dunno.

Is it right?

I'm not sure.

But I think some of the anxiety, outrage and downright hysteria exhibited by foreign commentators here in Japan stems from something else. Something larger. A sense that our lives are not in our own hands. That there are other forces, larger forces, telling us what to do and where to go. We are little more than marionettes on the strings of an invisible puppeteer, essentially. The fury directed at Japan is, in the end, a rage stemming from our own, pathetic malleability, an unacknowledged acknowledgement that we have very little control over what we do and how we do it. We are individuals refusing to accept our lack of individual autonomy.

Whereas, from the Japanese perspective, I think the viewpoint would be akin to: We are a group-oriented society. Individual needs are secondary to those of the society at large. As a foreigner, you are entering our domain, our society, our world, and we must be sure that you are not doing anybody any harm, or plan on doing anybody any harm. You may be right: our new procedures may be nothing more than a smokescreen, an inefficient, time-consuming way to show our society that we are doing something about the terrorism problem. But if it assuages Japanese fears, if it gives the public the sense that their welfare is being considered, than your momentary discomfort, your individual anxiety, is a worthy sacrifice for the good of the whole.

And the sacrifice being: you have to wait awhile longer while being processed into the country, and you have to submit to your photos and fingerprints each and every time.

Maybe it's because I've been reading books about hyperspace and alternate dimensions and multiple universes existing only millimetres away. Maybe it's because I tend to not worry about something until it's affected me, personally. Maybe it's because the world is large, I am small, and there always has been, and always will be, exterior elements seeking to strangle me into submission. Maybe it's because I've lived in two very, very poor countries that have governments that would make banana republics look like burgeoning democracies. Or maybe it's because of the bomb blast that ripped through the Philippines' government a few weeks back. All of these ideas, incidents, tangents, give me pause, and in that pause, that gap, that space between my intellect and my heart, I find myself wondering: There is more to life to be anxious about than fingerprints and long lines.

This may be politically naive. This may be hopelessly lackadaisacal, on my part, an acquiesence to unfair government restrictions on personal liberty. I get that viewpoint, and shit -- I almost agree with it.

It's just that, the events of the past few years have taught me one basic thing: Life, isn't, fair. Life fucks us around, and does with us what it will, and while it's human, natural, even necessary to define ourselves by the events that control us, it's also essential to choose, when we can, the battles we seek to fight. The wars we want to wage. And after seeing deadly diseases work their way through human flesh, cell by cell, I think: A long line? A couple of fingerprints? An indifferent, bland, docile government deaf and blind to the concerns of taxpayers, domestic and foreign?


I cannot choose to get excited over this. I cannot choose to get perturbed over this. All we have in life are the choices we make, and for all those seeking to practically impale themselves on the riteousness of their own indignation over these new restrictions, I find myself sympathetic, but, essentially, shrugging my shoulders. Go see a Cambodian court in full swing. Count the dead during a Philippines' election campaign. You want to see human rights trampled on, watch those countries in action.

Nobody wants to be fingerprinted, or treated like a thief. And my tune could change in the future, with new tones and varying sharps and flats added to my admittedly ragged score. But I still think that the brevity of life demands a necessary degree of proportion in our responses to its inevitable invasions. Inflating our outrage over this, when life may soon have some yet-to-be-defined that waiting in the wings, makes a subtle mockery of all that is truly gross and undignified about the human experience.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Halfway through Hannibal Rising, the new novel by Thomas Harris, the one featuring the origins of popular culture's favorite cannibal, I found myself actually rooting for the protagonist, hoping that he'd kill more, even eat more, and by the end of the book, I finally understood why Hannibal had worn a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey jersey at the end of the previous installment, and the genius of this entire series of suspense books is that Hannibal's evil has been built, piece by piece, with such seemingly innocuous components, all of which wind their way back, ultimately, to the darkest parts of our innermost selves.

Critics have not been kind to this book, but I've never been kind to critics, either, and I think they're missing the point, completely, much as the filmmakers behind Hannibal, the movie adaptation of the self-same book, also completely missed the boat by altering the novel's crucial, essential, mind-blowing ending.

