I wrote Relativity Speaking in 1994, in my last semester at the University of Pittsburgh. I walked every day to school and work through Schenley Park and its golf course to an upper class neighborhood where a Jewish couple I had done some work for let me park for free. I wrote this short story walking the mile or so to my car while cutting through the fairways and walking the sidewalks of this city park. It was a serial effort; every day I'd pick up where I left off and I was thrilled by a string of good ideas. I wanted to write an allegory. This was my attempt.
I had made a commitment to myself to find the meaning of life.
Here are some things about Relativity Speaking:
The title is a comment on the story and the form it takes, illustrating felt importance in the grand scheme of things, and the value that we assign to things. And the things that we declare valueless. Feileb and Isaac aren't even aware of their relationship, their related-ness. They're too caught up in their immediate concerns, although they each factor primarily in one another's lives...
Humans are the only things with souls!
How important would our spirituality and souls be if bedbugs had valid spiritual visions? It occured to me that every assumption needed to be examined. The more of them I examined, the more of them I noticed in my life and in others' lives. In fact, I found that these assumptions made up the very foundation of everything that we believed in...
The quote at the beginning is a big finger pointing. A small creature crying out to its maker for attention. Isaac is the guy balancing on the razor's edge between oblivion and living. Isaac Newton—apple falling. Hope has a hollow, colorless life that embodies a lack of hopefulness. Isaac, about to commit suicide, embodies hopefulness. His presence begins to call Hope away from the condition that many live in—that of being in a mini Universe, deaf to appeal by any of the other isolated fellow humans surrounding it.
Feileb is 'belief' spelled backwards. She is the antithesis of blind belief. She is a genuine seer who has actual, verifiable religious prophecies. In every way, she is genuine—her outlook is not based on assumption or belief but on her own experiences, her felt attunement to the source, Isaac's heartbeat sensed through his belly button.
The words used in the 'alien' world were taken from a thesaurus, synonyms for more common words. I had to try to describe things without using common references.
Samoh't is 'Thomas' spelled backwards. A doubter, an atheist, and a believer in only what he sees. Like the best common sense of us. The foreigners invading the 'land' of Felib are a result of Isaac's letting himself go, toward the end there, not bathing and so on. Bugs on his body multiplying and moving in to threaten the local, established crowd.
Isaac wasn't committing suicide out of despair. He had an appreciation of the precious nature of every breath, wind, smell, and experience. He was a snowflake, aware of its own soon-to-be-melted self. Hope, having a lot of life, takes completely for granted everything that she knows and everything that she is unaware of.
I wanted to frame a valid religious reality in a setting that would be accepted by the reader at face value, and then later, when they realized that this alien world was located somewhere unexpected, they might have an epiphany about this Earth setting that we are in, with all of its institutions and traditions.
Isaac is a guy walking a balance beam of utter seriousness. Over a river (another symbol). This is something that he couldn't do forever. This fact shouldn't let the reader relax; I will always be at the back of their mind—I hoped.
Relativity, when reviewed in my seminar in fiction writing workshop, got crickets for commentary. I had been excited to hear what everyone thought of my allegory. Silence grew into silence. After a minute, the instructor said something vaguely prompting. A classmate said, "The italics were hard to read." I couldn't believe it. 'Well,' I consoled myself later, 'they probably hadn't read it.'
This story came out of my life's obsession at the time. Straining for the ultimate meaning of life. The meaning of everything. Relativity Speaking came out of me, and what I was trying to do. A kind of time capsule. I wasn't considering suicide, but I was face-to-face, each moment, with my unsolved problem of ultimate meaning and being...and their opposites.