“An artifact from an alternate reality”

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The Likely World centers around fictional drug called cloud, packaged and eaten off a plastic spoon, which wipes users short-term memories. It’s an antidote for regret–that awkward thing you said, the bad move on the first date, the toilet paper on the shoe. Poof! The experience vanishes from your mind. Perhaps, if users only ever used it to erase awkward moments, it wouldn’t do much harm. But cloud addicts, like real people, experience trauma. And the impulse to wipe away such a dark stain is irresistible.

Over time, addicts shed possible lives, the things their forgotten selves might have done, had they carried the bad memory through to healing. And the stains don’t go away–not really. They are embedded in the muscles, in the tissue.

In the time of COVID-19, there’s been lots of talk about alternate realities. The dark timeline is trending on Twitter. How did we get Trump, Corona virus, and a national movement of 1968 proportions all in a single era? It feels impossible. Today, I asked Coco what she’d be doing if we could cancel COVID for a day. “I’d go to school,” she said. And then, “I sound like a total nerd.” This, truly, is the dark timeline wherein our children long for the classroom in June.

The title of this blog post comes from an article on David Sedaris, the humorist and author of ten books, in the New York Times. If you don’t know him, you should. He’s hilarious. He had a 45 city tour planned for his summer book release–the eleventh, now all cancelled. He has a closet full of fancy clothes he’d intended to wear on stage–now artifacts from that better timeline.

I didn’t have 45 cities on my tour, but I had ten. All of them have become virtual, and I was on the cusp of cancelling the launch, planned as an elegant party/reading for the book’s birthday, August 4th. I don’t want to whine, but I really wanted that party. So many friends, so many members of my family have contributed to this epic project. I’m 48, and I’ve been trying to write this book all my life. I wanted to celebrate, but that celebration, I knew, was in another timeline.

Enter Bridget. Bridget is a friend who plans events for Cornell, and I was possibly actually whining to her. We were at an idyllic spot for it, socially distanced along the bank of Flat Rock, a wading area above Ithaca where our two daughters were tubing contentedly on a sunny day.

“We could do it outside,” I said. “Tables far apart. I could shout really loudly.” I knew. I knew better. But it was hard to let go.

“What about a drive-in?” Bridget suggested.

In a moment, she saved my book launch. Friends, this is going to be epic. The world’s first drive-in book launch (as far as I know.) There won’t be canapés, but there will be popcorn. I’m going to give away merit badges, swag. I might do a comedy set. Afterwards, you and your family can stay and watch “Say Anything” on the drive-in screen.

Fiction is always about alternate realities, the might-have-beens and the it-could-possibly-bes. Here we are, in a summer we never foresaw. Shall we make a little joy in it?

Tickets are free, but you have to reserve in advance. If you like, you can buy a copy of my signed book when you get the ticket.


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