The central problem is that Harris is not doing what popular fiction normally does, nor what his publishers are saying he's doing. He is not interested in doing the song-and-dance slasher suspense novel, even though his stories are, ostensibly, exactly that. Instead, novel by novel, he's slowly, slyly, shoving our love for Hannibal right in our face, and, hopefully, making us wonder what, exactly, we're loving, and why, and what that may say about the nature of our souls.

Much of the scorn heaped upon Harris this time around has to do with the fact that he is, essentially, explaining Hannibal Lecter: How he became evil, why he eats people, why he's cultured yet cannibalistic -- the whole deal. (Much the same way that George Lucas 'explained' Darth Vader in the most recent Star Wars prequels, another series that I think the critics are completely missing the boat on.)

According to his (many) detractors, Harris is essentially giving away the game, like a magician revealing his long-cherished secrets, robbing this twisted icon of his own particular mystery, taking a gothic, mythic, even iconic figure of modern horror, a symbol of our collective nightmares, and performing Freudian surgery on his literary carcass. To explain the mystery is to dissolve the mystery, they say.

Well, perhaps.

All of that would be true, were Hannibal Lecter meant to be nothing more than a symbol of ghoulish evil, a more civilized version of Jason, or Freddy Krueger, or Michael Myers.

But that would be assuming that Harris is setting out to do what it is that his critics are saying he's setting out to do.

Harris, however, is out for something larger. He's trying to explain ourselves, and why it is that Hannibal himself has become such an attraction for all of us.

The reason why his previous book, Hannibal, was so absolutely genius was because Harris flipped over like a pancake everything we loved and respected and admired about Clarice Starling in Silence Of The Lambs, this modern-day heroine whose resilience helped earn Jodie Foster a well-deserved Oscar. This symbol of feminine strength, this sympathetic character who triumphed over the premature deaths of her parents, this brilliant FBI agent who battled wits so ably and aptly with Hannibal himself, ends up falling in love with Hannibal. Running away with Hannibal. Together. The two of them. Off into the sunset. Cue the music.

This kind of stuff just doesn't happen in popular fiction. Subverting all the goodwill we've generated for Clarice? Absolutely annihilating everything we (thought we) knew about her? I couldn't believe it when I read it, and I wasn't surprised when Jodie Foster declined to return for the sequel, or when director Ridley Scott ultimately didn't end up including it in the conclusion to the inevitable cinematic adaptation.

It was as if Harris was saying: You think Hannibal is so charismatic? You think he's such a suave, attractive, sophisticated-yet-creepy figure? Fine. I'm going to allow the law-abiding woman who resisted all his ghoulish enticements to give in to her own worst impulses and run off with the dude. What do you think of him now? What do you think of her? What do you think of yourself? Are you horrified? Repelled? Tell me. Tell yourself.

Clarice Starling represented us, the readers, the watchers: watching Hannibal from a distance, but able to resist his charms. So much of modern cinema and fiction allows us to play a coy little dance with destructiin and depravity, murder and blood. We can watch it and be comforted by the fact that the monster is just that -- a monster -- and the heroes, though tempted, are able to resist, and defeat, the monster's charms.

Uh-uh, Harris responded. You ain't getting off that easy.

Similarly, in the recently released Hannibal Rising, Harris is forcing us to reexamine how far we are willing to go in our appreciation, understanding and, yes, attraction to Hannibal Lecter. We see him as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult. We see him attempting to track and torment the Nazis who tortured him as a youth and destroyed his sister. We end up rooting for Hannibal, because we can see, quite vividly, where he came from, the evil that was perpetrated upon him, and the black gap inside of him that refuses to remember the ultimate, vilest horror, and the one that explains, somewhat, to the degree that it can be explained, why he eats the flesh of others.

(I won't reveal why he eats others, because I think it's an absolutely genius psychological explanation, but I can say this: It has more to do with self-punishment than any other reason, and it can be almost understood as a form of perpetual flagellation. Which only adds layers to Hannibal's depravity; it only enhances, not reduces, the darkness of his depths.)

Those who dislike the book are free to diss it on aesthetic grounds: it's a little skimpy, and the plot meanders from here to there, and, as a pure suspense book, I've read better.

But there's something lurking beneath the surface of the words, of the story, layered beneath that precise, elegant prose that Harris so subtly weaves.

