Dispatches | January 06, 2009
What's the Difference?
Six days into January, people are still saying “Happy New Year” and expressing hope/doubt/nervousness/fear/anticipation about what will happen in this next calendar year. Having recently had an intense, out-of-time experience with a dying relative, I’d been thinking already about the artificiality of time markers such as years (Very Bergsonian/Faulknerian? Maybe, but I’m no philosopher.)
Recently CNN featured a video about twins who were born in two different years. The mother says she wanted both boys to be born in 2009, which is understandable from the point of view of convenience and mental tidiness–think about how many times she’s going to have to tell the story of their different birth days, months and years–though really, what difference does it make? Experientially, labor is labor, birth is birth, dying is dying, all part of a continuum that can only barely be interpreted and superficially managed by means of “clock time.” Whatever psychological need people may have for the breaks in the calendar that renew hope or sweep away disaster, it’s a good exercise now and then to remember that they are illusory. Sitting by my relative’s bed and remembering other younger, more vital “versions” of her–which all seemed as real and present as the wasting person in the bed–I asked myself, as I frequently do, whether time exists at all.
Anyone want to weigh in on that?
Then I started reflecting about narrative: how authors use organizational strategies such as breaks, chapters, section headings and other types of segmentation to create the impression of unsegmented time. All of which was making my head spin, but you get the idea. And the irony: what we can’t control or understand, we chop into pieces (minutes, days, years) so that it seems like we can, and then some of us–writers–are compelled to recreate the illusion of continuous experience by means of a whole other set of pieces that are the conventions of narrative structure.
My son will be 11 on January 23. But really, what is that saying? He’s already older than he was a minute ago. What difference does the number 11 make? I used to think if I picked him up every day, there would never be a day when I couldn’t pick him up (unless of course I broke my arm, which I never have) because how could he weigh that much more one day then the previous? But that was when I could pick him up. Now it’s impossible. Explain that, and you’ll be one step closer than I am to understanding the difference between a moment and a moment later.
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