Ray Bradbury

Hot Tub Time Machine

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Of course, I wouldn’t have a hot tub because they are unsanitary skin flake stews marinating in secreted bodily residue, and traveling through time shouldn’t be done when damp or barely dressed because that is asking for a more awkward than necessarily fish out of your own time zone experience than landing somewhere in your own past would be otherwise,

I’ve been pondering 1986 on and off since Rob and I snuggled in to watch John Cusack‘s Hot Tub Time Machine. Destined to be another non-classic in his mid-life crisis collection along with the equally phoned in 2012, it begs two questions. What would you do if you had a pivotal weekend in your life to live over and what kind of mid-life hell is Cusack going through to have not only starred in but produced such a puerile piece of a complete time suck like this?

The first question occupies me more than the second though it is hard to watch yet another movie in Cusack’s slow fall from watchable to just another movie star cashing a paycheck. The movie for all its seriously lowbrow reach focuses on the question of going back in time to “right yourself”. The main characters are Al Bundy off-track and stuck so firmly in the weeds they’ve wandered into courtesy of poor life choices and the plain old drift that most of us allow to direct our course. You know what I mean. We paddle furiously until we find that sweet spot in the river and then allow the undertow to do the rest. We figure that the channels we’ve chosen should simply flow along, carrying us to where we want to end up, but the reality is that this only happens for those yellow plastic ducks in wading pools at carnivals. The kind that bob in an endless loop, waiting to be plucked for possible fabulous prizes.

I find that back to the past stories fall into two categories. There is Ray Bradbury‘s “butterfly effect” where any deviation from the original past, no matter how slight, spells doom for the future. Or there is the big fix that puts everyone into a utopia ala the McFly family‘s hunky dory happy ending in the first Back to the Future. The possibility that the past can’t be altered because it’s fixed (as some scientists theorize) is never entertained. It’s never like Emily Webb trying to relive her 12th birthday, stuck in a play where ad-libbing isn’t allowed.

“Where were you in January of 1986?” I asked Rob after the movie was over.

“Mick had just turned one, and I was in my first year of university,” He said.

Rob was already righting his path. An old married man of 24 going back to school to secure that better life.

In January of 1986 I was living in an apartment near the TKE house in Iowa City. Challenger was a couple of months away from blowing up. I was finishing up course work to get ready for my student teaching in the coming fall. It was a crappy winter. I was feeling sorry for myself because everyone had a boyfriend but me. Not having a boyfriend was a huge drama-rama thing for me though the reality – that I never bothered to really acknowledge – was that I did next to nothing to actually remedy the problem. Prospects abounded and one that I was even interested in a more serious way (that being relative to who I was at the time), I let slip because the truth (not something I was big on admitting) was that I didn’t want a boyfriend. My ambivalence couldn’t have been higher or more plain but nothing is as blind as 22.

But if going back to 1986 were an option, what makes us think that the outcome will be horror movie or happily ever materialism after? It’s like people who believe they’ve lived before are only ever victims of great historical tragedy or famous people. There is no ordinary. No average option.

Time travel theory – the serious shit – postulates that traveling backward is the only option. The future doesn’t exist and you can’t travel to somewhere that isn’t yet. Back is done. It’s like photos in an album or stepping into a home movie and wandering about like visitors to a re-enactment of a historical event. The outcome has already been decided. Nothing left to see there but the details that you’ve forgotten or altered as you’ve aged and waxed nostalgic.

My 22-year-old self would be too annoying and it would drive me crazy to be stuck inside her limited worldview.

Cusack and company naturally improved their futures in the superficial sense. They had money, goods and the women of their dreams. Presumably better attitudes and a little gratitude came along with the upgrade but the film doesn’t go there really.

I’ve gone over the side of the wading pool a few times in my life. Saw opportunity or took a chance. The only way to effect change is by going forward. The past has been and done.

Over at Mommy Needs Coffee there is a Ray Bradbury quote on the header that says “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” That was me as a teen and young adult. Reality crushed me and my imagination and writing sustained me. While it has ceased to be that for me as I don’t find real life the scary place it always seemed to be, writing is still as important as air or water or food even. I can’t imagine a life without writing. Without words. But lately I feel as though I am drowning in my own words. I can’t get to the keyboard fast enough and when I do I can’t keep up with the flow of my own thoughts or the pace a which ideas for blog entries, short stories and even novels are flying at me, but nothing looks on the screen like I hear it in my mind or see it in my mind’s eye.

I took my daughter to the pool last Thursday. She loves to go swimming, and we have a very nice little indoor aquatic center in our town. It consists of a zero depth entry pool for all ages, a warming pool area that attracts parents with wee ones to pre-schoolers and a deep area for diving and such. We were in the warming pool when the life guards suddenly kicked everyone out of the zero entry section and began dumping buckets of chemicals in and hauling out the pool “toys” to hose them down in a way that reminded me of Meryl Streep in Silkwood. Someone had vomited. And instead of reacting with the common sense I know I possess and vacating the pool (because it is indoors the normal level of chlorine is just at maximum tolerance for me as it is, any increase in chemicals should send my asthmatic self running for fresh air), I began creating a story. A horror-ish  sci-fi thing that by the time I got us home was a companion piece for the inter-related shorts I am working on already. Everything becomes a blog piece or a short story idea anymore – even my latest rejection email has prompted an idea –  and when it doesn’t, I think – there’s a novel there, maybe.

Recently I was talking with a writer who found me through my blog. She is a real writer. Does it for a living. Books, magazine columnist. She’s been published, and it doesn’t get anymore real than that. In a follow-up email to our conversation, she wrote something that finally brought a problem I have been having with the novel I wrote last November for NaNoWriMo clear to me. It needs to be non-fiction. The novel I have is essentially a fictionalized account of me in widowhood and a bit about Will’s illness and death. For some reason I just haven’t been about to make it work, and the reason is that I have to tell it from closer up. I have to be me. Warty and decidedly non-Lifetime for Women movie-ish. I cannot be Susan Sarandonized and that makes the project so very off-putting because I so dislike the me of the caregiving and widow days. Like most people I grew up with this idea that adversity makes us noble, self-effacing and ready for sainthood. It doesn’t do that at all. Surviving and taking what you learned from hard times to make a better life and a better you does those things, if that is even possible. So if I am going to write my story it has to be my story. But it seems to me that every widow I know, or have heard of, is/has written about his/her journey, and I am just one more wanna-be (and a fairly bad widow example at that). If I do tackle it though, I know what I have to do and that is something. 

And then there are at least two novels from long ago, one done and another a few chapters done but completely outlined that I know I could finish up.

I am writing as fast as I can and can’t keep up with myself and I don’t think what I am writing is all that good. A wonderful thing? I guess it is. There was a time not long ago when I wondered if I would ever be the word machine I was as a teen when I carried a notebook with me nearly all the time like Harriet the Spy. I am almost her again. Now if I could just harness myself a bit, I might make a real writer out of me yet.