Let us look at this character, this Hannibal that you love so well, he is saying. Let us see where he's coming from. Let us peer into his darkness and see what there is -- or isn't -- left to see.

For it's no coincidence, I think, that the genesis of Hannibal the Cannibal coincides with the basest depravities perpetrated during World War II. It's not without logic, I believe, that Harris is tracking the mutation of one innocent child as he similary tracks the degeneration of an entire civilization through the aftermath of the Second World War.

By allowing Hannibal to become the hero, by generating even more empathy for his abhorrent behavior, Harris is implicating us, too. Why are we attracted to this darkness? he seems to be asking. Why do we love so longingly a vile character such as this? Can we recognize ourselves, perhaps? By peering in to Hannibal's heart, he is trying to illuminate our own darkness.

And yet, despite all of these biographical details, despite the logical genesis behind such abhorrent acts, Harris acknowledges that there still remains a part of Hannibal Lecter that can never be fathomed. By him. By us. An allowance for atrocities, whatever their justifications, can perhaps lead us into rooms that cannot be exited.

But back to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

I always wondered why, at the end of the previous installment in the series, Hannibal, Harris had portrayed his lead character wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey as he made his exit from the authorities on an overseas flight. Sure, the notorious killer was trying to appear casual, nondescript, a regular civilian type of person, I get that, but where would somebody as sophisticated as Hannibal Lecter have even found the knowledge of Canada's preeminent hockey power? It didn't gibe. Didn't seem authentic.

Hannibal Rising explains why. Not directly, but there's an interlude in Canada, a brief but important one, and though nothing is ever overtly linked back to that jersey worn so briefly in the previous book, it's all a part of the sly little puzzle Harris is piecing together, chapter by chapter, book by book.

Don't destroy the bogeyman, his critics are saying. Don't explain the monster.

Ah, but don't you see? I feel like telling the critics. Harris is not creating a monster for your literary halloween costume parties. He is trying to explain the unexplainable. He is foraging through the corners of our own psyches, so ably imagined as Hannibal's Memory Palace, the rooms in his mind that he enters at will, and the doors locked so tight that even he cannot open them.

He is shining a weak but persistent light into the darkness, and that darkness emerges not from the heart of Hannibal Lecter, but from ourselves.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


"I had a quick grasp of the secret to sanity. It had become the ability to hold the maximum of impossible combinations in one's mind."

-- Norman Mailer

There is no tragedy in the death of an old man, the famous saying says, but the death of American writer Norman Mailer at the age of 84 sure as hell feels like one to me.

He was the first writer I ever read that showed me what good writing could be, or what it should be; he was the first writer that seemed to endorse the necessity of having interests that were not only voracious in their velocity but almost random in their application. That randomness was symptomatic of his roving imagination, for here was a man who wrote novels and non-fiction about Hitler and Marilyn Monroe, Picasso and Jesus, Lee Harvey Oswald and the C.I.A., ancient Egypt and World War II, Muhammed Ali and executed killer Gary Gilmor, and only last year completed the first of a projected seven (!) volume fictional examination of Adolf Hitler's childhood, as narrated by a minion of the devil. He allowed his interests to go everywhere and seek everything.

I had the great good fortune to have him autograph his book on Picasso for me in the mid-nineties, when he dropped by the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto for a lecture and a signing. During the Q and A, I asked him if there were any similarities between Picasso and the subject of his previous book, Lee Harvey Oswald. The snooty artistes in the crowd snickered at this twenty-one year old kid's rather inane question, but I've never forgotten the fact that Mailer himself took it quite seriously, and answered it quite seriously. When I lined up and got him to sign my copy of his book, I asked him for some writing advice: "Write from the gut," he said. "And if you tell yourself that you're going to write in the morning, get up and write in the morning." He scrawled something illegible above his signature, something I couldn't recognize, so I meekly made my way back to the table and asked his assistant for clarification. She couldn't make it out, either, so she gently tapped him on the shoulder, and he looked at what he wrote, and he looked at me and smiled and said: "Sverte! It means 'good luck'," he said. (In Yiddish? I'm not sure.)

