Kierkegaard said we must live forward but only understand it looking back.
Stendhal said a novel is like a mirror carried along a road.
E. M. Forster said if we’re told the king died and then the queen, we call it a story. If the queen dies of grief, we call it a plot.
Einstein said physicists know past, present, and future are fictions but each is nonetheless convincing.
I say time is clothing, wearing it makes us part of humanity, saves us from isolation, spares us madness. Yet we never entirely, consciously or unconsciously, accept its imposition.
In police procedurals they sometimes ask suspects where they were at a certain time on a specific day. Anything but the most obvious dates would stymie me. I might be hopeless if the disputed moment were anything more than six months back.
If you could return to some arbitrary day, so much would surprise you, but most of it would likely be forgotten, what you might remember if you tried. The rest would be more interesting, parts your present makes visible, what you couldn’t see then.
Yet you won’t know more. You’ve lost your place and revisiting won’t restore it.
Some scholars say the Modernists Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot didn’t actually read all the literature they claimed to. One of the chief characteristics of Modernism is its free quotation of diverse sources and connectivity of thought we take for granted. Some of what Pound and Eliot cite from books comes from footnotes about those works in other works.
I read this revelation in a footnote to one of Eliot’s poems.
My relation to time is similar. Relying on what I’ve written is reading footnotes.
In the closet upstairs are a series of spirals I filled between 11 and 22. Though it’s been years since I opened them, I’m sure they’d seem familiar, so much so I’d think I remember when, actually, I’m selectively stealing that sensation. My journals have never been exact. Their reports contextualize, not define, and context is impossible to retrieve.
Someone asked me if I was close to my father, and I fumbled for an answer like I was pulling a kitchen tool from a neglected drawer. To find a tool, I need to remember some part of what it looks like. Clues come from recollected color or shape or context and, lacking those, I have so much to shift around and learn anew. It could be anywhere… and anything. I pause because I can’t remember what might tell me I’d found what I sought.
If any answer will do, I’ll say, “Yes,” but I’ll take longer to consider a response apart from this drawer. Time has it and who can extract it?
Consider how regular time is in passage and how variable in perception—try to hold it and it vaporizes, wish it vapor and it runs like sap arresting each moment by moment.
Time, it’s said, aligns like beads on a string, and you won’t have one instant apart from what precedes or follows it. Yet, a broken-stemmed flower, a glance averted to prepare for the next word, a bottle midair, the light touch of a finger on your elbow, laughter not including you, the wince of hulls brushing, a loose and forgiving smile, the sun hooded by storms… all sit sacrosanct on a shelf, memorials to isolation, attachment, and the eternity in memory.
I often attempt to remember my father’s voice, but he seems even more silent than in life. Perhaps I’m listening so hard I’ve silenced him then as well as now.
I knew I was late but arrived to find the event not underway but entirely over. No one I knew walked among those talking and laughing and streaming in the opposite direction discussing what just happened, something someone said or an amusing, remembered image.
You’d think I’d feel sorry or sad or chagrined to have missed what they experienced, but instead my invisibility seemed magical, as if I’d escaped time altogether, at last found a way outside it.
Then someone said, “David! Where were you? We waited, but—“
Time has no youth, no need to recollect. He stares forward, and if, as he moves, some trailing reverberation winds around to face him again, he takes it as new. It can’t be exact repetition if it’s before him, though it may seem familiar. To Time, the familiar is ever fresh and, therefore, ever the same. Time makes no distinctions. He babbles on.
As I child I sometimes played with disproportionate toys, a troll beside a green army man, and Barbie, tip-toe, smilingly towering over both, threatening to fall and bring chaos to every order I created.
These scenes rested on willful poise—a balancing spell—and fragile assumptions shored up their existence. Foreground and background, past and present, matter and imagination mixed in belief.