On Time: One Year’s Diary of Small Truths
by Jasmina Tesanovic
I feel a strange guilt that I have time-travelled so far through my lifespan, so many changing perspectives, so many answers. There can be no single solution… every memory is double edged, two-faced… Any life event can trigger a landslide…and some grim episode disrupts the story, past, present and future all dissolve into trauma, huge, endless, life in the capricious hands of a demigod of chaos… Superstitious nonsense of course, but delusion has obsessive strength… To escape, one must understand time as a bubble and burst it from the inside.
When I travel in planes, jet lag is my friend. Time becomes malleable once I lose contact with the ground. The watch on my wrist no longer measures objective reality. I have adapt to the new local light, the sun’s position. Relativity. Physicality. Transition. The falsity of the clock. Time does not progress, existence simply is. There you are, and thus you are. Time flies.
These nightmares are so real. A grisly cascade of seconds before I wake, images dense with feelings, realer than reality, an essence of lived experience. A nightmare is immediate and powerful, like love at first sight. Admitting the nightmare into your being is as hard as admitting that, suddenly and for no good reason, you are in love.
Nightmares are our forgotten children, like unborn bastards of our guilty cravings, but human like us, so we must face them, cherish them, name them, talk to them.
Be yourself, or if you can’t manage that, be Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein monster. Because the author is herself the true monster, an eloquent teenage woman who eloped to Italy, to Switzerland, a romantic seeking romance with her journal in hand, forsaking her overbearing father and her fatherland, an adventuress in mind and body, political liberation as the true and total work of art.
Jet lag after my birthday, a queasiness that I want to subdue with a chocolate birthday cake. These sudden transitions feel like scrambled eons, blocks of time that my mortal human body could never manage. I don’t mind ceasing to exist, the prospects of not being there in the past, the future, those don’t bother me. It’s the fear of the moment of death that perturbs me, and my knowledge that the event itself is unavoidable.
We don’t know what it means to be dead, because the condition lacks diarists. We don’t die and report it. But the wary fear of my death, my defensiveness, my awareness, the expectation of some fatal ambush to my individual being, those feelings, those apprehensions, are with me all the time. They kill me in rehearsals, they rob me of the satisfaction of living and breathing.
In the physical experience of jet lag, a system of sensibility that is truly and radically modern, I put aside the lying clock and dwell in passing seconds. Day is night, night is day and I simply collapse every now and then, in naps that are boneless swoons. I accepting that the planet Earth revolves at huge, ponderous speed, that Earth’s days and nights are arbitrary, that I don’t choose the current state of the jetlagged sky above me, any more than I chose the moment in which I was born. Birth arrived when I least expected it, death is much the same… It might be laborious, but it will be over…but oh, how, that frightens me.
Will I ever get wise? Or will death pounce on me, the unknowable unknown, like some tax collector demanding an audit from the many years I spent so freely?
I was in a jet, crossing many time zones with miraculous speed, and bored, of course. I clasped my hands over my seat-belt, and I dozed off in this indeterminate high-speed segment of spacetime, and then, dreaming, I encountered my grandmother.
She was sitting, much like me, but not in a jet — she sat in the way she did after she broke her hip and never fixed it. My grandmother sat like a woman who was almost a hundred years old. Then I noticed her son, my father. He was not embracing her as she sat, but he had a photo of her, sitting. My dad never entirely recovered from the loss of his mother; he always had a certain look of persistent grief on his face, when her presence asserted itself. He often called for her, despite her death, whenever he was sick or despairing. He often chose to do that as his living wife and daughter were both standing by.
That assertion of love, of dependence, made his mother important. She was dead, yes, but such a time-defiant cry makes every mother important. We who are mothers must live on, because our gift of life to others means that we can’t jealously grab at death for our mortal selves. Even despair can’t free us.
Cinched into place in my high-speed airline seat, I realized that my father, grieving over his mother in filial piety, was long-dead himself. Then I missed my father, that author of my being, with all the extravagant anguish that he felt about his mother. I even envied the devotion that he languished on his mother rather than me, his daughter. The dynastic love among a family’s generations is like some insatiable vampire. It bites me, and my adult daughter, too.