He was not only an American original but an original, period. He directed independent films and ran for mayor of New York and ran a few miles with Muhammed Ali in the early morning chill of an African morning. But everything that emerged from the man came from the core of his writing, from his stated desire to write the big book that would make Tolstoy and Faulkner and Hemingway and Stendahl his worthy compatriots.

Whenever I feel bound in by the arbitrary restrictions of life, I remember the boundless roaming of his imaginative ardor, his ability to push his own artistic talent to its own unreachable limits. He not only demonstrated what good writing could be, but also what we could be, too -- us, humans, those existential warriors he chronicled so tremendously well, and so consistently. If only we were reckless and brave enough to follow through on the courage of our own convictions, we might approach something worthy of ourselves.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


I always thought that it was kind of perverse that Quentin Tarantino cast Robert DeNiro, probably the greatest American actor since Marlon Brando, in a key role in Jackie Brown, only to have it end up being a part where DeNiro had almost nothing to say, being that he portrayed a mumbling, inarticulate ex-con who spent most of his time stoned, getting stoned, wanting sex or having sex. At the time, it seemed to me like brilliant anti-casting, in a sense, giving the audience the actor who we most want, but not giving him much to say, or do, or act.

But I just read a quote from another brilliant actor, Daniel Day Lewis, in the current issue of The New York Times magazine online, which made me realize that I had it all wrong. (Which is usually the case, I'm afraid.)

Lewis states:

People who delight in conversation are often using that as a means to not say what is on their minds. When I became interested in theater, the work I admired was being done by working-class writers. It was often about the inarticulate. I later saw the same thing in DeNiro's early work -- it was the most sublime struggle of a man trying to express himself. There was such poetry in that for me...

I now know and understand that I had it all backwards. DeNiro's best work had always been as characters trying, sometimes in vain, often with varying degrees of limited success, to articulate ideas that they could not find the words for: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, True Confessions, Awakenings, and even his comedic work in Meet The Parents and Analyze This. These are people who have a lot going on inside of them, but do not quite know how to put it. Or when they do speak out, it's usually mangled and inappropriate, the wrong words at the wrong time. (Think of DeNiro inviting Jodie Foster out on a date to a porno movie in Taxi Driver, then being puzzled by her sickened reaction.) When we see that struggle, we see ourselves.

Thinking, too, of one of my favorite movies, Rocky, and how each main character throughout the film doesn't know quite what to say or how to say it. (And how Stallone was capable, thirty years later, of so succesfully replicating that hesitant, groping, working-class vulnerability, stripped of pretension, in Rocky Balboa.)

Or think about some of the most cinematic characters of recent years that have touched people the most: Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II, silent and brooding, or Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, his face a blank slate strew across a world colored mad, or Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, or Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking, a death-row prisoner stuck within the walls of himself, or as the mentally-challenged Starbucks worker in I Am Sam (a brilliant performance in a terrible movie), or Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, limited by his own, erratic brilliance, or even Matt Damon in the Bourne movies, too frenetic and driven to announce his own insecurities, or as the lifelong C.I.A. man in the underappreciated The Good Shepherd, too duty bound by tradition and family and expectation to even hint at his own, private heart. All characters that have volcanoes churning inside of them, both pleasant and volatile and mysterious and benign, and they are not capable of saying what it is that they want, or need.

In this world of unending Facebook updates and blathering blogs, where we're constantly telling each other what we feel and how we're doing and what we're doing and what we think in extended, unasked for monologues, it's somewhat startling to comprehend that the most moving works of art are usually the ones that acknowledge the inarticulate nature within us all.

Especially when we watch such characters up there, on the giant screen, we wonder. We wait for them to speak, anticipating what they may or may not say, and when they don't say the right words, or enough of them, we are quietly pulled in. Tugged in, almost. And when they do attempt to connect it is often never enough, and their humanity, their reality, quietly becomes something else, something real that we can recognize as ourselves writ large.

Saturday, November 03, 2007


Try to follow these words, from Japanese-American physicist Michio Kaku:

Hyperspace is space beyond three dimensions of space and one dimension of time. Historically, scientists thought that Hyperspace did not exist. Now we believe that that in Hyperspace there is enough room to unify all fundamental forces. Four dimensions of space-time are too small to unify the four fundamental forces.

