Two Vessels

By Tao Lin

The rides of your life.

September 3, 2014

Previously published in the Summer 2014 issue of the Hazlitt print edition.

You are an immaterial entity aboard the vessel of a body, which is aboard the vessel of a universe, which is traveling through time at a particular rate and specific direction. You are traveling from the moment your body was born to the moment it will die in a peaceful, somewhat mysterious manner from what’s sometimes called ‘old age’ or ‘natural causes.’ This will occur when the universe has traveled 95.5319 years with your body aboard. If your body dies before traveling 95.5319 years—from car accident, cancer, homicide, suicide, disease, natural disaster, or other specifiable reason—your trip will not have gone as planned. You will have disembarked early. Like if you boarded a plane to travel 6,476 kilometers from Toronto to Berlin only to unexpectedly disembark in Newfoundland or the Atlantic Ocean.

Except that, aboard your body and the universe, you don’t know why you are traveling or the destination of your trip. Your decision to travel was made in a different world, whose existence is felt as ‘the unknown’ and whose properties seem dimensionally beyond the range of language. You existed in that world as you now, having boarded it in the form of a body, exist in the universe.

It’s simultaneously where you left and where, to a different location by its equivalent of 95.5319 years however, you’re going. You don’t know who or what—if anyone or anything, for what reason or reasons—await or awaits your arrival. You don’t know you’re traveling 95.5319 years. You can estimate, judging by your body’s natural-seeming lifespan, you’re traveling between 70 and 120 years. You don’t know your trip aboard two vessels is inherently purposeful and mostly already successful. You don’t know your trip is necessarily unsatisfying and absurd and incomprehensible in something like the way that, in comparison to life aboard the world of the universe, life aboard the world of a plane—which, with its meals and movies and magazines and slightly enhanced seats like magically reduced houses, crudely simulates the world it’s simultaneously leaving and leaving for—seems unsatisfying and absurd and like it would be confusing to experience without a larger context. You know these things aboard a plane, so are not concerned about decorating your seat, comparing your experience to other passengers’ experiences, your position in imagined or publicly discernible hierarchies among passengers and crew, securing and maintaining relationships, or hoarding resources and gaining property.

After boarding a plane, once you are seated, nothing else is required for you to fulfill your purpose during your trip except to survive.

You are aboard two vessels because, as an immaterial entity, you can’t directly board the time-traveling vessel of the universe. You boarded a body, which is in the form of matter, which exclusively can board the universe, and which doubles in functioning as a space-traveling vessel. You will reach your destination, unlike most entities that travel through time aboard a human body and the universe, because your body lives in a relatively unpolluted, semi-rural Hokkaido and exercises daily and has a relatively healthy diet: you will automatically disembark your body after it has traveled 95.5319 years and, without a material form, also automatically disembark the universe and be returned to your world, the world where you deliberated upon and bought a universe ticket and a human body ticket to travel what, during the trip you think of as your life, was called 95.5319 years.

You will navigate out of your world’s equivalent of an airport. Your friends and family will be expecting you and some of them may be relieved you’ve arrived safely. The method of time travel you, for whatever reason, chose was widely known to be one of the worst—the riskiest, most unreliable, least regulated—but, for some reason, you won’t, in your world’s equivalent of emotion, feel surprised by your success. Would you have been more careful to ensure a successful arrival if you’d believed the reason your experience of life often felt trivial and unsatisfying and slightly unbelievable—yet also was duly, mysteriously apparent and obviously believable—was because, as you sometimes vaguely suspected, your experience wasn’t of life but of being in transit toward life? The question will seem rapidly, completely incomprehensible. You will slightly realize that what was comprehensible in transit can’t be after arrival before this realization also becomes incomprehensible and you begin to resume a life that could be said to stand in relation to 95.5319 years on a planet in a universe as 95.5319 years on a planet in a universe stands in relation to 10.52 hours in a seat on a plane.