Again it rained in the afternoon, like a blessing on the hot land. The air cracked with the relief of it, and the day’s increasing humidity was fulfilled at last. I have been here only five months and already the weather of the low country is as familiar to me as the expectant pull of the moon on my body. These cycles are the time I best understand—intuited and predictable, but without hard boundary.
Clocks tell time by delineation. Every movement of the second hand is a ritual marking the present from the past. There is no reverence in the neurotic minutiae of tick-tock-tick-tock. To approach time with a clock is to experience the earth’s relationship with the sun devoid of awe. They make a nursery rhyme of existence. We are reduced to counting the substance of life like so many grains of rice dropped on a wood floor.
There are other measures of time. Hair growing long. The first blush of love before settling into companionate affection or contemptuous disdain. Lava cooling into earth. Muscles changing with use or age. An apple tree reaching from the cracked soil to its first fruition. Healing skin. The rise and fall of anger. Lust, piqued and then swollen, before being satisfied. Water eroding stone into canyon. Time as emergence or deconstruction. The time of things and of life and of feeling.
Perhaps a river, in its constant flowing, is most like the passage of the hours. But rivers dry and the hours continue, even after death. Despite time’s regularity, the living react to it with little uniformity. I have see young bodies made old by their genes and their habits. I have seen old bodies made young by the same. Even our internal understanding of an hour or minute differs from individual to individual, or from feeling to feeling. In his research and writings, Oliver Sacks noted more ably than I, how contingent an individual’s perception of time may be on physiology, emotion, and even relative speed to his or her surroundings. And physicists say time is another dimension, the component that gives speed meaning, that makes space traversable and significant.
When I am still in the dark, and I let myself forget the concerns of the day, I can almost feel my whole life at once, as though my first cry and last breath were contained in the same moment. Past, present and future become one substance and my body seems suddenly quite foolish to be stuck in this linear aging. I have never feared becoming old, but I have feared the possibility of waste, as though time could be used better or filled more purposefully than it has been. But to carry that shame is to assume time is for anything, as though some grand intention gave time meaning, and its use was just waiting to be discovered rather than created. That I do not believe. Time is a place we inhabit and colonize, as differently as there are people and creatures within it.
Muriel Spark needed only one month to write The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the same amount of time a sloth requires to digest a single leaf. For frogs, the time it takes to grow from tadpole to adult depends on the species. For some, maturity takes years, for others only weeks. River erodes basalt faster than granite. Lions grow from cub to hunter in three years and blue whales reach maturity in five to ten. Time conforms to each task, rather than each task requiring the same amount of time. This truth gets so easily lost in mechanized living. Nonetheless, we ask our brains to conform to our technology. We expect to be responsive to the alarm, alert at noon, and creative on schedule. So total is the clock’s dictation in our lives that it is easy to become anxious in its absence, as though time might lose its reality without its measurement.
I dislike all this voluntary slavishness. I prefer more ambiguous durations. The more I consider it, the more I wonder whether it is ourselves or whether it is our inventions that need the predictable outcomes and ends of quantifiable minutes and hours: to run on time, to produce on time. Money becomes time when we become like our inventions. So inorganic. It may be inescapable, but I do not think all experiences should be subject to time’s accounting. Pain cannot be minimized by comparisons of how long or short its endurance. Nor any joy. These are beyond quantity and we should let them be total and transcendent and true.
I suppose, then, I am a reluctant participant in this mass agreement to attribute significance to the tolling of the hours. While I believe time is ultimately a tool of cooperation, we use it most often to terrorize ourselves, and in so doing, we believe ourselves to be deficient rather than our system to be flawed. But to standardize is to erase nature. This morning dissatisfaction of mine has an attributable origin. I will never be a robot; I wish I could stop trying so hard to become one.
Laura Jean Moore’s poetry, essays, and stories have been featured in VICE, [PANK], the EEEL, FLUX WEEKLY, ENTROPY, the Brooklyn Rail, Corium, the Cobalt Review, and Change Seven, where she is a monthly columnist. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and a BA from Reed College. http://laurajeanmoore.com/
Read All Columns by Laura Jean Moore
- The Streets Are Full of Blood
- On Vice(s)
- What Gets Missed
- Low Country
- A Dark Graceful Wilderness
- Before and After
- On Greatness
- Whiteness, A Study
- New York
- American Dreams
- Body Talk
- Habits, Simple and Austere
- On Love
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