Got that?

How about this:

Time is like a river. It bends and flows around the universe. Time may also have whirlpools and also may fork into two rivers. In this way, time-travel may be possible. However, you have to have the Plank energy to create a time machine or the energy of a Black Hole. That is far beyond our technology.

And what about this:

We believe that a multiverse of universes exist like bubbles floating in Nothing. Each bubble forms a quantum fluctuation in Nothing. We feel that as this bubble forms, its matter is dominated by strings and membranes which create musical notes which we see as particles of the universe.

Do you get all that?

I sure as hell don't.

But I love, love, fucking love reading about it. Thinking about it. Thinking about why I love reading and thinking about it. (Because it hints at the possible, damn it! All around us is negativity and despair and cynicism, but this has the freedom and energy of possibility! Gleaming like the shiniest and most noble of my childhood marbles. 'Steelies', we used to call them. The giant ones, the ones we horded, even treasured.)

I don't understand most of what he talks about, but that's what gives me glee. I very recently enjoyed reading his non-fiction, science-for-the-masses book, Hyperspace, from the early 1990's, but I could hardly even comprehend the gist of it. Kaku talks about wormholes and other dimensions, the possibilities of travelling forward into the future or backward into the past, the nature of blackholes and the uncertainty surrounding the fundamentals of string theory. All of which is beyond me. (And maybe you, too, though I won't presume to judge.)

Nevertheless, it gets me thinking.

Fantastic images and notions to consider, chew over, ruminate upon. Our universe as one of many soap bubbles, say, floating next to another soap-bubble universe, each independent, each isolated, never to be linked.


Wormholes. Wormholes hold the key. (Perhaps.) Wormholes are how we will travel between alternate dimensions and universes that may lay little more than a centimetre next to our own. (Maybe). Literally, a centimetre, or a millimetre, separates us from another, floating universe. The problem, as alluded to in one of the quotes listed above, is that man, at the moment, at the present, at this very second, does not have the technology or energy necessary to even begin contemplating accessing or creating such a wicked-cool wormhole. (Check back with me in a couple of hundred thousand years, and we'll talk.)

What's wonderful, though, about Kaku's book, and his theories in general, is that they are based in reality. (A reality that I don't understand.) And in science. (A science that I don't understand.) Theories of reality, perhaps, but nevertheless: these are not merely science-fiction fantasies. They contain, if not depth, at the least the possibly of weight.

Crude distillations of some of his thoughts follow below:

Why haven't we encountered aliens? Or, to take a different, more intriguing tack: why haven't they contacted us?

Kaku offers some novel scenarios.

Despite the meticulously intricate nature of the cosmos, and its enormity, and its complexity, and even given the randomness of evolution, and even given all of these complicated factors, the scientific odds indicate that we should have been able to find traces of extraterrestrial life out there somewhere. The fact that we haven't indicates:

1) Perhaps another alien civilization, much older than our own, has simply blown itself up. Obliberated itself. If such a civilization were to have developed along similar lines as our own, they may very well have created nuclear-type devices; and, if they were as short-sighted and animalistic as we appear to be, they may have warred with one another and decimated one another eons ago, even before the Big Bang. (Oh, which reminds me: Kaku has some really cool stuff to say about the Big Bang. Everybody always asks: "What happened before the Big Bang? Nothing can come from nothing!" True. But perhaps the Big Bang was the result of, and had a relationship with, another, neighbouring universe. Or dimension. Our universe may be just another fold in a very complicated, very layered ensemble, so its formation, our formation, could just be another wrinkle in that fold...)

2) Perhaps there are other, alien beings out there, but they are on a different evolutionary timeline than our own. Meaning, it is very, very, very unlikely that a different, distinct form of life would have evolved at exactly the same pace as we did (Or are still doing.) Impossible, actually, for alien creatures in vastly different and diverging parts and points of space to evolve simultaneously, and at the same rate. So perhaps evolution is taking place elsewhere, in other galaxies, but these creatures are doing so at a considerable distance and at a rapidly slower (or faster) rate than us, us being humans; perhaps they are still nothing more than the cosmic dust that we once were, moments after the Big Bang, or perhaps they evolved light years before us and are undectable, or simply distant, to our humble humans.

