On Time: One Year’s Diary of Small Truths
by Jasmina Tesanovic
Every country, every language, every person has its moment under the sun. In an hour I will be on the ground in another time-zone. Call it by its local name, as an hour, or else just call it a black hole.
Maybe one day we will discover that time rotates the earth, rather than earth’s rotation bringing us dawns and dusks. Astronauts in the space station see fifteen sunsets and sunrises every day, up in the space station, with no gravity, but plenty of cameras to take Earth’s picture. Maybe time is even more solid than the stony earth, a kind of metaphysical monad, some nameless dark energy, some post-Einstein cosmic substance as yet beyond human knowledge. Maybe time itself grows old and succumbs to time, that would be my guess.
I started writing my observations as time started pressing me at the beginning of this year, and I cannot stop writing them because, for me, a year means something.
I have an obsession for measurement, for completion.
It is tied to some horror vacui, which is not about a mere vacuum, but about time. A feeling of terrific emptiness, which must be kept at bay with household busywork. I allow my routines to become a huge burden because of my fear of what lies behind them: not just a waste of time, but a scary wasteland of time, a void and abyss.
I maintain my comforting fiction of efficiently doing a host of trivial nothings-in-particular, but behind that lurks a swarming emptiness, peopled with ghosts of things I didn’t do, couldn’t possibly do, failed to imagine doing. Things I know nothing about, and will never have time to learn. Really, nothing contents me so much as my daily long walk, which exhausts my capacity to worry and generally has no destination. Tired from my walk, I celebrate with the ritual of a drink, and I don’t have to fuss with errands as I have a beer.
If the day allows it, toward evening, I might watch a movie. They don’t have to be good movies to successfully distract me, but they must take me elsewhere. Those black and white photoplays of actors and actresses gone for a century, moving pictures of people that have moved beyond the fields we know, sometimes this seem ideal to my purpose.
Such is my chaos, my harmony. At the close of day, I gladly close my eyes and sink into the mud of slumber, but I dream there emerge with the sunrise. The rising of the sun, that is a very good time measure, bigger and brighter than me. Constant, faithful, predictable, so I follow the solar glare with the gratitude of a sunflower.
I am viscerally afraid of flying, but I like to fly across the ocean while the sunlight seems to last forever. I still feel scared, but to have the sun on my face through the porthole, it keeps the void at bay.
In my dream, my daughter brought me a birthday cake. It was bitter, sweet, intense, pungent, because it wasn’t just my birthday cake, it was everybody’s. Every day of everybody’s emergence into the world, future and past mixed together. The dead, the unborn, everybody.
We all sat down to eat it, chatting in a swirl in mother tongues. We were in a train compartment, and every compartment had a similar cake for the passengers. Rattling onward, one traincar after another, each of them passing in time, forever and forever. We would never be parted, as we chastely enjoyed our birthday cakes; we were like nuns in their cloisters, “forgetting the world, and by the world forgotten.”
I obsessively return to my obsessive interest in calendars, for I can rejoice in two, both Orthodox and Roman. I used to crowd the pages of my calendars with carefully noted dates, more or less silly, so as to pick out a constellation of past and future. A web, a network, a ladder, a sense of structured time, that was all I needed. A full calendar assured that I would not fall in the void. Black holes, not the singularities that astrophysicists like to quarrel about, but something even worse, holes full of positive nothingness, holes where the sense of life leaked out.
To know a date is powerful. Today, 34 years ago, my daughter was conceived. The event occurred at about this time, 6–7 pm. It feels good that I know the place, the time, the bed, the food we ate before, her father and me. That was the day that my gynaecologist said, go for it, you have an ovulation, it’s now or never. I wanted it, I timed it and it went smoothly.
Also there was a black cat at our feet, her name was Baphomet, a good demonic name for a black cat. I had to give my cat away once my daughter was born: the cat was jealous of the infant, and I never overcame the feeling of guilt.
I triumphantly remember the date, though the materials of 34 years ago are all gone, the cat, the bed, the father, the food…. There are some photos, a cradle in an attic, but I still remember his elated mood and my frightened resolve to bear a child. And on that date in particular, not one before or after: yes I might have had other children, I was tempted, but once upon a time, it really happened.
Boom: when I leave the bathtub I glance at my nude body in the mirror. Naked truth is a lie. Mirrors baffle me, they deceive, or maybe it’s the nature of my glance that is changing, it’s my eyes that are mutable…
But this morning I saw a small truth: I resemble my mother. Or rather both my parents, in a chimeric Frankenstein mix, because I vividly remember how both of them got old. Like me: like parents like child. It doesn’t surprise me, I knew it was coming, I predicted it, I expected it, but I missed an inherent default. My aging body looks like them, but mentally, I’m not like them at all.
