Lessons from the Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulum

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Kurt Vonnegut fans will be familiar with the phenomenon of the chrono-synclastic infundibulum, where opposite and equally valid universal truths co-exist with no contradiction. Those who enter the infundibulum simultaneously exist across a continuum spanning past and future, from our sun to the star Betelgeuse.

    This happened to Malachi Constant in The Sirens of Titan.

    Something similar happened to me:

    At five in the evening, March 17, I boarded a plane out of Wellington, New Zealand to Auckland. Two hours later, I was over the Pacific Ocean on another flight bound for LA. Twelve hours later, I touched down in LA - at noon the same day, technically, five hours prior to embarking on my return trip and seven hours before leaving New Zealand.
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    This had to be the longest St Patrick’s day of my life.

    Two days later, after an LA interlude, my body arrived home 40 miles out of San Diego. My brain was still in transit over the Pacific. Three days later, my frontal lobes turned up, and the following day I figured out how to engage them. Yesterday, they disconnected, so technically I’m still off somewhere in the chrono-synclastic infundibulum.

    My entry into the infundibulum began ten days earlier with my arrival in New Zealand. Here, I found myself in the future, one day ahead of those back in the States. It was here, in the future, that “Present-day John” was forced to come to terms with “Past John.”

    I lived in New Zealand for 11 years from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties. Here, I got married, fathered a daughter, Emily, got a law degree, got divorced, and embarked on a career as a financial journalist. I was back to attend the wedding of my daughter. I had not been back to New Zealand since 1991.

    Day two or three into my visit, I’m having dinner with an old law school friend, “Linda.” Suddenly, I recall when we last saw each other. I was living in Melbourne, Australia at the time, and was in New Zealand covering a political/economics story. I find myself saying that I arrived back to Melbourne just in time for my manic episode. As a result of the episode, I became unemployable. I have never held a regular job since. My relationship with my daughter was never the same, either. I could never be the father I wanted to be.

    I find myself relating this in a matter-of-fact voice.

    Earlier in the conversation, Linda glowingly reminded me of the law center I started as a law student, against all odds. It was the first one in New Zealand. Now they exist throughout the country. Later, at a pre-wedding function, someone introduces herself to me, saying, “I hear you started the law center movement.”

    No, I reply. Just the law center. The movement came later. Still, it’s nice to get a pat on the back. It’s nice to know I did something right.

    Emily’s wedding is the second-best day of my life. The best day was when she was born and I got to hold her for the first time, minutes old. Nevertheless, I find myself fending off ghosts of “The Father Who Wasn’t There for Her.” But there is no sense in reliving the past. I am still in her life. Later, at the reception, I dance with Emily’s mom.

  • My last full day in New Zealand finds me walking past the venue of my first job out of law school. I was working as a junior editor for a legal publishing company. Here, for nearly a year, I waded through mountains of legal material - mostly appellate judicial decisions - and condensed them into short four-or-five sentence summaries. The experience turned me into a writer skilled in breaking down complex technical issues. Not long after, I took this skill into financial journalism.
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    Years later, the skills I picked up as a junior legal editor in New Zealand would be the key to my recovery back in the States. It was early 1999. I was new to my diagnosis. I knew nothing about my illness. Nevertheless, I began reading articles in psychiatric journals, then summarized them into digests that I published in the form of an email newsletter.

    I had a long learning curve ahead of me, but I was playing to my strength. I was making a new career for myself, but one paradoxically based on my very first editorial job, here in a faraway land in a faraway time.

    It was time to say goodbye to Emily and her new husband. The past and the future don’t matter. She is here right now, in the present. There will be many more good times together.

    My neurons are snapping back into re-alignment. The infundibulum is receding. I learned what I needed to learn for right now: Many truths exist, and each truth is true. You can’t change the ones you don’t like. You can’t create ones that don’t exist. But you can own up to what is real. There is pain in truth, but there is also reconciliation and release. We live, we learn, we find new meaning, new truth.

    What is truth? What works for me right now is making peace with my past, living in the present, and having the courage to face the future. The here and now beckons. Time to answer the call ...
Published On: March 25, 2008