On Time: One Year’s Diary of Small Truths
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.
When nightmarish events take over your life, speeding you through the horror of crisis situations, your fear becomes your standard of measurement. But then happier times are those which lack fear and anxiety, and somehow this good fortune is not perceived as happiness, unless we focus strongly on the present moment, the airy balloon of the here and now. The perception of happiness, the maintenance of inner peace, requires an effort of will.
Without the willingness to be happy, anxiety floats in a murk of real and imaginary danger, a stew of artificial threats, which itself is dangerous, even if it’s unreal. So I make no decisions out of fear. Instead, I will embrace my troubles as the motors of my life. They drive me uphill, even if my journey lacks balance.
I am travelling in time. I am going away, I am leaving, I am leaving you, me, everybody, everything, and I am not afraid.
If I were an Egyptian queen in the shadow of timeless pyramids, I would even be happy and dutiful about my travel toward the sarcophagus. But as a 21st century woman, a vessel for anxiety, I write diaries. My sacred heritage is every bad experience that ever happened to any woman in the entirety of the past. My anxiety is my choice, my awareness of the human tragedy of the female condition.
My major problem here is to get coherent hold of just one current of this oceanic flow, so as to think, speak and act as if my life were my own. Because otherwise there can be no conscious decision, no moral action: just the vast flow. Why can’t I do that? If only it were possible!
About this diary about time, in which I outsmart myself with my dream notes about my nightmares. My theme is time, because only with that perspective can I understand the big, flickering, motion-picture. My life is no still-life painting: I am running a race with time, trying to get the most benefit from my accidental human existence, which has a span of years whose length is unknown to me.
So many events and incidents, that I lived through, situations that I created, desired, or coped with. I write to tie the loose ends, or just to punctuate, to place a comma, a period full-stop. Before I involved myself in these issues of time, I imagined that something else ruled my existence. Now I see differently.
I don’t have to imagine my lifespan as a race, where some commanding force drives me on. I can never win that race or know its finish line. Instead I participate, I take part in the parade, since, besides myself, there are billions of other active players.
I cannot tie up history in a red silk bow, or transform a movie into a single freeze-frame. The blur comes from the time constraint, this shutter-speed of exposure to reality, which sometimes I notice, understand, live through, but mostly it passes below the level of my consciousness. I am like a goose in the fog, in the Serbian proverb. But I do indeed travel through time, and if I am a goose, maybe I can fly.
My fear of the void began when I was a small child, a human being maybe four years old. It was a profound sensation of being isolated from space and time, like a huge, cosmic bell jar heaved over my head.
I was an alien being surrounded by this white space, foggy and without limit. I knew that no one would hear me or understand my experience of the void. Instead, I saw myself inside the void from the outside, as a frightened, serious but resolute little girl, properly dressed from head to foot, and well-behaved. Clean, obedient, reaching up to the hand of her mom or her governess… Dutifully doing what she is told, but already knowing better about it.
Did I ever grow out of that phase? Do other children have that particular form of profound rebellion against mere existence? Is that why newborn infants howl their heads off? Certainly my childish fear of the void was transformed by my life experience, expanded, colored, redesigned… But the void remains with me even now.
The void is not an aggressive evil, but it is naked and raw. I have defenses against the veil, but when those fail, I become speechless, and it hurts. I do not live in terror of the void, I don’t panic at its imtimate nearness, I just know it is there. I know that if I out-wait it, my being can flow around it.
To confess my awareness of the void, to write about it, is a kind of pleasure. It’s like staring into Nietzsche’s abyss and having the abyss blink first. Those moments are intensely private. When I face the void I am truly the center of my universe.
As a small child I felt myself to be universal, but I had to reach up to hold the hands of authority, I had to obey… Now I can think for myself, with adult decisions and actions, I exist at liberty…. I stand unique and alone before the void, creative within my human condition, with all its flaws and fears.
Even at the center of my childish universe, I always knew that the universe is bigger than any human mind. My awareness of the void was a religious experience, but I will never expect any of the conventional gods of conventional religions to rescue me or protect me. I used to fear the void, now I enjoy this cosmic emptiness as an aspect of human condition.