19, March 2017
Such intensive time flow. All of a sudden I am living peacefully in past present and future simultaneously, as if the days were concentrated cycles, a circular whirl where I am the axis. Like Dorothy of Oz lofted in her tornado, childlike, like Alice in Wonderland. Free of anxiety, I do not tremble at the passage of time, cry about my losses or feel that my life is lived without me. I am alive in the moment, I am walking talking singing communicating, kicking up my heels. I can do much more than I thought I could, like a star who perceives her own quiet splendor, rather than being dazed, dazzled, dominated by the many constellations of the night sky. Since I am in a loop all my own, no one can confuse me or use me.
This is such a change and a departure for me, someone so punctual and mindful of her obligations, that I don’t know if I’ve achieved enlightment, suffered a stroke, or escaped a depressive crisis. Maybe it’s simple good sense, plain good fortune. This reads like a horoscope, but then, horoscopes are like.
Authentic deja vu a couple of days ago when i saw somebody else’ s picture a place I had loved in my childhood. Instantly, in my mind’s eye, I was there again.
I was there, I still am there and I will always be there, even after my death, at least in the mind of some living survivor, who might want to imagine me in my favorite place, once upon a time.
I do remember people in their places, their characteristic settings. I walk their streets, I touch those places they used to touch, and I know them. They are all my family; I feel their presence. Some I shed a couple of tears for them, for my love for them is still alive, still there.
Time-travel is full of landscapes, like a slow train. When I sit in a train and I write while watching the scenes go by, I feel that I will never stop. I feel so alive, so much in my element, for the act of movement across the world is a home for me… That is why no house of mine feels like home to me unless I am away from it, travelling.
It feels good to run across the planet’s surface, thundering along like a tireless Masai warrior, but it is also good to move very slowly… feeling, touching, thinking through time with the body’s breath and heartbeat. The sheer sense of life, that is what I need every day…without that I perish…words and images make me fly…
Panicking now while confronted with future travel plans. I will be rushing out frenetically to conquer the earth, speeding through time-zones, a zigzag trail of trains, planes and automobiles. I choose this path in life, my mobility gives me control, but I am frantic at the prospect because there is so much to do.
It’s like water-torture, the subtle drips of a water-clock, a clepsydra that slowly fills that beautiful vase called my life. When the vase overflows and topples, there will be no divine light, no afterlife, nothing but an end . No memories to brood over, no images to paint, repaint or animate.
No second thoughts, no regrets, no parallel courses of life or missed opportunities to brood over, no hypnotic overthinking on might-be or could-be … But oh how much fun I am having, just by being here and brooding about time! It takes a while, to think of time is a waste of time, but how I enjoy it! Not in brooding melancholy, but in a sense of potential: my time is expansive, expensive, precious, unique. I cannot stop advancing into the future at the rate of one second per second, but I can imagine it stopped. I can pretend to capture events, in a word, in an image… As a friend’s face unseen for a long time, a face marked by life’s changes…
As dawn breaks I lie in bed imagining all my remaining dawns. I can imagine their proportions, like a mathematical equation whose solution arrives through sudden intuition, without conscious effort. In order to get peace I had to release this mathematical grappling, a mental skill I had a gift for, but it was also a source of neurosis, a painful overthinking.
Well, maybe madness waits for me in later years, or maybe I am crazy already, maybe that is what senility is all about, a brain corroded with the passage of time, too much science, too much reality. But I must think ahead, then take action to briskly resolve my inner conflicts; I can’t lie in bed dosed on psychiatric medications, or drinking endless hot whiskeys bundled up like an invalid. Those retreats into the bed of Marcel Proust, they don’t stop time. The ticking of the clock cannot frighten me; by willing myself to become matter in motion, I have become time itself.
Notwithstanding my pep talks in my own diary, which do at least work as placebos, there are grim moments, like now, when I know I am getting nowhere this time.
It is an unnatural struggle to keep my composure about the remorselessness of time’s passage… Because time is “natural” I don’t believe in “nature.” I don’t want to feel “natural” in my daily life, I need some peace of mind, not a jungle struggle for existence, red of tooth and claw.
I have never trusted the idea that I myself have any so-called “nature.” All one has to do is take drugs to see how malleable the mind is; even reading a book of philosophy can change the inner self. I can throw myself off a mental rooftop at will, but who will catch me when I fall? Once you smack the pavement, hallucinogens or mystic revelations, they don’t help much.
