Parallel Universes

So do you ever do this thing where you picture something---a place, a person---for a really long time before you see it in real life, and then the time comes where you do see it in real life, and when you do, it's nothing at all like you thought you it was going to be?

This happened to me with the Great Wall of China, for instance, and with Sean's friend Ed. I'd thought about the Great Wall of China for 26 years before I actually went there, see, and in those 26 years I'd formulated such a vivid and accurate image of it that when I finally saw it, I had a really hard time letting go of the other Great Wall of China, the fictional one I'd imagined for so long. And Ed: I thought Ed would be a middle-aged dude with a ponytail and a motorcycle jacket, and when one night we bumped into him at the grocery store and he turned out to be my age with a buzz cut, the surprise was such a sting that I don't think I spoke to him the whole time.

But where do they go, these pictures we paint, these images we carefully create and construct of how we think things are going to be? If someone mentions the Great Wall of China now, I picture it first how it really was, but fuzzier in the background looms the other version: the prototype, the original, old Great Wall of China v.1.0.  When Sean mentions Ed's name, two Eds immediately spring to mind: the real one and the fake one, the actual Ed and the almost Ed, the guy he is and the guy I thought he'd turn out to be.

In brains packed to bursting with to-do lists and to-don't lists, there should be an archive for these people and places that aren't real but aren't not. A long time ago, I fell in love with the idea of the dead letter office, where mail that can't be delivered goes to die. We need a dead letter office for figments of one's imagination, I think, for dreams you want to hold onto for a while, for memories too momentous to forget.

Maggie May
Jul 03, 2008

i use all my imagined events and peoples in my novel. sometimes just a detail that i imagine about someone that never existed becomes an entire person.

i like your page :) i live in sd and am a writer, found you here on accident.

Jul 03, 2008

This definitely happens, mostly with massive landmarks that I've seen pictures of. The Pyramids was the weird one for me. It felt weird while I was there and now, I don't really have any memory of having seen them at all. Which is sad, cause, in many ways it was the best part of a rather awful trip. Perhaps the Pyramids are in the dead letter office - if only that could be said of other memories from the trip to Egypt.

Jul 03, 2008

I'm happy to say that I didn't have any expectations of my trip to Italy (ahem, go to Rome), so I was not disappointed by much. Except the food in Venice. The Sistine Chapel and David were everything I imagined them to be, although I have heard other people express disappointment upon first seeing these great works.

This "parallel universe" most often happens to me when I read a great book and invest a lot of my imagination in the characters and subsequently a movie is made. In high school I read the novel Papillion by Henri Charriere about three times before learning about the movie. I was so excited! However, once I saw the movie I thought NO! you got it ALL! WRONG! Dustin Hoffman should be Henri and Steve McQueen should be Louis Degas and their personalities are NOTHING like they should be. I haven't read/seen Papillion since, so I don't know if my opinion would still be the same, but I was devastated.

Jul 03, 2008

I agree with Maura. I constantly build complex and vivid scenes and characters when I am reading and am usually thoroughly annoyed when I watch a movie based on what I have read. Although, I also screw myself up when I re-read a book and note that perhaps in one crucial scene, the main character turns left to go home and in my head she has always turned right, and the whole imaginary universe in my head goes careening off track and plunges into the sun. It's somewhat discombobulating.

Jul 03, 2008

That happens to me with bands - I listen to them for hours and hours, and then when I see them live, I'm always surprised by how little they look like the band in my head. It took me a long time to get over Jason Molina, who was much smaller and hairier than I had expected.

Jul 03, 2008

I'll agree with Maura and Ellbee that I do this with novels. The vivid images in my head never quite translate to the screen. In fact they sometimes don't jive with what other readers imagine, a friend of mine and I continually argue over one set of characters from a series of novels because we have slightly varying opinions of how they look.

Although I have to say the mid-90's version BBC version of Pride and Prejudice is the first one to nail all my physical and mental perceptions of characters and places from a novel.

Jul 03, 2008

Sometimes I'll lose the image of what I expected when this happens. I think of vacation spots or travels -- just like the Great Wall -- it's not that I can't let go of what I expected, it's that I'm almost sad that my original expectation gets lost in the surprise. I want to remember what I thought it'd be like. I WANT to remember to compare. When I can't, it's a disappointment.

Jul 03, 2008

I am in the majority here as I do it with books also. I have loved so many books and built the characters up in my head and then when I heard that a movie is being made about any of the books that I love - I always check on the casting and am usually always disappointed by it. It has happened to me time and again so now I have a pretty strict rule about not seeing books I love made into movies.

I do have to agree with Skeezix that Colin Firth is the first Mr. Darcy that I thought - yup, they got that totally right along with just about everything else in the series.

