What If…

“What if…” is one of the best questions we can use to get our minds moving in a creative direction. Creative writing teachers often use the “what if…” question to get their students writing about various scenarios and thinking of resolutions to literary problems. Children will ask ridiculous “what if” questions incessantly. I can remember my younger sister Lisa asking “what if…” questions all the time from about the time she was ten years old to… well, she’s in her mid-30’s now and may still be asking them, for all I know.

I remember specifically one day she asked (not just me but the family in general), “What if the sun exploded?” My mother, ever the pragmatist, answered, “You don’t have to worry about that, it’s not going to happen,” or something to that effect. I, however, wanted to encourage her childlike inquisitiveness. Instead of saying something like, “I guess we’d all be dead,” I said, “Well… what if it did? What do YOU think would happen?”‘

At ten she really didn’t have an answer for that. “I guess we’d all be dead,” she said, and went off to her room to read one of her tween fan magazines about Vanilla Ice or the New Kids on the Block or something. Hey, she was a ten year-old girl and they were pretty dreamy. It’s likely she came back later and asked something like, “What if dinosaurs were still here?” I don’t really remember much from those days, those memories are all soaked in malted hops and bong resin.

Still, I think that “what if…” can be a useful mental exercise and not just for writers or other creative people. “What if…” can set our minds to wandering and trying to work out complex problems that we may never have thought about before. “What if Baucchus was living here and now? Where would he eat? What would his favorite sports team be?” Clearly this god of indulgence and debauchery would love the depth-charge sized portions offerred by Claim Jumper and he’d be rooting for either the Raiders or the Red Wings. Maybe both. I could see him being a football guy and a hockey guy. He’d also like reality TV (Celebrity Rehab and Fear Factor most likely) and Judd Apatow movies. I’m sure of it. He may be a fan of Russ Meyer movies, too. You’ve not lived until you’ve ogled Mimi VanDoren in a tight sweater.

So , each day, I like to try to ask myself a “what if…” question at some point. It might be in the morning as I’m waiting for the bus. “What if, instead of getting on Tropicana going West to get to work, I get on Tropicana going East and just keep going?” Unfortunately I know that I live just a few miles west of where the Eastbound Tropicana bus ends its line and turnsaround to head back west. It wouldn’t really be the escape from life that it sounds like as I’d end up just a little bit past Boulder Highway. I know this means nothing to you if you’re not familiar with the metropolitan Las Vegas area, but trust me, it’s not that far from where I live.

I’m sure that many of the books and movies we love started with the creator asking “what if…” Stephen King’s 11/22/63 is essentially “What if someone could go back in time and stop the JFK assassination from ever happening?” And that’s a fantastic book. Douglas Adams stated more than once that he was hitchhiking through Europe clutching a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe when he asked, “what if someone wrote a Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy…” and a golden bit of comic literature was sparked. One could just as easily see Ray Bradbury asking, “what if there were a society which forbade reading and writing and firemen started fires instead of extinguishing them?” And Arthur C. Clarke definitely asked, “What if there were an alien race which sparked human evolution and left a calling card on the nearest celestial body to Earth for us to find when we were advanced enough to get there?” the answer to which resulted in his short story The Sentinel which in turn gave way to 2001: A Space Oddyssey.

“What if…” is clearly an importanmt and thought-provoking question which we really should ask ourselves more often. “What if a guy who you’d really like to have a beer with but who really wasn’t very bright was elected president?” That could have avoided some stuff, had enough of the right people just asked. “What if we didn’t ignore climate science and actually paid attention to the people who know what they’re talking about on the subject?” “What if we let anyone who wants to get married do so and realize that it will not affect the rest of us in any way at all?”

Yeah, perhaps we should all be asking a little more “What if…”

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