When did the grass suddenly grow so tall? When did your baby you were just pregnant with, start talking? How is it possible that you’re already getting divorced, I feel like I was just at your wedding. Sometimes you look at the calendar and think, god we’re already almost four months into this year, and it seems like both a long time and no time at all. Months fly by, weeks drag on, Monday, humpday, the weekend just passed too fast. It’s a long time until Christmas, and then when it comes up, it comes too fast and it’s done and gone and another long time before it happens again.
When I was a kid, I thought about a calendar year like this: there was a half-circle that represented January, February, March, April, May. Then a straight line down from that was June, July, August, then a sharp right, that curved upward for August, September, October, November December, with the curve of December leading back to January. I have no idea how my brain put that together, but I’ve had that mental map of the year in my mind since childhood – something to do with Summer Being Different, no doubt. I have a strong memory of being in the winter of sixth grade and thinking I couldn’t remember a time when I wasn’t in a snowsuit – like I could not remember what the previous summer was like, just that it had not existed in my recent past memory (though pointedly, I could remember memories where it was obviously summer). I remember being scared about this realization. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to grow up in a seasonless environment like Hawaii. Do you experience time differently when the environment doesn’t change to signal its passing? Around me, living plants go barren, then get their buds of spring, flower, leaves grow, leaves turn ochre, leaves fall off, go barren again, in a cycle that can mirror my time-map. The long slog of not being school likewise changes our perception of time. For years and years, certain months equal school and some equal summer and autumn has a melancholy/bittersweet feel to it – the beginning of another long slog, but also the chance to see your friends every day. I wonder if year-round schoolers feel time differently than their off-for-summer-vacation counterparts. Too now when so many people around me have toddlers and babies, you acutely feel the passage of time, because change is so rapid at those stages. Four years at a job is not much time at all, but I recall a previous boss who was pregnant when I started, and her kid was almost in kindergarten when I left. This is hard to wrap a mind around because my rate of change was so much slower than that child’s. Does it keep slowing own, is my next question – do you not change much at all between 70 and 85? Are you who you are going to be, at age 70? 65? 60? At one point does time and change slow down to non-time, non-change? Is it different for different people? Every once in awhile you hear about the 70 year old man who learned to surf, but we only hear about him because he learned to surf – statistical outlier, dude, because he’s different from the norm, implying that the norm is non-change, is non-surfing.
I’ll be coming up on 10 years out of college this May, both a very long time in terms of thinking of all I’ve done in that time (quite a lot, actually), and not much time at all in the long view of my existence, assuming I make it to old age. Unlike a lot of people, I’ve been steadily employed during this time, for which I’m grateful, but I’m also cognizant that a lot of people take themselves out of the workforce in their 20s and segment their lives into more compartments than I have, and can therefore look back on their lives as “the time I worked at company X” and “the time I took off work for two years to have a baby” and “the three years I was in graduate school”. I think this segmentation works to organize our minds about our lives, the changes and the passages. I’ve not had these gaps, so it’s more like one long river, with a couple of major boulder-inducing tributaries, rather than five discrete lakes to gaze over and ponder and fish out memories from. My father routinely says his memory is just an enormous jumble – people from different periods of his life gets mixed up in the wrong parts of his history; conversations are misordered; places lived, houses rented and bought – just a tossed salad of memory. I’m acutely aware that I suffer from similar afflictions, though not as extreme. For all my interest in memory and time, I have neither a good memory, nor a good sense of its passing. It must be that the things that we don’t understand are the things that can hold our fascination.