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Is utopia real or imagined?
Oblivion, Chapter 11
Welcome to Oblivion, a utopian novel I’m publishing with commentary imagining a more beautiful future. If you’re new here, you can start at the beginning, start right here, or get caught up with the Index.
Quick recap: Elysia faced the immortals who made her remember her past, and how she arrived to Fanghu, isle of the immortals. Now that she remembers her past, she wonders whether her present can possibly be real.
composed a beautiful musical score for this chapter that feels ominous, yet still utopian. He says “I really wanted a little haunting in there, as she awoke and remembered, but I kept everything in a major key for the most part so it could still feel like a dream world. And I added those keys in there at about the moment when a reader would get to the part where there are ‘piano notes plucking a sweet song from the sea.’” I hope you enjoy this meditation as you read!
I woke up suspended in the sky, the clouds pouring through my dreams. For a moment, I was still in paradise.
Then my memories flooded in. My mother, lost to the ocean. My father, lost in his search for her. My life spent wondering where my mother had gone, whether she had drowned in the ocean that day, or whether she had gone somewhere else. Whether she had been taken from me.
My stomach lurched as I remembered Quinn, my fiance left at the altar for my obsession—my quest to find my mother in the stories of an old book. He’d never faulted me for it, had even encouraged my search. And yet I had spent my life in pursuit of a myth.
I let out the sigh I had been holding. Had I really lived such a tormented life? Had I spent it in search of a mirage? Some idle hope that my mother hadn’t drowned as everyone else suspected she did, but was alive and living in a fantasy land? Was I merely following my father into his delusions?
And yet somehow it led me here. Somehow the place that once haunted me actually existed. Somehow the Peach Blossom Spring was not just a letter in a bottle, not just a mythology writ long ago, but an actual place. A place I was in now. I looked out at the world beneath me, at the sheer curtains billowing in the breeze.
Once more I questioned my sanity. For to believe my memories was to believe that I had followed them into a painting. That I had crossed thirty thousand leagues of water and entered into the land of the immortals. That I had faced their tribunal and accused them of stealing my mother.
That I believed my mother was immortal, and so was I.
I couldn’t recollect how I wound up in that white silk kimono and draped across that elegant white bed. But as I sat up and took in the sunrise, the sheets silken against my feet, the golden sun warming my skin, I at least remembered why I was there.
Whether I had gone mad or had actually made it to the island of the immortals was irrelevant. I was still somehow here, my unreality was my reality now.
I heard footsteps touch marble stairs and turned to find Taka, his dark hair curling beautifully against his skin in the breeze. Was it he who rowed a canoe across the sunset so many years ago? Who plucked my mother from the sea even as he plucked me from my reality only days ago?
“Come with me,” was all he said.
I followed him down white marble stairs, the stone cool against my bare feet. The stairs were unconnected to any building, passing through clouds and sunbeams and fish swimming through the sky until at last they met the sea. I couldn’t see the bottom of the steps as they continued into the ocean below.
“Keep walking,” Taka said.
I stepped into the water and gasped as it blossomed about me, glowing with vibrant pinks and purples and golds, the bioluminescence of miles of coral lighting up the sea in a sparkling cascade of sound, like piano notes plucking a sweet song from the sea.
Taka leaned down to touch the water with his fingertips, stirring the gold as it spiraled toward the horizon. The music stirred, then deepened, transcending into something layered and beautiful. An oasis of melody.
“The immortals told you that all wisdom is stored in the water,” he said.
“Would you like to see your mother?”
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Recently, my friends and I were talking about our first CDs. Mine was an album by Kenny Loggins and my friends reacted to that as though I were a little rocker child.
I told them they must have been thinking about someone else. Kenny Loggins was a children’s singer, I said.
They held firm. Kenny Loggins was a rocker, “like yacht rock” they said. “You know, the 1970s sex symbol?” They pulled up an album cover:
I doubled down. “No, he’s a children’s singer from the 90s,” I said. “Like The Last Unicorn? The Rainbow Connection?” I pulled up my album cover:
I’m sure you already know this. Kenny Loggins is a rocker who also came out with a children’s album, and that’s why my dad bought it for me all those years ago. I was 38 years old when I learned this.
The memory rekindled, I’ve been listening to the album on repeat and it has transported me right back to my childhood. It made me remember how magical my life seemed back then, how perfect. How utopian.
My imagination was untamed as a child. I believed in unicorns, I thought the birds sang to me in the mornings, I climbed trees and imagined they were my home. The neighbor boy and I were the king and queen of the lands as our younger siblings played dutiful servants, carving kingdoms for us in a neighboring strawfield. (#firstbornenergy)
On my 13th birthday, I remember getting into bed with my little locked diary and writing that it was the best year of my life. I whispered a prayer, “Please God, when I die make me a 13-year-old so I can be this happy forever.”
As I grew up, I became aware of life’s imperfections. My mind became more focused on reality than unreality. I still find life absurdly beautiful, but maybe not as beautiful as I thought it was as a child. Maybe I would choose to be a 13-year-old forever if I could. Maybe I had utopia then—and now, have I lost it?
When I set out to write my utopian novel I wanted to recapture some of that magic. I wanted to write something that might be called “magical surrealism.” If my nonfiction essays remained grounded in the possibilities, I wanted my fiction to be free to explore impossibilities. Utopia isn’t just real, it’s also imagined.
As children, we knew this. Life was beautiful whether it actually was or not. That’s why I called my book Oblivion. It is reality and unreality both. The blurred line in the middle. In this chapter, Elysia is unsure whether this world is real or imagined, but in the end maybe it doesn’t even matter. Because if you believe you live in a beautiful world, don’t you?
I’m experimenting with leaving my author’s commentary and comments open to all subscribers because I’d love your feedback on where I can take it from here. This is not the final draft, so your words and edits and ideas help me make this manuscript better as I write!!!!!
Thank you so much for reading,