Enter the Holodeck


May 29, 2022 by Catherine Viel

In some ways, discovering that our physical universe is formed in a completely different way to what we thought is a bit like someone in a Star Trek Holodeck program suddenly seeing a bit of the actual spaceship and questioning their own sense of ‘what is real?’ ~ Richard Gentle

I’ve been reminiscing about San Francisco’s Chinatown. The old men sitting in doorways wearing tasseled silk caps and brightly patterned kimono pants and tops. Some of them would have a long curled little fingernail on one hand, growing in a two-inch spiral. Such an unexpected sight, you couldn’t help but stare.

I have a romanticized memory of the city because I haven’t been there in so long. Visiting again is on my vague list of “things to do at some point.” But when I see current photos of the homeless tent cities, the filthy streets, the gloomy alleyways and tenements, I’m not so sure I want to bother. Cherished experiences can’t be replicated. The tiny deli where I used to get real New York style bagels before French class at the Alliance Française has probably been converted to a Starbucks.

This is the trouble with living for a number of decades. Reality does not match memory, and memory itself is unreliable.


I don’t have to travel far to experience this dichotomy. It happens whenever I go to downtown Santa Barbara. The ten-minute trip from Goleta takes me, not to the semi-sleepy strolling vibe that I still expect from when I lived and worked downtown in the 1980s and 90s, but to a place that feels much too busy, foreign and unfriendly.

If I consider myself to be on a spiritual path, it seems I should stop worrying that cities I love seem to be irreparably deteriorating. I should have faith that whatever damage and destruction has been done to all physical aspects of Earth will be remedied. After all, it’s “Nova Gaia“—a new Earth. Not “tired old Earth that will only descend into ugliness and dissolution.”

As a spiritual type person, I probably have an obligation to put my laser-beam, massively powerful visualizing / manifesting ability to work to make that so.

I want to start seeing with new eyes, but I’m not sure I have sufficient fortitude to stay the course until what I see with those inner new eyes comes to be in physical reality. My difficulty with jumping wholeheartedly on the manifestation bandwagon is that there still appears to be an insurmountable lag between the intention to manifest and the materialization of our dream come true.


I remember the joy of taking a vacation from my first post-college job as a legal secretary. I hadn’t adjusted to the 9-to-5 grind after the relative freedom of being at UCSB, and having two whole weeks without the constraint of someone else’s schedule was extraordinarily precious. Taking a holiday without even leaving town felt delicious and decadent.

I strolled from my apartment downtown to the harbor and out to the end of the wharf. Bought some beachy trinkets from the quirky Devil and the Deep Blue Sea shop, savored coffee while watching the fishing boats come and go and sail-boarders splashing into the water and righting themselves with laughter. Enjoyed my temporary freedom.

I fervently wished that I didn’t have to go back to work at the end of the two weeks. Although I understood that I was expected to have a job like most everyone else I knew, I secretly resented that the Universe didn’t support me so I could write books, as was my heart’s desire. Not before work and after work, as a hobby in my free time. Not as a truncated sideline of life, but as my main life.

I scribbled in my journal while sitting at a picnic bench on the wharf, pen digging grooves into the paper with the force of my thoughts. This is how I want my life to be. I don’t want to have to sit in an office all day typing pleadings and wills. I want freedom. I want my life to be like this vacation.

I knew that such a desire would be labeled as selfish and unrealistic by most people. Who was going to support me, a twenty-something writer with no track record, so that I could write my novels and poems? I wasn’t an artist from the Renaissance era with a wealthy patron shelling out lucre to sustain me.

No, my girl, you’ll go back to your job and you’ll stick with it because that’s the way the world works.


Today, I’m sitting here writing at my leisure, not toiling away at an uninteresting job. True, I’m not strolling on the wharf in Santa Barbara. But I am watching the gentle breeze toss the flowers, listening to woodpeckers and crows chatter in my suburban Goleta back yard. I don’t have to go into a windowless cubicle and spend these glorious Santa Barbara days welded to an ergonomically correct chair, staring at a computer screen and looking forward to lunch hour as the only highlight of the day.

My long-ago dream has manifested. More than forty years later, in an altered format that I could never have imagined, it seems I finally have my wish.

Better late than never, whispers the Universe.

If there really is time travel technology, the ability to reel ourselves back into an earlier version of our life and from there reweave the pattern of the years, I would love to take a journey. I’d follow the timeline where something magical occurs after I declare my desire for freedom. A patron appears. I am gifted with freedom to write all day rather than sit and type somebody else’s words on an IBM Selectric.

I’d write all the novels I would have written. I’d have the experiences I would have had as that fledgling, and then successfully published, author.

That’s one timeline. And after I unroll that lifetime, from that moment to this, I could go back to the time machine and to that moment and choose yet another route.

It’s like the holodeck of life. Creating whatever we want, not just of our present and future, but of our past.


The multiplicity of possible timelines, just within my singular current life, is so staggering I can’t begin to wrap any part of my mind around it.

I suppose there’s a good reason why humans, or at least most humans, cannot time travel and cannot be consciously aware of whatever multiple simultaneous lives we may be experiencing.

It occurs to me that we do have our own time machines, though. Imagination and memory, memory and imagination.

Especially memory, which displays the story threads of our lives within the tapestry of All That Is.

I’m quite sure that my memory is flawed. Was there really an old man in Chinatown with a long curly fingernail? Did I sit at that picnic table in 1980-something and record my wishes in a journal?

Maybe the old man with a curly fingernail was in a scene from a movie. Maybe the picnic table was on the Breakwater, not the wharf.

I don’t want to paint my past with the brush of longing and regret. That’s one of the few things that I can control and I can manifest instantly. I can filter my experience through a darkly shaded emotional prism, or through a prism of clarity that sees and accepts choices made and paths taken.

And if I secretly believe that someday, I will be able to travel back in time and change those choices and paths, experience the life that I wish I had, I see no harm in that.

If anything really is possible…perhaps I’ll wake up tomorrow to discover the novels I wrote filling a tall wooden bookcase, first editions in shiny covers and paperback reprints in tasteful designs.

Enter the holodeck, Stage Right. Make it so!