3) Perhaps, and this is my favorite, we are simply not that interesting to aliens. Kaku has a wonderful analogy: When we see a family of ants merrily traipsing along the dirt, do we, as humans, feel compelled to bend down and say: "Here here, little fellas! You young chaps are so primitive! Let us share with you our industrial engineering designs and our computer networks! Let us teach you about YouTube and cameraphones! Let us debate the traumatic replacement of Bob Barker over on The Price is Right. Let us discuss irrigation techniques and their applicability to your daily life!" No. What do we do? We either a) ignore ants, because, after all, they're creepy little buggers, insignificant insects that hold little charm or allure, or b) we kick the ants into the dirt and watch them die.

So, and this is the interesting part, and the humbling part: perhaps there are, indeed, alien entities out there in the cosmos that are so far advanced in their development that our puny attempts at cosmic communication are nothing more than the barely-audible squeal of ants to their elevated intellectual ears. They see us, perhaps; they know we're here, quite possibly. They just don't give a shit. We are ants beneath their rapid and rumbling footsteps...

I find that notion both wildly amusing and disturbingly possible.

And that what Kaku is alluding to: the possible. Not even the probable, really: only the possible.

Another analogy he offers is that of a school of fish merrily swimming in the water, not realizing that they are in water, not knowing what water is, thinking that the ocean is the world, and they are the masters of the current. Suddenly one of their members is plucked by a giant, well, something out of their world and into another universe, one that had scarcely been contemplated even moments before. Where did their friend the fish go? Who took him? The universe of the fish had come undone, utterly and completely.

We are the fish (perhaps). The possibilities inherent in hyperspace (or the presence of aliens) are the equivalent to the human hand grasping the fish from its lair (perhaps).

When you think about it, it reduces us. And yet, at the same time, it's wonderfully liberating.

All our concerns, our foibles, our problems with the boss, the faucet that won't quit dripping, the noisy neighbour next door, the dude with b.o. in line at the bank, the fridge that won't freeze, all of that shit, is happening in a place and a realm that may be merely one fragment of a piece of a segment of a universe that exists in a floating-space bubble that, if properly utilizied, could eventually serve as a bridge between our dimension and the other ten. (Yes, apparently there are, like, ten fucking dimensions. As I said before: I don't get it. But that's the charm...)

In our smallness we can thereby better grasp the infinite.

Time-travel, alternate dimensions, different planes of reality: all may be happening, now, as we speak (and as I write), but technology hinders us from accessing such information until a few more thousands of years have passed.

Given my adolescent (and ongoing, truth be told) obsession with the Back To The Future trilogy, it's no surprise that my favorite parts of Kaku's book have to do with his speculations about time-travel, but he has a section near the end of the book that kind of chilled me. Kind of floored me.

In the past two or three years, the debate around global warming, the elevation of Al Gore to a messiah status, the realization that we may be doing irreparable harm to our plant, somewhat overshadows Kaku's ultimate conclusion regarding humanity: In the end, the ultimate end, the universe's end, we're all fucked anyways. (My words, not his.)

Consider this, from an interview with Kaku:

Our universe will die in ice rather than fire. Our universe, eventually, trillions and trillions of years from now, will reach near absolute zero, making intelligent life impossible. Therefore, we may have to escape into Hyperspace if we are to survive the death of the universe.

If I'm understanding correctly (which is never a sure thing with me, having barely survived Grade 12 Physics), Kaku is stating that the universe, our universe, which means Earth, our Earth, including your house, is doomed. Not now, of course; not even millenia from now. Trillions of years from now, the entire universe will chill out, literally, and die. Finding a way to access the upper ten dimensions of Hyperspace -- perhaps through wormholes, perhaps through technology that will exist in a trillion years -- will be humanity's only hope.

Now, I'm not knocking Al Gore. He's doing a lot of good. But perhaps the most inconvenient truth is the one stated above, that the universe, eventually, will go away. Freeze up. Crack apart. And everything in it will be gone. No matter how much we protect our planet in order to pass it on in one piece to our great-great-grandkids, it is, our planet, in the end, a goner. So saving our earth for generations a century from now, even a millenium from now, is all well and good, but the humans inhabiting earth a trillion years from now will die anyways. (Just as you and I will.) So saving the environment of the earth is not enough; for the sake of our descendants a trillion years from now, we have to figure out how to not only save the planet, not only escape the planet, but also how to escape the universe and access higher dimensions.