I don’t believe that I will ever fully grasp the void, except maybe in my own death, in which case, I rather look forward to the event. I can’t remember my own birth — my debut into public life — but I do remember giving birth. In the physical struggle of childbirth I grew close to something wordless and huge, which I comprehended only during that interlude: and if I grapple with it in my death-throes, I won’t be able to report it in a diary, later.
There are aspects of the human condition where everybody has to do their own homework. No teacher exists to grade us, no pupils to follow us. It’s not a scientific exploration; our understanding does not advance. This un-improvable, primal state of the world does not belong to religion or to tradition. The void is just there, a source of marvel or suffering.
I suffered privately for many years, but my ignorance and isolation was a source of enlightenment, a part of my way of becoming myself, a human being enmeshed in the here and now.
Now time has become my topic, because I can understand my non-void temporal being as an oasis, as a bliss. For years, I was hesitating on the verge of happiness, but now I know that I can become happiness, I can embody it. One can do no better than happiness, and there is a kind of Keatsian permanence about achieved it, for to have once become happiness is a joy forever. In the future, I can suffer and die, but nobody can take my past happiness away from my being.
Everybody has their own capacity for joy, and cannot abuse mine. They cannot perceive my happiness, profane it, steal it, mine it, tax it or store it. What a sense of freedom in this universe, to have no anxious pangs about fear or loss, and yet be rich and full.
Beset with random thoughts and strange doubts, I cannot sleep… I always crave for dependable habits, but I am incapable of living through the same thing twice.
Certain other people — such as Marcel Proust, or my mother — have spoken of their long white nights crowded with obsessive thoughts. My mother, who slept near a bookcase, used to fear that her beloved books would tumble on her in the darkness and suffocate her in her marriage bed. Marcel Proust hand-wrote seven volumes of obsessive recollections, mostly writing in his sickbed, at night.
My bewildered thoughts at night are petty, vague fears about the next day, silly errands that I forget, forgotten or missing possessions, mere buzzing trivia, as opposed to the void that will engulf me if do not catch and board the train of time. Insomnia reveals the utmost structural silliness of our daily routines.
How much busywork will I impose on myself, now many boring, unpleasant or squalid chores will I do today or tomorrow, in order not to confront my raw existence in the universe, to confront reality and maybe snap from the strain? Or shall I just sulk in my bed, amusing myself with the prospect of a nervous breakdown, or else rise and scramble around town erratically, flittering from one cafe chair to another, and drinking beer in the day’s mobile rays of sunlight…. Living as an alien inside my own skin…
Yes the very thought of throwing all routines and duties overboard, that defection really tempts me…. I am known for my clean breaks with reality, gleefully accepting a new city, a new continent…. One of these days, I will just do it, for stacking up petty chores and errands in order to control the timetable of the universe, that makes no sense to me and that gives me no real comfort.
Multitasking means doing many different things in parallel… variant activities all stuffed into the the same wedge of time. I have always been at my ease with multitasking, as opposed to fully concentrating on a single issue, which comes hard to me. Rather than do any single thing properly, I will throw open an entire desk of drawers, and live like I run a train yard.
No single thing can exist in cosmic isolation, for it is tied to every other thing in the universe. If I pick a tiny piece of lint from a sweater, it is part of a system, a vast chain… I may not know its complicated context, and I can pick that piece of lint through a thoughtless reflex, but I can sense the Blakeian infinite inherent in a grain of sand.
They say that a sign of education is the ability to hold conflicting concepts in your head, without confusion. But when you multitask, your activities are necessarily connected, whether or not that makes any sense, in a vivid Surrealist collage. Their simultaneity changes the perception of time.
If one maintains a sense of composure, and performs actions on different fronts with one’s brain and senses mobilized in the flow, then the very same hour feels both fast and slow. Fast, because tasks and accomplishments are tumbling all at once, instead of one after another. And yet slow, considering how many different things are seeking a definitive conclusion, in a kind of traffic jam.
How does the multitasking human driver manage that traffic jam? Well, the key is not to panic, curse in rage and skid off the roadway. Once you are inside the moving traffic, you can maneuver through it, fast lanes and slow lanes, sinking into it, gloating absent-mindedly above it all…. It is not that traffic, by its nature, ever changes much…. Because for Heraclitus, the river is always changing and yet always there. Nothing matters, everything changes; nothing changes, everything matters.
