The wonderful worlds of ‘what if?’
Do you sometimes think, “what if?” Not Wotif, as in the online accommodation booking agency, but “what if?” as in the infinite turns your life might have taken. Add to it a “how come?” or two and there’s hours of fun pondering the possibilities.
I love the 1998 film Sliding Doors about parallel universes that hinge on the “what if?” factor of Gwyneth Paltrow catching a train or missing it. An intriguing play by Nick Payne, Constellations — which has been performed in Australia and recently on Broadway with Jake Gyllenhaal — takes a “multiverse” approach to the course of a relationship between two people. Its rapid-fire transition between the universes is dizzying; nod off for a second and you’ve missed the plot, or at least one of them.
My “what if?” thoughts often centre on travel. What if I’d shouldered the cold just one more winter to fulfil an ambition to live long-term in London? I didn’t because the tug of long, bright, warm December days in Australia was too strong. What if, indeed, I’d never left my native Queensland to live and work in Melbourne first and then Sydney? I’d still be packing my port for holidays, instead of a suitcase, and heading off to see the odd “filum” or two, I guess. But I could never bring myself to call a rockmelon a cantaloupe or an eggplant an aubergine. And here’s a “how come?”. Why do Australians have only minor regional variations in pronunciation and vocabulary? In Britain they can’t understand each other from village to village sometimes and in the US, with a similar pattern of population spread to Australia’s, you sure don’t confuse a denizen of Dixie with a brother from the Bronx.
My family holidayed regularly on the Gold Coast and harboured the hope of building a beach house there. The land was bought and the breezy style chosen, but it never happened. What if it did? I might be sitting pretty at Mermaid Beach in what would now be termed a mid-century modern classic in Petrel Avenue (note that it’s with an “e” as in the seabird and not an “o” as in there’s a bowser down the road), just a thong’s throw from millionaires’ row, Hedges Avenue. Aw, shucks.
But here I am, on my local beach north of Sydney with the romping dog, coffee in my hand (the first-cup euphoria is kicking in) and engaging with another “how come?”. Why is Australian (and New Zealand) coffee so very good? We owe much to the postwar arrival of Greeks and Italians with their espresso machines, I know, but why wasn’t the US, with its rich migration history, so lucky?
If I’m after infinite possibilities, check out how the sun is rising today, the sky’s colours, the shape of the clouds, the movement of the waves and the way the surf is breaking on the sand. It’ll never be this way again, and right here, right now I wouldn’t want to be in any other universe. It’s the best time of the day. The small, sad thing is, it’s just 7am.
Susan Kurosawa is on assignment.