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  • Jan Flynn

How To Be in Two Places at Once

I’m doing it right now

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

You have at least three superpowers

Assuming you are a person living in an industrialized, technically up-to-date society, you are able to do things that not so long ago in human history would have been impossible. You’ve probably lost sight of your extraordinary gifts since you use them so frequently.

Let’s take the ability to exist simultaneously in more than one place at a time. This was once exclusively the purview of the gods: Apollo could steer his fiery sun chariot across the sky while simultaneously playing his lyre in the halls of Olympus. At the same time he could be down here on earth, harassing some mortal woman who would rather turn into a tree than succumb to his advances.

Superpowers don’t automatically confer responsibility, character, or decency. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The fabled immortals lost their exclusive grip on this two-places-at-once trick beginning with the invention of written language, which allowed people to receive the thoughts of someone not present in either time or space.

Once motion pictures arrived, an actor could be sitting somewhere by a swimming pool while also existing larger than life onscreen, kissing his costar or riding off into the sunset.

True, physically occupying more than one segment of space at a time remains beyond our reach. But exerting direct influence in one sphere while also being occupied elsewhere? You do that every time you pick up the phone or send an email.

If you can write, you have the power of telepathy

Which is pretty cool when you stop and think about it. Without being in the same room as someone else, you can transmit ideas, images, emotions, or knowledge directly into your readers’ minds. And once your words have been written and sent forth this happens without your effort or even awareness.

At the moment, you are lending your attention to what I’m communicating here — for which I thank you. I, however, am not in the same room with you, nor perhaps even the same continent. By the time this post goes live, I won’t be anywhere near my writing desk or even, hopefully, my laptop. I’ll be in Hawaii, on a long-anticipated vacation.

Which brings me to time travel

At the moment, Present Me is typing these words so that Future Me can lark off and lounge carefree on a tropical beach while you read what I have to say. Go ahead, hate on me.

However, I may instead be stuck in an airport terminal, sidelined by one of an infinite number of possible disruptions to my plans. Instead of sipping something luscious and decorated with a tiny paper umbrella, Future Me may be dragging luggage from ticket counter to departure gate or staring helplessly at an electronic board where the word delayed flashes next to my flight number. Meanwhile, you in your present moment are certainly in enough comfort and at leisure to read these words.

Time travel is unpredictable and impossible to control. Still, we do it all the, well, time. Most of us over the age of two spend much of our lives planning for or fretting about the future or revisiting the past (often in a futile attempt to revise it). For many of us, only rarely can we negotiate the attention-seeking cacophony of contemporary life without our brains bouncing compulsively back and forth between what happened before and what could happen after. We can go a long time without touching down in the here and now, where we actually live.

Superpowers are double-edged

They’re nice to have — I wouldn’t want to give up on modern communication or lose the ability to plan and dream. But if we exert our superpowers without even recognizing we’re doing so, they can work against us.

We can communicate so easily across distance and time that we grow to expect it of ourselves and of everyone else. There are no more intervening weeks of life while the letter we posted rides in the hold of a ship crossing the ocean: we get frustrated when our texts aren’t answered right damn now. This adds to the hyperspeed pace of life, which goads us into ceaseless, frenetic effort just to keep up. We’re never out of touch, never off the clock.

Our extraordinary abilities should serve us. Unfortunately, it’s more often the other way round. Every time-saving device we dream up just means we’re condemned to doing, always more in less time, in favor of being. Our lives, if we’re not careful, pass by in a blur, unregistered and, to some extent, not fully lived.

We don’t have to go to Hawaii to rein in our powers

I’m pretty sure the permanent residents of the islands get fractured and frazzled too, even if they don’t have to shovel snow off their driveways before they go to work. Life can get to us anywhere; we can’t really escape it, at least not in any way we’d want to.

But we don’t have to escape physically. We simply have to take a breath and notice what we’re doing. It sounds simple, yet we’re so acclimated to forging ahead all the time — or collapsing in a heap in front of a screen once we’ve exhausted ourselves — that it takes some conscious doing.

Meditation is excellent, if it suits your temperament. Play — any fun, purposeless, joy-generating activity —is great. Doing anything just for the sake of doing it, without regard for results or progress, is terrific. Staring out a window while letting your mind wander is a highly underrated practice.

I suggest we creatively waste more of our time. That way, we get to really live it. Then, when it’s time to put our powers to work, we’re more likely to use them for good.

I pledge to do my best to waste all the time I can while in Hawaii. From Future Me to Present You, aloha.

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