We have imperfect tools and our intelligence is a faulty yardstick for the absolute, and yet our tools and intelligence are all we’ve got. So, register the moment, think, think again and roll onwards. If you stumble across soke great cosmic truth, like previous mystics, seers and philosophers, try not to get crucified for it.
I have always excelled at knowing the dates on the calendar. I have a mental knack for numbers, anniversaries, the birth dates and death dates of remote acquaintances.
But since I began my diary of time, I sense a liberation from this long obsession. I feel indifference about the burning issue if this is January or February. Maybe all these dates hoarded in my head are some kind of mathematical shield against the rawness of geological deep time, thirteen billion years of cosmic zeros.
Because dates are the grid of my life, they are like notes of music. They offer me a structure, a discernable shape, a cluster of stars in a small universe, of a life that brought me consciousness, that matters to me.
I know that I am here in space and time, I know that I exist, and I can even see my temporal shape, although it never appears in the mirror. Dates are time apprehended as numbers, in the cyclic music that those numbers make, verses, choruses, repeating seasons, consecutive years…
But, well, now the dates are confused within me, the structure of my internal schedule is broken, somehow… Some times these are. Maybe the passage of time wore my internal schedule away, a consequence of the plain physical aging of my brain. Or maybe some acquired wisdom has chased this scheduling busywork away, and allowed me to experience time more organically, more authentically, like a woman hearing music played, instead of reading sheet-music.
Whatever the case, time feels different to me this year. Who am I, without that structure, what am I becoming, where is time taking me? I am different. I can envision the past Jasmina with a certain fondness, even nostalgia, for she was so young and vigorous. But she was also so fussy that she could count the particles in a snow-globe.
Now I still treasure my past like a black-and-white photograph, but I do live more at ease. Why should I panic if minutes, hours, days or whole months go uncounted, unnumbered? I live in a different flow now. I have no need to slice my lifetime into bits, and count each numerical digit. I am flowing into my future, and I feel no need to stand in my own way.
I dreamed of a small apartment. We were all in there together, sleeping on stacked bunks, me, my family, my friends, random celebrities. And except for me, they were all ageless immortals, each preserved forever in the moment of their prime. These angelic dream-beings were radiant and kind to me, well behaved and efficient. All of them except for me, of course; I was still trapped in my mortal human flesh, fretful, wrinking, crumbling.
Hanging in a moment’s suspension, I direly need to attach myself to something, to somebody: any element of permanence. I cannot endure the free floating human condition, the stumbles, the fall, the harsh drive of invisible forces, the unknown possibilities, the useless, the futile… I plead for an order that makes sense. Can I buy it?
This is all about the fear of death, really.
Such a velocity, such nervous speed, such nonsense and loneliness. Where has the knowledge gone, where did the common sense go…
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.
My name is Misery and I don’t mind my name, because I know about time and timely things. I was born old and wise, I was never young, as my mom used to tell me.
There she was, my wise mother, flesh of my flesh, carne della mia carne. I felt more than smelled the kitchen aroma of her new baked bread. Serbian bread out of the oven, “hlebce,” what a mouth-watering thrill for a child.
She was sitting next to me at the kitchen table, chatting, laughing with that familiar intimacy that cannot be put into words. A child’s timeless contentment, a bliss, yes, but I couldn’t devour a whole loaf of it. I took maybe a slice.
I found happiness as hard to endure as misery. I couldn’t surrender myself to the thoughtless glee of youth, it was too miuch. Never a child!
My first boyfriend said the same thing to me, and then my husband said it. They said it because it was true; I was born old, but, given that, I may become younger as the years pass. Maybe the same goes for everyone, but I can see and feel it, Cassandra that I am, the kidnapped Trojan priestess and slave who to wants to be carefree and foolish…
Her words to me, in the language of my mother and her mother, too. After thinking in language, we must hand over language to those who are to come. Boys, girls, gaffers and crones, they all disappear eventually, fading away into the black and white of memory, like silent movies, so oddly alive although no one makes them any more. Silent movies, full of memorable theatrical gesture, but no one audibly laughs or sings, nothing smells good.
