Rendered Fat Content


Jacob Lawrence, Street to Mbari (1964)
" …by then it will have become irreparably past."

Einstein concluded that time moved inexorably forward, never backward, though its substance eluded him. Unlike other elements of his physics, time stood off to one side, never discretely discernible, but also essential. His calculations couldn't work without its shadowy presence. Clocks from sundials to mechanicals seem to materially misrepresent time's nature, for while it doubtless does only move forward, it does so less regularly than popularly represented. It seems to move in fits and starts, seemingly sticking some places for periods ranging from hours to decades. The basic unit of measure for the human experience of time's passing might be labeled The Period, in homage to both its tenacious indeterminacy and also for its inevitable termanancy. Periods last for 'a while,' and tend to end with often shocking banality. Once they're over, they're over forever.

I think of time as existing in TimeBubbles.
The Fifties, a period now perceived with considerable nostalgia by those of my generation, appears as clever set designs in popular movies, a period typified by certain tells: ducktail hair cuts and poodle skirts, among many others. Nobody attempting to depict life in any other period could successfully pull off the illusion if a poodle skirt or a ducktail intruded. We live each moment within a TimeBubble, though few of us seem to notice its uniqueness when we're imbedded within it. Each period seems simply normal to those inhabiting it, banal enough to encourage boredom within it. We almost never sense living on any cutting edge, for instance, for only backward perspective seems to impart any insight into the importance of any period. We eat our three squares while reading our newspapers, largely unaware of our period's relative significance. I experienced September 10, 2001 as just an extension of many years preceding it, but by the next morning, I had gained a foreboding sense that it might have been the last day like it that I'd ever experience, for a period had ended. I'd switched TimeBubbles overnight.

New TimeBubbles never seem right at first. My experience of them has always been that they arrive too soon, that I'd just finally gotten the hang of how to inhabit the old one when the new one intruded. Commentators blithely predict their arrival, but inevitably from the perspective of the soon-to-become irrelevant one. Foreboding only meekly mimics actual foreseeing, and the emerging TimeBubble's not yet disclosed its historical nature. Plenty of people still wore ducktails well into the Sixties, and I was shocked the first time I saw a retirement home decked out with an Elvis-inspired rec room. Geezers tend to stay cognitively stuck within whichever period they came of age. Whatever period that was, it seemed to have grounded their subsequent experiences. I understand that I'm forever a hippy, however short I now wear my hair and however pegged my former bell bottoms have become. I will always exist on the edge of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

I remain steadfastly confused about whichever period I currently inhabit. The prior twenty years provided a roller coaster ride for its inhabitants, with the regrettable Bush years followed by hopeful Obama ones, and punctuated by the nightmarish final four Trump ones. Time seems to revel in performing the old bait-and-switch, where despair seems to encourage hopefulness, and hopefulness spark despair. I have spent perhaps too much time during recent periods wishing the present period away, though I understand that each and every day inexorably moves further away from me without any encouragement from this protagonist. It's just that I have no perspective on any of this. I can switch on a movie and readily recognize all the familiar Fifties memes dancing before me, but I cannot seem to see the 'Teens with similar clarity, even when I hold a front row seat. There might not be any front row seats to any history, for history only emerges after being seasoned by subsequent periods, like individual height cannot be discerned without holding something in comparison, scale invisible otherwise.

I watch my clock and imagine it counting down toward a permanent secession of this troubling period, but I only imagine time and knowing. I suspect that time's just as ignorant as the least of its inhabitants. Each of my forebears experienced time in its essence, by which I mean, almost no sensation of its passing. Their dusty dirt lanes, later transformed into superhighways, seemed just as inexorable as their replacement Interstates seem to me today, a mere background stage set without apparent significance. Each TimeBubble elicits this experience of it simply being, rather than insidiously slipping ever further away. Not one of us are as present as we seem and all of us might be more present than we appreciate. When I blithely slip down the mountain, imagining that the same hardware store will still be there when I arrive, I experience merely being alive without a dependable time or place almost always reliably satisfying my expectations. Later, some cues too ordinary to ever gain my notice will come to exemplify this time and this place, this period, but by then it will have become irreparably past.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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