Tag Archives: time

Tumbleweeks

jumbled calendar days

Sometimes I feel that life is passing me by, not slowly either, but with ropes of steam and spark-spattered wheels and a hoarse roar of power or terror. It’s passing, yet I’m the one who’s doing all the moving. ~ Martin Amis

I remember my parents commenting on occasion about how fast time traveled. Kids growing up, passages marked by a driver’s license or graduation, always drew the somewhat misty recollection of “It seems just yesterday….” Trips to see grandparents or getting cornered by older relatives at the family gatherings often involved the words “Back in my day…..” and “I remember when…..” As a child, my sense of time was impatient, wanting to get on with the growing up part, to be old enough to do all the things I wanted and when I wanted. I never expected to be the one looking backwards.

Today marks the end of the twelfth week of our ongoing hospital adventures. In many ways, it feels as though it has been forever since my husband and I slept in the same room, lived in the same place. Our abode is full of my mess, with no one else to blame but the cat for the lopsided piles of accumulated mail and remains of the various days. With school back in session, my calendar is backed up with meetings and appointments, the daily business of work. My days begin and end at the hospital with my husband, his new location thankfully on the bus line just a short trip to my job. Laundry and groceries are done when possible, food and sleep happen on an as-needed basis. I’m grateful to the folks who excuse my weary eyes and the hopefully-only-occasional lack of attention span or impatient sigh.

One of my recent hospital-weekend reads was The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom. In addition to being a fascinating story, it appealed to me primarily for its discussions about time and its passages, time keeping and time spending. It spoke to my current sense of time’s duality, of feeling like time has sped by us while we’ve been waiting, healing, yet simultaneously crept along as we wait and heal moment by moment, celebrating the moments of movement and progress of whatever size.

Consider the word “time.” We use so many phrases with it. Pass time. Waste time. Kill time. Lose time. In good time. About time. Take your time. Save time. A long time. Right on time. Out of time. Mind the time. Be on time. Spare time. Keep time. Stall for time. There are as many expressions with “time” as there are minutes in a day. But once, there was no word for it at all. Because no one was counting. Then Dor began. And everything changed.
― Mitch Albom, The Time Keeper

There was a crisp in the early morning fog this morning, and Halloween items lined the aisles at the grocery store. Smells of apple crisp and woodsmoke mark the return of autumn. The family’s Thanksgiving turkey, straight from the county fair, is waiting in the freezer.

I’m almost ready for summer.

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Monday Moments: Moving Time

Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life. ~ William Faulkner

Our clocks rolled back an hour this weekend. Time shifted, and we talk of gaining an extra hour – to sleep, to enjoy on the weekend day, to spend as we wish, this extra hour. We moved time.

After seeing the movie Anonymous last weekend, I have been revisiting some favorite Shakespeare sonnets, so for my Monday moments today, I thought I’d share one of my favorite ones with you:

Sonnet 12: When I do count the clock that tells the time
by William Shakespeare

When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls all silvered o’er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.

Another favorite poet of mine is T.S. Eliot, and one of my favorite passages is the opening of “Burnt Norton,” the first of the “Four Quartets” series. Eliot wrote this series while working on Murder in the Cathedral, and the focus is on questions of time and salvation. It goes on for much longer than what I’ve included here, but this opening is the part I like best.

BURNT NORTON
(No. 1 of ‘Four Quartets’)

T.S. Eliot

I

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.

How did you spend your extra hour when time moved this weekend?

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Romance Between Two Worlds

Spirit photography by William Hope

Two souls with hearts that beat as one,
ever to travel the starry nights
in search of greater knowledge.
~ Edward Shippen

One reason the idea of multiple universes has been on my mind of late is that I’ve been doing some work with materials in our archives about Spiritualism. More specifically, looking at pages and pages of transcriptions of séances and spirit writing. For those not familiar with the term, spirit writing, or automatic writing, is writing that a medium or psychic does while in a trance. The theory is that the writing is actually that of whoever took over the body of that medium, therefore the writing is directly from the spirit.

The Spiritualism papers belong to Edward Shippen and are part of a larger collection, the Martha McClellan Brown Papers, in Special Collections and Archives at the Wright State Libraries. Mrs. Brown was a prominent political figure around the turn of the twentieth century, directly involved in national reform issues, especially that of temperance and women’s suffrage, and she is credited with helping form the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. One of Shippen’s three sons married Mrs. Brown’s second daughter, Charme Brown. The séance writings ended up in the Brown collection because of Shippen’s continued efforts to convince Mrs. Brown of the power of contact with the spiritual world.