I imagine my mother alive today, very old and without me, still stuffing her handbag full of petty wisdom that we women treasure but nobody properly cherishes. As women, wives, widows, whores, nuns, the priestess, the prophetic sybil, nobody is perfect.
I am still hanging in there, sunrise to sunset, like Nefertiti, Cleopatra, Marilyn Monroe, Elisabeth Taylor, the silent Italian divas on display in Turin’s National Cinema Museum… and so many women who write. Writing for themselves, in a diary, silently. Invisible, not wanting to be visible.
I had a happy time travel dream. Amazingly, it was only lightly tinged with death however, and only a couple of tears.
All my beloved people were alive with me. We had gathered in some rambling Spanish palace where we were cheerily eating, drinking, and planning our future together.
Then, in the dream, my daughter told me: Mom, you will die someday, and I won’t be able to bear it. She had tears in her eyes and the long sad face that I’ve known from her childhood.
At that point, my actual daughter knocked at the door of my bedroom and woke me up. She was an adult woman, and she will probably cope with my eventual death with her usual sturdy efficiency. Inheritance has spared her my gloomy and petty obsessions.
We don’t exist as copies of our parents we are chimeras of the cultural and the genetic. I am not turning into my father any more than my father can turn into me. However, he was a thoughtful and worrisome character, trending toward the hypochondriac, and his legacy as a ghost tends to lunge for my throat. I will fight the ingrained habits of family trauma, the tracks of all the false steps. Even if I had a Spanish palace, I could not shelter the dead in it, all I can do is miss them. I must try hard to benefit from the passage of time, and not endlessly circle the gravesite. I require wisdom, so I can find peace, and let others rest in peace.
The taste of my own blood. How does time feel when you have run out of it?
Warm blood, pulsing heartbeats, happiness… good feelings, satisfactions, chores accomplished… I love the roar of aircraft above my head. Will they get faster, more efficient, more silent… Or will the skies of my future be thick with strange aircraft, beautifully noisy things, musical drones?
The sun and this planet’s sky, wherever you may go, there you are… My own blood, red and aromatic, stinking of iron, my reeking body, off I go, bloody, leaking out of my own flesh… A melodramatic rehearsal, a silent film diva, dying of love on the silver screen, “but my love does not die”… Yes, there are people I still love enough to die for, a few of them anyway, I don’t know why …
I left you there in that time-hole, alone, a coffin-like hole that meant death.
I despair about that moment, and now I tell myself that the episode was really you, despairing for me. An ugly grey hole of time, and yet so sweet, for it gets me drunk on nostalgia, like a rediscovered solo from a long-dead saxophone player.
You asked me to take you to the coast, just to smell the sea. It’s only a five-hour drive, you told me. We will come right back, together. Just one hour there, to smell the sea, to smell the love that we took for granted and that ruined everybody, ourselves too, but, well, mostly them. Love has a high price sometimes, we are lucky we are both still alive after that. Those who sweep across the threshold of love, entering love’s house, they forget about everything else, they are lost, I am lost, you are lost…
I forgot the time and date of my flight back to the present day, and instead, I decided to stay with you in that hole of the past. Every moment there threatened us with imminent death, but every moment was sweet. I could not refuse you or abandon you, I despised life and safety, I sat next to the furnace in the house of love and I stoked it, I fed the flames. There was a vivid fire in that house and it was poetry.
My beloved, said the poem, I will never forget one atom of our past, I am your slave, the moment you leave I will follow you to your pyre.
Right now, though, I must live, here in the present.
Ten years of living with a poet. It was like time travel to the 18th century, it was a Romantic joke, but truly theatrical.
I just dressed to follow the code, and behaved like the female lead of a historic novel. It worked. I always wanted to become a great actress, but written scripts bored me. Art is life, but someone else’s art can never be my life, so I had to improvise my lines and make dramatic scenes in real-time.
Time and culture, travel with a poet, uprooted from time, but rooted to a space. Me, being contrary, uprooted from that space, but rooted to time. What a thrill that was. Never a boring moment, not one problem that was “realistic,” every possible poetic problem from all of time and space fell like volcanic ash on our shoulders, with only the picks and shovels of the present to dig ourselves out.
