Wednesday, July 21, 2010


An optimist is someone who thinks the housefly in his kitchen is looking for a way out. I read that on a “thought for today” whiteboard somewhere. I’ve often thought that I’m an optimist but by that definition, I’m not. Any housefly in my kitchen is looking to get mashed.

Have you ever heard of the “Butterfly Effect”? It’s a theory that everything affects everything, that a butterfly in the Amazon flutters its wings, starting a tiny breeze, and that tiny breeze affects something nearby, which in turn affects something else, each affect growing in size like an avalanche until it culminates in a mighty hurricane. I suppose that’s possible, but if I seriously believed it, I‘d be afraid to do anything for fear of starting a war. There are a number of science fiction short stories -- and even an episode of The Simpsons, I believe -- about how traveling into the distant past and crushing an insect could culminate in a world the traveler does not recognize on his return.

On the other hand, I also recall a story about a time traveler who was trying to prevent the murder of a woman in the past. But fate decreed this individual was to die of a hole punched in her forehead and the traveler had to keep going back to manipulate the husband, the lover, a random stranger and so on until a tiny meteorite zapped down from the sky and drilled a hole in her forehead. It was then he realized some events are absolutely bound to happen.

There is an old English anecdote about a woman who wished to travel by train and wanted to bring her pet tortoise with her. She asked the ticket agent if she had to buy a ticket for the creature along with her own. The agent studied the problem, even looking up the subject in his book of regulations, but found no instructions. So he ruled, “In the buying of tickets for animals, a dog is a dog, and a cat is a dog, and a goat is a dog, but this here turtle is an insect, and he can travel for free.” I’ve always wanted to work that anecdote into a story.


Linda O. Johnston said...

As a former writer of time travel romances, I love your references, Monica. It's fun to consider how destinies can be changed... or not!

Betty Hechtman said...

I like the whole concept of time travel. My favorite time travel movie is "Peggy Sue Got Married."

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

There's an old Gullah tale where the "Auntie" is refused a seat on the bus because she's carrying a chicken. "Auntie, yo' cain't git on de bus with a live chicken!" says the driver. "Okay, boss," says Auntie as she steps to one side and wrings its neck. (My southern grandmother told me that one. She didn't mention a turtle.)

Monica Ferris said...

Oh, Joanna, I love that! Linda and Betty, I have always enjoyed the problem and possible contradictions of time travel. Writing as Al and Mary Kuhfeld, my husband and I sold a short story to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine called "Timely Psychiatric Intervention." The problem we offered was that if you go back and change something, then you grew up in the new reality and have no idea if the change worked.