On the contrary,I remain emotional, unpredictable, lateral thinking anarchic, disorganised, compulsive, with random talented in many different skills, mostly useless. They never ever thought like me, or behaved like me, either, neither one of them. They were a doctor and an engineer, disciplined, rational, organized, scientific, methodical, never wildly emotional. I was their only child, their hybrid cross.
There must have been someone else in my ancestry who had my habits of mind. My brain didn’t come out of nowhere, so who was it? For the first time in my life I started wondering seriously about my genes and DNA. Some relative of mine was the source of my mental fluidity, maybe an obscure great-grandmother? But how would I ever learn that she was as weird as I am? Did she keep a diary, maybe, and if so, where would that evidence be?
Yesterday was a very important date for my business-of-survival and I just forgot it. Instead, I just had fun, and was too amused to write a word about my relationship to time.
Today, brushing my teeth with a new toothpaste, I ran my tongue along my smooth, clean molars. My teeth don’t have to last forever; they only have to outlast me. And they will, too: nice shiny skull teeth, some paleontologist might dig them up in a remote future epoch. He’d be happy to discover them, too: quite fun.
This feeling of already knowing a secret that somebody reveals to you. The secret key to some cluster of people and events, and although you are hearing the secret truth revealed for the first time, you always sensed it somehow.
Is this intuition related to time? A kind of premonition, prediction…. The brain senses things unconsciously that do not appear in conscious thought, intuition, insights, intelligence… Knowledge “in” us that is not yet “outed.” Then, when it appears, it feels obvious.
Deja vu might be the standard term for that, but this is not the same. Deja vu is haunting, but this feeling of pre-knowledge is strong and comforting: the satisfaction of puzzle pieces snapping into place. Things are arranged justly, order emerges from chaos. Even if the confidential secret revealed is rather scandalous, to have it finally figured out is joyful and life-affirming.
Sometimes I feel that my whole life is a vague scandal where I still lack the secret key. Free floating in my scattered life, which seems as random as a Tarot deck, and yet has a secret meaning, a reason and a consequence.
After all, I didn’t come here from nowhere, as a woman on Earth I am the consequence of something-or-other, and other consequences have arisen from me. I am part of the causality of other people, other actions. The world is full of causal chains but they’re not a meaningless and ugly snarl; the world has an artfulness to it. That is the primal source of art, even. I must keep that in mind.
Happiness. Not only excitement, joy but that elevated feeling of serenity. Like interior music.
I used to feel unhappy to be happy, as if it were banal and I was letting my guard down. Now, however, I am prepared to happy when I am actually happy. I am capable of a smooth flow that is like a serene flight, although most every irritation in my world can disturb it.
I have become sensitive to the presence of happiness, I can stand on its brink and admire it. I envision situations where I feel a calm serenity. I dream of people who never gave me such things, and feel a kind of peace and love for them.
But what next? What if I’m genuinely happy, not only serene but loving and peaceful, a fount of joy for everyone around me? That would certainly transform my daily life. Imagine the amazement of the people around me when they realize that I have become a powerful force for good!
Would me new joyful near-saintliness actually help them, those complex, crabby people? Is it possible that my serene happy goodness would actually make them all even worse? Maybe I would have to retreat to an airtight bell-jar of time where I would sort out the universe all by myself. Like the first line of the Serbian poem that goes, I have no time now, time has me.
I am back with another self-diagnosis: clearly, I have post-traumatic stress. My insecure, unstable world can not feel right to me, so that is why I write this diary.
However, even if I have some syndrome that medical professionals would call “PTS,” I am still in the same world. Instability, insecurity and threat are just the way things are.
One can’t overcome such things because they are not really “things,” they are abstractions, while our world is made of time-bound events, and their sequence and interaction. And though time heals, I will never fully recover from my sense of loss. On the plus side, surviving trauma gave me more self-confidence. If the unstable world can’t be trusted, then I am more free to trust myself.
If the world is crazy, why should I call myself crazy? It wasn’t me as an individual who went off the rails; on my own, I was doing fine. I was misled into believing that the world had safety, security and stability on offer. It was like emerging from the womb, and discovering with a shriek of alarm and disappointment, that air exists. The birth trauma, it must be truly profound, with plenty to lament and complain about; a good thing that newborns lack words.
I thought I had lost a batch of vitamin pills and then realized that I had lost a week; I just ate them all. My health is fine, too: victory condition achieved.
Since I lack any topic to wring my hands about, I should really stop writing, but alas, I am addicted. The world, enmeshed in time, will never lack for events…new, fresh mysteries of missing vitamin pills will always be there… We just have to notice events, and keep track.