Those years were so edifying. I have tears in my eyes when I see movies from a century past, all those perky handsome young people, now ashes. Every movie, reel by entertaining reel, overstuffed with conflict and dramatic crisis. I have been known to actually live like that.
And I didn’t just cry in a tissue in my theater seat. On the contrary, I studied cinema. I admired and envied the way the actors coped with the screenwriters scripted situations. Classic Hollywood even had strict codes and rules, an American censor’s socialist-realism about what is good, what is bad, for American viewers.
But if you wrench those characters from the silver screen, bring them fifty or a hundred years ahead, they would be lost zombies, the bewildered undead. Handsome, good-looking Dorian Greys, but comical, archaic, unable to function.
Now if you do the very opposite, go back, while still alive, to the dead rules of life a century ago, it’s just as surreal. I lived like that for ten years, along with the supporting cast of a husband and a small child. It lasted while it lasted, but not forever, because we broke down. Our time machine collapsed under the pressure of our living bodies in a contemporary society.
We managed to keep the trouble inside our doors, behind our windows, sharing it only with few trustful friends, but still, we collapsed. It was our passion for life, real life, not theatrical performance, that crumbled our dream. Of poetic license and creativity, hic et nunc, just us.
I don’t even know who broke down first, maybe we just broke together slowly, but we certainly didn’t fight over it. We knew it could not be maintained; he took it badly, I took it sadly. He suffered shame, I suffered pain. He got lost, I found myself. Eventually he died, I am still surviving.
He was just a gentleman and a poet, never the profane realist. Made of dreams for dreams. I like to think that he was lucky he had me for ten years, to make his dream come so nearly true. I know that I was lucky to have him, and his child.
Our fantasy was not a flop or box office disaster. It was not even a tragedy, although the male lead died rather young in the end. It was an effort worthy of us, it had precious moments, set-pieces that were masterpieces, even. I don’t measure and judge our lives together by a single rigid code, with a censor’s scissors.
A mayfly lives, flies and breeds for just a single day, but what a day that is. Mayflies as an insect family are ancient, older than dinosaurs, and they live all over the world.
But there were moments when I felt trapped in amber. The past and future both passed me by, I felt miserable. Maybe that feeling, of a mayfly congealed in a golden drop, made me become a dragon, like a dinosaur revived. It took me decades to understand that leaving any cage, even a golden one, even abruptly, always makes me happy. Freedom is never less than freedom.
Once you frame painful, nostalgic memories in time, they become an artwork. Maybe a masterpiece, the black swan from the ugly duckling. Give memories a meaning, a personal point of view, an understanding, a wisdom, a structure and they will get off your back. They become an anthem of freedom, and you may march to that song, or not.
To me a clock is a companion that tells me I am alive in time, and not spell-bound in a cave like the Emperor Barbarossa, sleeping through the centuries.
My daughter, as a child, was in competition with me, she always wanted to outdo me, be smarter, prettier…and was upset to learn that mother and daughter can never become one another. Nowadays, many years later, I do my best to step-down from the maternal family throne, but my effort is almost as futile as hers.
Once, that throne of the materfamilias was strongly possessed by my mother, and I never wanted to fight for it. I disobeyed her edicts in many ways, but I never engaged in a family coup d’etat so as to boss her around.
I suspect that my daughter’s attitudes are a consequence of this, a new dispensation that makes us rather more like sisters, less nailed into place by hierarchy and biology. My mother was the scientist among us, the rational doctor. But always very female, and very aware of which rank, which class, which gender, properly bowed the neck to whom. No sand in an hourglass could ever change rules carved in stone.
My mother held female family power, against time, against all odds. She had to fight bravely to assert herself in times of war and revolution, she almost didn’t survive. She had entered her world of family politics as the last-born daughter, the littlest one, with no great expectations. But she persisted and even prevailed in the teeth of male chauvinism, collapsing aristocracy, and a new power elite of armed male Communists.
