On our existence

I bought Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas when it first came out in 2010, while I was doing my PhD. I liked it so much I immediately bought all of her other books as well. Two days ago I felt an itch for it, even though the only thing I remembered about it was the fact that I had enjoyed reading it immensely and that the protagonist was a writer. Forty-eight hours and 425 pages later I feel elated, confused, determined, envious and excited. I wish there was more. 

I find myself unwilling to leave Meg’s story. I spent two days in my universe to experience a few months in hers, with bits and pieces of her past thrown here and there as flashbacks. We treat fictional characters, especially the ones we like, like real ones. We talk to them and offer our advice as we watch them make one mistake after another, as if we’ve all led perfect little lives. 

The novel mentions storyless stories and historyless histories, terms that don’t actually make sense in the absence of context. It talks about our role in the universe, our energy, and how much of our story we can actually make sense of. Even though art is supposed to imitate life, we often see the opposite happening, people attempting to act as a fictional character would, believing this adds more value to their mundane existence. 

I selected the term envious before, and I didn’t choose it lightly. It’s not so much that I wish I had written this book, or at least one like it, which I do. It’s not that I long for Meg’s storyline, but there is something about her life that I do envy; something that kept me hooked both times I delved into her world. The same thing that made me underline passages, look up words, meanings and theories: her conversations. 

Not the ones she has with Christopher (her boyfriend), but those she shares with her friends Libby and Vi and Frank and Josh, all troubled characters in their own right, as we all are, but all willing to look at our life, even for a span of a single conversation, as a thread in the seemingly endless cloth that is the universe, and what implications, if any, this might have. How our choices, instincts, desires and callings shape us and the people around us, how the narrative patterns we create for ourselves based on false assumptions and beliefs of what life should be like, end up preventing us from going forward and daring to want and claim happiness regardless of the number of times we trip, fall or fail. 

Why do we never talk about multiple universes and the choices we’d make elsewhere? If life is as dull, colorless and monotonous as we define it and blame it to be on a daily basis, why not entertain the idea of something impossible, improbable, different, difficult, imaginary, fantastical, extraordinary? Why must we always turn to an art form to silently and sometimes miserably wallow in a pool of anguish and dejection and never try to exorcise our demons of banality with verbal holy water? Because we’ve already deemed ourselves banal, clichéd and predictable to the point of exhaustion (if not annihilation). We can’t even stand ourselves in this universe, let alone another. 

The more we convince ourselves that our stories are unchangeable, the more storyless we become. The more we believe that our histories don’t matter, the more historyless we remain. We blend in with nothingness and amalgamate with the metallic, grey sound waves that make up all the background noise we use to lose and hide ourselves within. We should stop talking and start speaking, before our voices become voiceless. 

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