On Time: One Year’s Diary of Small Truths
by Jasmina Tesanovic
An anniversary date of some event that happened in my past, and so what? Tomorrow something new will happen, so I should focus and not reminisce.
Ten years ago I was in a dramatic and sad thing, tomorrow will arrive my liberation… Today I don’t exist, for I am a wave cresting between past and future. I am suspended in non linear time, but I am not suspended on tenterhooks. I spent my whole life thus suspended, but not anymore. I feel free. Freedom is a larger feeling than happiness.
A baby sleeping in a hospital bed. I used to sleep that way, so did my daughter, my mother. A slumbering infant is the picture of beautiful calm. To be born, to grow, to live, to give birth. We are a good bunch really, this human cluster called family.
It is hard work to consciously witness the passage of time, and I just realized that I will never retire and get over it. I will never be indifferent, laid back about it, callously slothful; its beyond me.
The passage of time is too integrated into my sense of self. I see about a million large and small cruelties and my moments of yea-saying joy are few and far between, but that is who I am. I know there is something weird about that, not well-bred, even a metaphysical wrongness; I’m like a blade of grass imagining herself as swift-plunging peregrine falcon.
I can even see it as a possible path toward madness, like some fitful act of suicide in some desperate effort to make the clock stop, but time has shown me that I am not the suicidal type. On the contrary, although the lamenting Cassandra is my muse as a writer, I tend to face genuine crises superbly. I will tackle a real crisis headlong, since that is so much better than cringing from troubles in fear.
So despite my laments and complaints, I rather imagine that I will truck on as the stereotypical Serbian woman, who heaves her own ox-cart out of the mire, and never offers a sweet smile, or says please-and-thank you.
I lack a thick skin. I wear my bleeding heart on my sleeve. I am an open wound when it comes to troubling emotions, I feel I hear I lament. I lament so often because I’m so often hurt. Is there any other way of me conducting my life: silent, taciturn, stoical? Of course I might be a silent stoic, but I have a different habit. My habit is to write as if everything was over and everything was lost to time, even when it isn’t so. This is what I am doing here, trying to break that addiction. I do feel hurt and I do lament, but let’s be fair; it probably beats religion or drugs.
I had a vivid dream of the future of my loved ones. First I saw an unborn baby. He was an infant boy, maybe 13 months old, a plump, serious child, seated on a bed, looking sideways.
This nameless tot had rather an ancestral look about him, like some black and white photo. And not a fancy studio photo either, for he was dressed rather sloppily, not like the prized son-and-heir. He looked like one of those once-intimate photos you find in a second hand market, trays of old photos of people long-dead and gone, whose intimate possessions have been raffled off in estate sales, to unblinking bidders.
However, this kid was quite alive, and actively playing with his own fingers, as pre-toddlers do. He was ignoring me, but it seemed he was my grandchild. If I ever meet him, I’ll know him through deja vu.
He looked pretty much like a member of my family. I would have known him from a hundred babies. I was cosy with him. He was mine.
Then I had a quick glance, adamant vivid and short, of my daughter as an old woman. She looked preoccupied: a elderly, dignified, long-faced lady with a stern expression and streaks of white hair. We didn’t say anything to one another; she had a rather forbidding, intellectual air, rather like Virginia Woolf.
It was her, though; she’s had the same look of thoughtful dignity since infancy. A responsive, strong personality who likes to get on with things with no foolishness.
Just one glimpse of convincing premonition, flying past me. Snapshots in a dream, but so vivid that I will never forget them.
This happens to me sometimes. Once, as a teenager, I dreamed of a man I have never yet met. Red haired, red bearded and blue eyed, he looked like a middle aged scientist. Sitting at a laboratory stool, looking kindly at me and tinkering with some chemistry vessels. He had a white labcoat. I’ve never yet come across him, but he was so convincingly vivid and human that I still rather expect him to show up.
I’m not a mystic and seer, but if I were, I’d probably be somebody like Diogenes. I wouldn’t make a big public deal of being the prophetess Cassandra, pumping and praising my mystical insights. I would retire into a tub and quietly, humbly pray to the mystical forces.
Diogenes is an attractive figure because he was a dropout; he just couldn’t put up with this everyday life and its varieties of nonsense. I too am humble: a little sunshine on the tub that I sleep in, that’s all I ask. As a mystical prophetess and seer, I’m keen to share the rough pavement with the homeless.
The mad, some junkies, the just plain poor, those cast out of normal life, just like me. We could open a bottle of beer, smoke a cigarette, eat some crusts of bread, or just hang out. The fact that I knew the future before anybody else, that wouldn’t bother me.
But, unless the mystic voices of Joan of Arc command me to take such a step, I’m not up for it. I’m too conventional; too polite. My friends would be upset to see me drunk on the pavement. My dead mother would appear to me as a phantasm and wave her gloved fingers at my unladylike behavior. The people I live with would be making lunch for me, they would track me down.