Once she won her throne, as doctor, wife, party functionary, then I came along. When I grew up to make my own way in the world, she never let me down in public, but she never supported me in private. She gave me advice, but never her sceptre.
I was all right with that, I still miss her strong voice that made things so clear, black and white decency and ideology. But I can’t forgive her for recruiting my daughter as her ally: for pulling rank on me, across the generations. I still feel that pain, and imagine that it was my fault for letting myself be sidelined and humiliated.
Of course my mother had her reasons for strongly asserting her values, because she thought they were eternal, but love is blind and dependency makes us stupid, especially if we are women.
I find that I am spitting out my rage, guilt, envy… in my time-encapsulated dreams. Nothing is the same anymore, nobody is the same anymore, the circumstances that created these feelings are long gone.
I wonder how I find the strength to face these things as baldly as I do right now. There are days and nights when I lack the strength to raise my voice. Every event that created me in my youth has faded sideways, the present day is brilliant, shiny, colourful… but today is awaiting its own time to fade into sepia, and reveal truths that I can’t see yet, cold truths that will arise, strike me, wound me… Me, the tottering zombie of my own life, slowly and rather cruelly nibbling my own brain.
Why is there suffering, what is it that people do wrong? I know that I see too much, I feel too much. I use the shallow surface of the present as my shield against injuries. My pains, my times.
Just being there, for so long, being-there and being-there, which, in lived experience, can only mean the sensation of being here… Do not panic.
I noticed the expiration date on my medicine. It tells me that ignores this tranquillizer for a year and a half, a security bottle of calm that I carried around the world, just in case of trouble… I somehow imagined that I’d bought it yesterday.
Since I haven’t used it, I must be on top of my troubles, if not on top of my game. My life sped by like a work of performance art, never recorded or released on video, you simply had to be there… It seems I am cooler now. I am exorcising the past, which is hard because my ghosts arise from times when my life was most vivid.
I came to terms with my guilt, for guilt is the luxury of us people over fifty. “Only the young die good,” but, even if I do have a colourful and checkered past, I am not legally guilty of even minor crimes… Mostly I want to expiate the sins of omission, or things that seem to me important, that I failed to do.
My mother’s idealism, my father’s activism — I remember how these things drove their lives, but to me they are only dreamlike, background props, comforting notions…. and last but not least, I have a mother’s guilt. Somehow I let my sweet little daughter become a real woman, and live her own life. When she comes back to my arms it will be on her own terms. I’m still guilty about it, though I never behaved any differently and probably never will. A mother’s best effort is never good enough with a beloved child.
There are stark moments when I understand all the lunatics in this world, all the suicides, all the dark secrets. Then I need to stop the madly spinning world and find asylum in the moment. Not to be ecstatic with happiness, just to be calm, to feel becalmed.
Some people do that for me, their physical presence slows me down to some essential moment.
My time diary is becoming more concrete, a cement made of grains of sand, which once loomed like the mountains in my life.
Bells ringing furiously in an old Catholic seaside town: they sound righteous. A mortal woman cannot stop time, the bells tell me, memento mori, be aware death is everywhere, ask not for whom the bells toll, for the omnipresent God numbers every falling sparrow.
However, I do not trust God’s bookkeeping, and I trust myself even less. When I dabble my womanly fingers in the streaming sand of the hourglass, I don’t create divine eternity. And soon I notice that my dainty fingers are dusty and granular, unpleasant to the touch.
When I was a child I had odd feelings of tactile disgust, even cosmic nausea. I used to dread white medical cotton, fluffy, cleansing my little hands, insinuating itself between my childish fingers.
In instants this disgusted sensation of dread would grow gigantically, my clenching jaw felt stuffed with the evil white fluffiness. At the touch of that too-soft cotton my flinching skin seemed to leave my body and expand fit to cover the universe, leaving no possible nook or cranny immune to the cotton’s dreadful caress.
I am trying to stop the universal banging of the holy bells, but they stop on their own. In the dreamlike absence that ensues the friendly sounds of breezes and sea-birds give me context. I cherish those Adriatic sounds in lonely dawns and dusks. If they were not fleeing and momentary, then they would not be so precious to me.
I must earn to cherish the flow and fly with the tides, be faster and brighter and merrier, less heavy-hearted, less material. It’s hard to free myself from my own dross and tarnish, but I must.