Séance transcript - Stonewall Jackson, Box 15, MS-147, Martha McClellan Brown Papers, WSU Special Collections and Archives

Shippen’s experiences with séances during the final decade of the nineteenth century brought him into spiritual contact with many great names from history. His journals and séance transcripts contain records of spiritual conversations with a wide variety of personages: ancient figures, including Socrates, Plato, Pythagoras, Pontius Pilate, and Cleopatra; Blackhawk Indians; and European nobility, including Mary, Queen of Scots, Lady Jane Grey, Elizabeth I, and Mazarin of France. Most of these conversations are rather mundane quips, passages of general information or advice, with little to ground them to the historical personage behind the spirit voice.

Shippen also encountered the voices he was most looking for in his spiritual journeys, those of his family and loved ones. The voice of his first love, Emma Swift, lost to him so early in her life when she passed away at sixteen, is found again, as she communicated through slate writing as well as through several of Shippen’s mediums. She returned, in one case, a drawing of the nosegays Shippen had given her fifty years before. Shippen also encounters the voice of his more-recently departed wife, Ellen, and the spirit of the newborn child they evidently lost during the early years of their marriage. Ellen frequently spoke to Shippen of the glories of the spirit world, how pretty and beautiful life there was. Occasionally, the spirits of Shippen’s mother and father and his sister, Sarah, appeared, lending support to Ellen’s comments that the afterlife was nothing to fear.

"Yermah and the Airships", Shippen's Journal B, 1895, Box 15, File 4, MS-147, Martha McClellan Brown Papers, WSU Special Collections and Archives

The most surprising and intriguing elements in his journals, however, were the commentaries on the world of Atlantis. The primary voice in these encounters was the spirit voice of Yermah, the Chief of the Atlanteans. Many of the conversations concerned the history of Atlantis and life within its world. Two areas were discussed in detail: women’s rights in Atlantis, which Yermah argued were far superior to those of nineteenth-century America, and technology in Atlantis, most notably airship technology. The two images here are examples of Yermah’s spirit conversation with Shippen concerning the great airships of Atlantis.

"Yermah and the Airships 2," Shippen's Journal B, 1895, Box 15, File 4, MS-147 Martha McClellan Brown Papers, WSU Special Collections and Archives

Originally a skeptic, Shippen’s first slate writing from his first youthful love Emma convinced him that “Death can not part hearts that love.” In the end, Shippen became an active participant in the Spiritualist movement, forever seeking another encounter with those on the other side. His romance across two worlds ended with his death in 1904, an event he had been looking forward to for several years.

Shippen’s journey into the Spiritualist movement of the late nineteenth-century is one of several projects I’ve been working on lately, and certainly one of the most intriguing ones!

Or perhaps I’m just getting ready for Halloween a little bit early this year…..

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Many Worlds

For centuries, man believed that the sun revolves around the earth. Centuries later, he still thinks that time moves clockwise. ~Robert Brault

Every now and again, I pick up a book that discusses time in some form of the concept of multiple universes, or the many-worlds interpretation. Math and science are certainly not my strong points, so when these books set off on explorations of quantum physics, my head spins.

But I keep coming back to the concept. My husband and I often joke that our “alternate selves” are off doing crazy-wonderful things based on the different choices we/they made along the pathway of life. Like if one of us had accepted a different job offer, we’d be off living in the wilds of North Dakota or somewhere back in central Illinois. Our choices become catalysts for speculations of what-might-have-beens along the way. We joke about it, but there are authors and scientists for whom the idea is more than a possibility.

The first time I remember encountering this idea was when I was reading Richard Bach. After his best-selling work Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Bach wrote many other books. But two in particular took spots on my shelf, not necessarily for the writing itself, but for the ideas. His book about meeting his second wife, Leslie Parrish, The Bridge Across Forever, was followed a few years later by One. In One, Bach refines his theories about the existence of parallel universes. He also introduces readers to one of the primary concepts in an interview he did with John Harricharan:

“One” came from a long-term curiosity about what might have been, what would have become of us if I had run from love; if Leslie had? Who are those people we might have been? Where are they now? Then one day I picked up a little book, The Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. It says that every possible event that can happen, does happen in an alternate space-time. It’s like the theory of relativity itself; it’s incredible, but no one can fault the math!

Physicists do not accept the idea of time. They say, “There is no space-time, there is not time, there is no before, there is no after. The question what happens ‘next’ is without meaning” I thought, if all these other paths exist, and if there is no such thing as time, when all paths must be simultaneous! But how can this be? How can opposites be true? And I went to sleep thinking about that and all of a sudden I was looking down on this infinite pattern and it all clicked, everything made sense!

There is actually serious physics and philosophy behind the MWI, or Many Worlds Interpretation, strongly rooted in quantum science. In the MWI entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the authors give scientific voice to the idea Bach raised in One: “In particular, every time a quantum experiment with different outcomes with non-zero probability is performed, all outcomes are obtained, each in a different world, even if we are aware only of the world with the outcome we have seen.” The article is science-heavy, especially when it gets into formulas about the quantum state, but an interesting read on the possibility or probability of the existence of many worlds.