I can see the abyss, my awareness is painful…the truth is that, despite the giddy height, I am not falling. I just miss the others who fell in there, my dead and gone. Mortal human beings vanish into the abysm of time, and we are keenly diminished.
A celebrity, who had been a childhood friend, has just died. Another acquaintance, a “frenemy” of sorts, who has been my alter ego for the past forty years, is sick and dying… I am thrust back into the mud of the fear of mortality, wringing my hands for my inability to live better, to understand more, to be wiser… Things will pass anyway, but so many of my life’s events were bitter, a waste of my time.
I feel like the hunchback poet Leopardi, talking to the moon about the infinite, but doing that behind the tall walls of his family estate, so as not to be stared at. I used to study Leopardi’s painful beautiful testimonies, thinking that I would do better than him, since I was a modern emancipated worldly creature, and not some antique crippled aristocrat. Maybe animals have better interior lives than tormented, self-aware scribblers. Furry bats, feathered swallows, they might be apter about their lives than we are. Imagine the labor that a butterfly goes through, to be admired as a butterfly.
The smell of the past today, in the huge Turin flea-market, a market day between endless Italian holidays. Couples over ninety sparring with their canes, to get a proper seat for an outdoor lunch, Italian-style.
Nice weather, excellent food, all proper, all good…but this 21st-century Italy is no longer the Italy I knew forty years ago. Italy used to be a place of street conversations and tiny hard-scrabble neighborhood stores, now they delight in vast supermarkets, glittering malls, handheld devices, charge-card transactions with banks in the walls.
The ninety year old couples are adapting to this new digitized impersonality, baffled by the screens of the machines, the prices set by algorithms… Not that Italians lack money; they were harmed by the Euro, biut they weren’t crippled by organized financial sanctions like the people of my other homeland, Serbia. On the contrary, the Italian elderly are particularly well-off; they had real jobs in the twentieth century, salaries, pensions, social support.
Those ninety-year old Turinese people were the age of my mom and dad, if they had enjoyed an Italian lifespan. If my parents were still with me in this period of time, I would be out shopping with them, looking after them, and likely feeling rather and wretched and put-upon as a woman beset with dependents.
But I don’t feel that way; for me, my departed parents are still characters in my childhood limbo, an atemporal eternity of love in my childhood nest. I suffer the empty-nest syndrome in reverse, they left me, they went out the door.
I am an orphan, as my elderly father used to lament when his 103 year old mother finally passed away. Then my grieving father would add: strange how love goes always downwards to the future, never uphill in the past. Parents love children always, but children never love back the parents in an equal amount, for they love their own children, instead.
True, and not true. If he were restored to life now, he would find me now longing for his silly reprimands, and his half-deaf small-talk. If my mother were alive I would do her hair, for I was always jealous of the privilege of touching it. The thought of my mother’s touch, even when she was old and frail, makes me think of all the happiness I lost. I lost a lot by becoming adult, aloof, independent, free-thinking. I was afraid to display the depth of my love for them, because I was vulnerable, and feared they would hurt me and desert me forever, as they, indeed, eventually did.
I healed after their loss, but I was diminished, I was never improved. The smell of the Turin flea-market, the reek all these aging, crumbling artifacts, irritated and disturbed me, like Proust’s madeleine. I have a few artifacts of my parents’ Yugoslav past inside my European Union apartment, but my Turinese nest doesn’t smell of them; it smells of me, and the future.
The noise, reek and the crowd overcame me a little; I half-swooned. Instants later, the first heavy drops of rain plummeted from the sky.
I walked home, to settle in to the sound of the gathering storm and the roar of a garbage truck. I had an encouraging glass of Italian wine by my windowsill, sitting at my beautiful antique davenport writing desk, a genuine trophy from that flea-market, because here and there they have some real finds.
This too will pass, it always does, but this writing desk has seen a lot of passing. When I sit before it feel here to stay, to pencil my thoughts down, preserving them, as best I can. My sketches from the huge flea-market of human emotions, the street-frescoes of humankind, and the detail that catches the eye of someone who is herself a detail, me, the little nothing, me me me.
It’s all coming together, like knitting a sweater. To be a writer at her desk, it is edifying, it is cathartic. My thrill is still with me; the pleasure of writing remains.