On Time: One Year’s Diary of Small Truths

by Jasmina Tesanovic


I have decided to write this diary as time goes by. My small observations as time passes…. New Year’s Eve is just a moment of a year’s time, and I am interested in every moment that a year can hold, for every fraction of a passing second is as novel, in its own way, as the New Year is…

I always dreamed of having an ability to stop time, for better or for worse, or better into better yet… The transformations, measured by small invisible changes… I feel these moments and see them because I want to do that. I have no large abstract time anymore, no grand histories but lived experience, heartbeats of time, ticking slowly, as drops of life, as drops of truth, of order inside a chaos, of shapes inside a black void…

Only now that youthful passions have subsided within me, can I seek out peace in the unvarnished truth. Even small truths, mere passing details of a tangled historic epic, for I am just letting time be… in its flow… A trail of existence to nothingness, or vice versa… To find simple and calm joy in this universe which gave me form, and is now giving me lived sensation while slowly absorbing my form back into its informal infinity, nothingness, non-being…

As a being in this universe I need silence and respect, words which are few, but thoughtful… They might be not words but gestures, sounds, leading toward dance and music; everything means something …Meaning abides in almost anything, if you sharpen your senses and feel, hear, think, let it flow…

I swooned in a rural hotel in the mountains of Serbia, where loudspeakers played Serbian songs of lamentation. I didn’t care for the hotel’s chosen soundtrack, so I put on my own earphones, I tried watching a movie on my computer, yet then, all of a sudden, I heard nothing, saw nothing, except for that hot wave of lamentation, the traditional sorrows of of my fatherhood, of my motherhood, of my sisterhood.

People like me, but dead and gone, except that the moon was new and beautiful next to a tiny shiny star in this clear mountain air above this small, modest, extravagantly grieving village. I felt more emotion than the individual soul can bear: I was myself and beyond.

I fear these profound feelings, like lunar tides. They take me nowhere in life, except to my buried past and the graves of my loved ones. I returned to Serbia as an adult because of that call, and then the painful tumble of lament became a violent war that I had to flee to survive. I fled not only falling bombs but my rising inner demons, reviving a past beyond my lifetime, setting modernity on fire. That ominous moment in 1.1.2017, at 17.00, in a village hotel in the clear mountain air, still lingers with me…



I watch time go by like a careful cook watches the skin form on a pan of scalded milk. I feel time, I experience time, every tiny clue is a gift that reveals time’s passage…. The proverb says the watched pot never boils, but when you choose to watch that pot, there are really many simmering little clues in there, many, many.



Time is like a medicine, a narcotic, an anesthetic, a blessing, a hug, a surge of warmth, the smell of a baked cake… The dream of happiness…. This feeling of time that marches in huge eons, and the atomic dust of the present instant… I sit entirely still, in order not to disturb the placid flow….

When the moment of death arrives, it will have that same placidity, I know… We live on the cliff-edge of happiness, but we die in peace jumping into the void… Poetry fails me when I strive to describe this awareness of life within time, of temporal existence…. Only now, after so many years of knowing time, can I separate the true feeling of time from life’s other sensational elements, people, places, objects, plants and animals, the sun, the moon, the stars…



Defense, that’s what it is, or the death drive maybe, a religion without a name, a yearning for peace and order in a chaotic, opaque cosmos… Defense, an act of conservation, a tall wall, barbed-wire barriers, that is my counting of the seconds with my body… No one can trespass and attack if I am perfectly still, and if the flow of time around me is entirely unperturbed, then I can never come to harm…. No haste, no waste, no dreadful hurry to the final end…



When I cook porridge, I can see time seething through the grains of nourishment, grain that will seethe inside my body and out of it, back to the earth again… Grains of time, little vessels of the here and now, boiling, softening, digesting, and so tasty, too. What joy, cooking harvested grain for breakfast, one more sustaining loop in this earthly cycle of passage …



As I walk, in continuous footsteps, I realize the disturbance to my peace of mind in this awareness of rhythm. To count time, to measure it, to make time expand, to waste time, to run the clock, stop the clock, whatever…

To measure time is a distortion of the sanctity of human life, the existential wholeness of our emotions, our entire experience. Being above, or even better below, one’s sense of self is safe, it is dull but productive: by being timed, I become a vessel, a machine, a time-bomb…. I might break, go haywire, explode or implode, because I am a human entity, not a schedule or a set of processes.

But being human, I do have a brain, so I can measure, plot, scheme, plan, control my thoughts, my motions, my emotions…



A turtle and a rabbit are passing some time together. The turtle is a fan of history, while the rabbit is a race contestant. The turtle taps the brakes, the rabbit hits the gas, but time rolls on anyway.

The turtle slowly lives out his century, while the rabbit lives fast, dies young and leaves a horde of children.

As night-time flowed through my dreaming brain I had a vision. It felt like some perfect insight, a fable, an animal Aesop folk-story… But it came without words. My visionary dream consisted only of the turtle and the rabbit. My dreaming brain could not slow down to pound out a series of sentences…the visionary dream just leapt by, my unconscious mind bounding and cavorting, dumping all rational meaning like so much abandoned baggage off the back of a speeding truck.



A moment of pain and anxiety, a seizure which makes time invisible. I am hurt by a flung snowball of time, a cold wet shock which cruelly spins the hands of my interior clock. My heart skips a ticking beat, my hands, or my clock-hands, twitch as loosely as compass needles.

I am still upright, I think. When the moment of emergency passes, my world feels different. Because time stopped existing; it was me who survived.



Everything is fine today, the sun is shining, the blue shadow lingers over the snowy Alps, silence and comfort breathe around me, also love and warmth… The flow is perfect, undisturbed, harmony and beauty itself …

Then all of a sudden this strange whirl from nowhere, a black hole pulls me with centripetal force…. Like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz”, my feet leave the earth…I lose touch, like my mother on her deathbed, imploring the flavor of a slice of lemon cake from her distant childhood…. Gasping with her failing breath, grasping my hands with spasmodic strength, to offer motherly advice about my daughter, her grand-daughter, to offer last advice…. But I couldn’t give her the homemade lemon cake from the groves of her childhood, and when she let my hands go, I was released into a no-woman’s land, no place, no time… A place of panicked grief, for it was a void, a limbo… Please, let me stay afloat in time, flowing, or else let me vanish into nothingness entirely, but never let me be forever there…



An empty space. It’ s white.

one of the better-known Bruce Sterlings

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