Another author explains it in ways I better understand. In his book, Timeline, Michael Crichton uses the quantum theory and multiple universes to explain the possibility of time travel in ways that almost make sense to me as a reader. If you only saw the movie, please grab the book — as with most adaptations, the written words are much better and deeper than the movie. While a fiction writer, Crichton was known for pushing the boundaries of modern science within his books. Like Jurassic Park with its chaos theory and DNA replication, this one is no exception, and quantum theory is his explanation for how the impossible seems, in the story, quite possible.

Strange, I realize, but the concept intrigues me.

Any suggestions for other books I have missed where this idea plays a role? I’d love to add some new reading material to my shelves!

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The Face of Time

old clock face

Humans are creatures for whom now takes its meaning from then. The old clock shows that. It has a face and hands because it resembles us. ~ James Carroll

The quote above is from an article that appeared in the Boston Globe on Valentine’s Day 2011. It caught my attention because the author writes about how people view time — literally *view* time on the clock. Specifically, his focus is on the difference in marking time on an analog clock versus a digital clock.

What difference does that make? Is there really a difference? On the face of a clock?

The article is short, if you are interested in reading the whole thing. But here’s his basic argument:

Our two kinds of clocks give us two kinds of time. The old-fashioned clock defines time as a continuity. Thus, its numerically defined face and pointed hands sweep through an endless succession of circles, marking seconds, minutes, and hours. This is the so-called analog clock, and the analogy it offers is of measurable flow. The word for our smallest unit of time, second, suggests that dynamic, since it derives from the Latin for following. Each second follows another — sequentially. While such instruments can mark those discrete instants with the sound of a tick, the face of the clock knows no separation in the values of time, but instead displays a moving picture of the past forever drifting into the present and on into the future. The cycle of the hands of the clock mimics the perceived movement of the sun around the earth. Sunrise, sunset — there’s the analog clock’s prime analogy. Its hands, that is, replicate the moving shadow of the sundial, which replicates the planetary dance. Motion is the point, and context is inevitably manifest, with hours past always linked with hours yet to come. The whole of time is shown.

The digital clock is different. In the common form showing only hours and minutes, the numbers remain static until a shift occurs. A well-placed colon defines the distinction between hours and minutes, pictured as frozen. Periodically, the numbers jump. Time is not continuous, but episodic. The digital clock renders a perennial present, effectively denying the existence of the past and the future. As its numbers exist not in relationship but in themselves alone, so the present exists not in context of what precedes or follows, but in itself. Now and now alone. The digital instrument has no face, no hands, no hint of the sun and earth in synchrony — an impersonality and lack of implication appropriate to the triumph of quantification.

Although he makes a leap into the “machines replacing people” argument, I find the underlying premise of his theory intriguing, especially when he links it into writing, what he calls the “narrative imagination.” In a digital mindset, things happen moment by moment, but not necessarily (and probably not) connected. But in analog thinking, there is causation, relation, effect: “The queen died. Then the king died. A digital clock can mark those episodes because they are unconnected. But (using an example from E.M. Forster) if the queen died, and then the king died of grief — we are in the analogic realm of time where the connection between events is what matters.”

In my readings on time and its perception, another article linking writing and the perception of time in a unique fashion caught my attention as well. Written by Rita Charron as a journal article in the Annals of Internal Medicine (Vol. 132, No. 1: 63-68), the author suggests that doctors should approach reading medical charts not clinically but as though reading a novel. “Both the chart and the novel follow individuals or generations over the stretches of time that transform the human beings on the landscape; both genres confront the primitive and ultimate problem faced by humans as their time runs out.” Charron suggests that in studying a person’s chart –“the traces of time’s passage”– can be best understood when using a novelist’s conception of “the plasticity of time,” where time’s passage, or at least the perception of its passage, is fluid and bendable. Close reading a chart as though it were a novel, then, offers “some guidance for the elusive goal of living in the face of time.”

So where is this headed? Good question. Maybe I’ve heard “Time” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers one too many times, and like them, I’m “fascinated by the face of time.”

Chicago performing at the Fraze Pavillion

Chicago concert, Aug. 26, 2011

Or it could be because my husband and I went to a Chicago concert Friday night, and I’ve had their song, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” stuck in my head ever since.

But the more likely answer lies in some of my current reading. Although my first choice in books tends not to be paranormal romances, I’ve read several lately that were good enough to make me rethink my reluctance to pick one up. The authors of these books have created their own time and space, one which readers can eagerly hop into and experience. Additionally, I’ve been rereading a couple of novels which deal with different perceptions of time — time travel, but not really. And at work, I’ve been retooling a project that involves issues of time and history.

But there will be more on those things later in the week…. my analog watch says it’s time to move along for now.

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