Jul 03, 2008

I second everything on novels and bands.

And I was reminded of instances when parents/other people may have had expectations that they had been building on for many years (say, watching a child grow)and when that child doesn't turn out the way they imagined they would (appearance, attitude, lifestyle) it is such a shock to them! It is as if someone had been killed and another left in their place. I think this is why so many people can't accept their children for what/who they really are. They can't accept that the person they THOUGHT they were, was a figment of their imagination.

I strive to banish this from my own thoughts toward my daughter and son. Its difficult because it starts the moment you see the double lines but can't see the baby. May I never never ever ever be disappointed in what they are because of my own ignorance and imaginings.

P.S. absolutely in love with your blog, Holly.

Jul 03, 2008

In the words of Rickie Vasquez, "that was deep."

Jul 03, 2008

So, Holly, I'm going to China next weekend. Of course, being that we are halfway around the world and not knowing when another China trip opportunity will be in the works, we are definitely going to the Great Wall. Now I'm curious. How was the Wall different in person than in your imagination?

My most profound parallel universe moments were when I went to Paris, by the way. Still have not been to Rome.

She Likes Purple
Jul 03, 2008

I agree with Jonniker. Sometimes the real memories become so powerful that we forget the first ones, the ones that comforted us for so long before the real things occurred. This happened with my wedding; we got married at a place I had never seen until four days before the wedding. And I had such real, physical imaginings that when we arrived, I was almost stunned by how off I was. And the real thing ended up being so beautiful that the original is now so fuzzy and hard to remember.

Jul 03, 2008

I do this a lot with houses. Like I'll meet someone and then picture what their house looks like...their bedroom, kitchen, all the little details. But then when I actually see their house, I have a difficult time remembering what I thought it would look like. Humph.

Jul 03, 2008

Add to the list of things we need:

1. Overhead monitors that float over people's heads, displaying what effect they THINK they are achieving with their chosen wardrobe/makeup/hair style. Especially essential for anyone wearing Crocs.

Jul 03, 2008

Oh yes, I know exactly what you mean. Somehow when I find out something is very different from how I've imagined it I can never really get the imagined portion all the way out of my mind. So the certain thing, whatever it is, is stuck half in reality and half in fiction for me until a good long while passes and the reality overtakes the fiction.

Rachael W
Jul 03, 2008

To whoever said they imagine characters in books a certain way and then get mad when they make a movie version that is so totally wrong: I feel you! But what's even worse, in my opinion, is when the author doesn't mention a key detail of a character's appearance until well after you've formed a mental solid picture of what this character should look like. For example, you could be reading merrily along, imagining a clean-shaven protagonist, when voila! The author reveals the protagonist actually has a beard! That is a pet peeve of mine.

Oh, and when I visited Mt. Rushmore for the first time, it was so much smaller than what I expected. Apparently everyone says that.

Rachael W
Jul 03, 2008

Whoops, I believe that first "whoever" should really be a "whomever."

Jul 03, 2008

THIS is EXACTLY why I won't see the Harry Potter movies, why won't anyone I know understand that? Every time I see the movie to a book I read and loved, it gets ruined in my head.

Jul 04, 2008

I agree with all of the above, books, people etc. but would like to add the juxtaposition of the first impression of something / someone and the subsequent perception of the place: it's the projection your first make and what you come to understand about it later.
I still remember my very first impression of the school grounds at my boarding school perfectly, but my perception of the place changed radically after having been there for a few days. I could still look at the grounds and perceive them in two ways, and can recall both impressions of the place even today.
The same goes for my first impression of my boyfriend's (not husband) appartment in Vancouver and the city itself.

Renee in GA
Jul 04, 2008

I felt this way the first time I saw the Mona Lisa. I expected beauty and grandness and instead, I saw a smallish, darkish painting, confined in a big plastic box, in a dimly lit room, surrounded by velvet roping and flanked by armed guards. It was very disappointing. But the second time? In a brighter room, without the box, properly lit so you could, I don't know, actually SEE the thing? I didn't mind the velvet ropes or guards, it was a much more meaningful experience than I had expected.

For me, Harry Potter has been an exception to the book-to-film disappointment. I have loved those movies.

Jul 23, 2008

YES. you described it perfectly. The first time I visited NYC, I was in my hotel room, reading a tourist brochure and noticed a listing for a baseball museum. then I noticed the address "new york city". Shoot. Wish I could go there.

Wait! I am there. But the NYC in my head was one from TV shows, movies and books. Not the tree lined streets I'd been walking that afternoon.

The entire visit I had these two parallel universe NYCs in my head... and I never did reconcile the two.