So I’m restrained by embarrassment, guilt, bourgeois social condemnation. Even though, as a female Diogenes, I would probably feel self-righteous, in touch with my inner self and even happy. Since I live in a capitalist society swarming with street police, it’s a happiness I can’t afford. A million dollars, euros or dinars couldn’t get me that life. But, at least I don’t have to burn at the stake for my own visions.
You cannot regain past pleasures, because they have lost their meanings. I used to spend a lot of time baking, making fancy little treats. Then I would stuff them into the mouths of the family I had around that table. Especially the little daughter, who just dotes on a home-baked treat.
It was effortful and time consuming, but out was also a small, daily, private ritual of bonding. I don’t do it any more, and when I think of it I feel a quick, quick and painful and sharp image of my lost self. I didn’t know I enjoyed so much until I stopped doing it.
I could do it again, but nobody expects it of me. Flour, eggs, the apron, they became heavy and soulful because I don’t use them. But when I really did all that work, I often felt trapped and under-appreciated. Now I do entirely different things that make me feel trapped and under-appreciated. Is this the curse of womanhood?
An incredible dream-night of time travel into the past. A historical movie couldn’t have had better set-design. It was so well made, true-to-life, satisfying and gratifying.
And of course my historic dream abounded in agony. I woke up to the present-day relieved and tired. I must have worked hard in my sleep to build such a dream; I unburdened my dirty heart. But it was just a dream, a cavalcade of my fears my hopes my wishes. Unlike a movie, it’s entirely gone, never to be released to theaters, complete with subtitles. But it was as grand and solemn as a state funeral, and when I woke, I drank a glass of prosecco, first thing in the morning.
I dreamt of red, very very red, a beautiful red and nothing else but the red: that was the beginning and the end, the full content of my dream. And the redness was enough because it was a corporeal presence. It made sense, and it gave me elaborate intrinsic feelings of time and meaning and thereness.
Then again, this feeling of knowing, as things happen, that they were bound to happen, exactly as they happen. Crazy things I could never predict aloud, and yet they make me say: of course I knew that was coming.
Even better, I feel as if they also happened long ago. I knew them, but I just forgot about them. They are looping and cycling, repeating in some alternative space-time, where events that seem spasmodic to us persist as they are, permanent features.
I have a strong urge to throw my daily routines to the wind, and spurn anyone who distracts me from this clairvoyant state of mind. Without this petty cloud of irrelevant time-wasters, maybe I would do something useful.
Instead I retreat to procrastination, distracting myself with half-truths, as if I lacked the courage to face my own intuitions. Well, this no easy path. Still, I cannot just close both my eyes, because I have a third one. I cannot pretend to lack awareness. Better to frame these numinous feelings in thoughts and words, rather than silently endure this mental tumult and become a sad crackpot.
Alas for you mere humans who cannot follow me; I implore you to step aside as I dash toward my oracular cave, a Delphic space of shadows where a head-spanning gas leaks from the cracks of reality… I am running out of time, I lack tolerance, and what is merely normal feels stupefying. Insights are like razors, they cut the crap. Painless slices, necessary and deep, like surgery.
Let me ditch every timetable, throw the kitchen into uproar, eat and drink whatever I want at any hour… Jet lag as a way of life. A space capsule, even, departing the earth for planets with different day-lengths, different years. Living in free-fall, where everything floats. If a cosmic adventure comes to grief, so be it; women are meant to be free.
I am saying farewell to some stage of my life, bidding goodbye to earlier self. I just wonder why if feel the need to do this, why this hurry, what is attracting me, pushing me, tumbling me, throwing me… Liberating me. What force, what idea, to what end, where and when will I complete it?
Honestly, what do we speak about when we speak about time? The future is where we go to die. Honestly, I am admitting it.
The roundabout phrases, the metaphysics, the euphemisms, the stories and memories, they all equate to one grieving person, staring out at the sea, calmly, silently. In the fierce honesty of loss…They say that only humans have the foresight to know they are going to die, but I rather doubt it; I imagine this spiritual state applying to grass, a mayfly, a falcon, a nicely-shaped Japanese Shinto rock, even… not just to me.
I honestly thought that by addressing time directly, I would be on better terms with time. That worked as a diversion, but it didn’t cure me. My death is not in miraculous remission. I just fear the darkness differently.
In craving for the sea, I envy its apparent timelessness. All waves on all seas have some kind of unity. Each wave dies away on the shore but the sea doesn’t grieve about it; instead it’s like a vast prolific artist, ceaselessly creative.
In Naples forty years ago I had an art exhibit; it seemed important to me, I was young. Today in Naples again, seeing the site of my exhibit and the view, I feel that I did well. It was good to admit to myself that I was an artist of some sort, even if I dabbled in many different arts, and never did the same thing twice. I can say that I found a modus vivendi, in Naples four decades ago. This patch of sky and sea haven’t changed much. Maybe the climate will change, maybe the seas will rise, but I still know that I am an artist; I found myself long ago, and have never lost myself since.