It all makes my head spin.

As Marty McFly said so eloquently: "Whoa. This is heavy."

But it gives me a cold sort of comfort.

Being an agnostic-bordering-on-atheist, I sometimes wonder what the point of it all is. This life. This world. So much senseless pain. Such a finite time.

But Fuku's speculations hint at other worlds, and other realms, and other dimensions. Time is not a straight line, but curve upon curve. Time is linked to how and where we are going. We may, someday, thousands of years from now, be able to go forward and back. Parallel universes might be possible -- where there might very well be another me, and another you. The road taken was took, in essence, somewhere else. Somewhere close. (Only a bubble away!)

Silly, really, but I feel less alone, considering these possibilities. I may be small, but there is much out there, elsewhere. Our time may be short, but larger avenues await us, should we dare. I feel comforted, even warmed, by talk of the universe disappearing in ice. By almost-ludicrous suggestions of accessing higher dimensions as are only way out.

I'm not sure why this is. Sometimes I'm riding home on the train, surrounded by sleeping salarymen, in a country far from home, trying to read a language not my own, and I feel: This is not where I'm supposed to be. (Where that is, I'm not sure.)

But then I think of Hyperspace, and the possibilities of realm upon realm upon realm, and Fuku's observations that all we have learned since World War II is more knowledge than that which has ever been learned in the history of humanity up until that point, and I think about his assertions that the future is vastly unpredictable, historically unextrapolatable, because who, after all, predicted the internet twenty years ago, or YouTube five years ago, and by thinking these thoughts, and by realizing the smallness of myself in the enormity of space, I can feel comfortably contained in my sleek Japanese train, sailing through the Tokyo suburbs. I can marvel at our capacity to grow. I can believe that we may destroy ourselves and our world, yes, and perhaps soon, certainly, but I can also choose to believe that we might, given time, given a trillion years or two, finally begin to understand what else is out there, and save ourselves, if we are brave enough and patient enough and pass on what we know. Hoping against hope that it will lead to the next growth, and the next, and the one after that. That my touch and your words are somehow linked in a chain that will elevate us, eventually, to higher, other realms, should we give as gifts to others the knowledge that we know.

Thinking such thoughts, as the day comes to a close and the sky grows dark, I look out the window, at the passing houses, the drifting stations, sometimes snatching a glimpse of our small and glowing moon, mine and yours. The size of a quarter, strangely hovering in the sky. Given the enormity of space, and the proximity of other dimensions a soap-bubble away, Canada suddenly seems not so far; the moon itself seems not so distant. (It fits in my palm! I think, looking through the window.) The universe may dissolve in ice at the end of time, but we are also here, now, and the moon's silver glow somehow seems to warm me more than I can say.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


I saw her through the window. She was walking away. I was standing still. She was outside. I was passing through a hallway, near a stairwell. The day was drawing to a close. The sky was shaded a slight but vivid shade of ash-stained grey. I couldn't tell her age. She may have been a teacher, or a student. She may have been middle-aged, or young. There was nothing special about her. There was nothing special about me, watching her. Nothing more than a glimpse. But I thought: I will remember this moment. An absurd thought, really. There was nothing about that instant in time to distinguish itself. Nothing worthy of memory. We should remember the important moments, not the mundane ones. But still, I told myself: You will remember this moment. You will watch her walk away, out of sight. And once she's gone, exited from the window frame, returned to her life and out of your gaze, you will go back to your classroom. You will return to your day just as she has returned to her night. And so that's what I did, and I taught my class, and that girl, that lady, that woman, age unknown, name unknown, faceless, nothing more than a distant, strolling figure, disappeared. Out of sight. But it was the ordinariness of that moment that I wanted to remember. I almost felt bad for that moment, that spot in time. I felt sorry for its plainness, as if the instant itself was separate from me, tangible and capable of being hurt. By remembering it I can grasp those few seconds and acknowledge their intangibility. By holding it tight I can slowly let it go.