Pressing on a moment of space and time, like a doorbells to the memory warehouse. A small, precise bell, fixed to a huge entrepot.
Like one pinging musical note within a revolving music box, a secret code of pins on a metal cylinder, a whole soundtrack there, awaiting: sound, sight, sound, smell, words, situations, meaning an aftermath.
On a seaside trail there were some mildly hazardous rocks. To reach a favorite beach, my little daughter and I had to cross them. Of course, being a small kid, she had to tackle these slippery stones with her little feet in treacherous plastic flip flops, her little hands busy with an ice cream cone, which she dreaded to drop.
I used to asked her to be brave and just get it over with, and she did. But she would ask me to sing her something to make her endeavour easier, and I did.
Nowadays, that tourist-crowded beach path has a stout metal safety rail, and my daughter hikes mountains, skis and loves motorcycles. I am not near her to sing her to safety, but I send her comical voice messages on a smartphone, and she sends me travel photographs.
Still, every time I visit those seaside rocks, now tamed by European safety regulations, I think of that scene with tenderness. A child bravely managing that minor hazard, learning from the challenge, though she never came to harm. The bittersweetness of a mother allowing her that risk, it’s there waiting for me.
What about the serious risks that threatened both of us, in other paces far from a seaside trail, the grand hazards of geopolitics, wars, sanctions, sickness, disasters? They don’t ring that doorbell at the memory store.
Why is that memory stored in the first place, why does it take up its gigabytes in my cloudy head? Is that stony trail a milestone of my life, or does my life create its own milestones? Sometimes I go to grand and glorious historic places stuffed with official heritage, and, feeling bored or stifled,I promptly flee from them.
A close encounter with real-time witnesses of my mythical past. They were there when i was born.
Once, when I was a three-month-old baby, I choked on a piece of paper and my cousin pulled it out of my mouth. She may have saved my life, though I can’t recall a thing about that. Still, she remembers it, so for me sit in front of her now makes the episode surreal.
My cousin was older than me, and mother, in front of her, used to call me just a girl-baby. I loathed being demeaned in this way. But now I do it spontaneously; yes, I was the weak little baby with her mouth full of paper. Yes, my baby-toothed mouth was fatally stuffed full of words, ink on paper… Choking senselessly in this life of survival, where babies commonly perish for no good reason, though there is so much love, so much beauty.
My reminiscing friend also took me back back back: forty years ago, when I was singing on a stage, facing the public with a stony face as solemn as Buster Keaton, she claims.
I can see now that I did have that too-solemn face, though I didn’t know it then. I don’t have much use for mirrors, I never studied my face, I just used my imagination, with my astigmatism to fill in.
But other people saw my face and my friend remembers it, vividly. Hyper-realism, like a painter laying down a million tiny strokes.
These two close encounters with my past as seen by others, they struck a forgotten note in my own body, and some jammed parts of my own memory were jarred loose. My recollection cleared and I got a new sense of the scene, like the foreshadowing in a thriller novel.
Order from chaos. I never stopped trying to make sense and order emerge from my jumbled memories. Every morning I put household objects in their designated places, so as to feel calmly organized, so as to start the day. Yet each day I end asleep in the dark, with chaos lurking. Then I fall into slumber and the sleep of reason produces monsters, although our dreams, they say, are part of the work of putting our minds in order.
My dreams are chaotically fluid, the genre of these dream-stories changes easily from hardboiled realism to fantasy thrillers, nightmare or a loving bliss. The chaos takes over the order repeatedly, until I wake and rise, and put my affairs in that small domestic order I have designed for myself, my little patch-up existence: from my cup of tea to my love affairs.
Stop it stop, please don’t flow away…I am still in one piece and i just realized that I slept for two hours… I thought it was later, I wished it was later because of the heat.. I want to lie down but I am also dying with the summer glare, the lazy heat, the waste of time. My time, my heat, my body.
Exactly twelve years ago I was in this exact place, which is “the same” nowadays, but of course different. I was wrong about what I saw here then, I assure myself today.
Everything that I perceived and felt about this strange place twelve years ago was too strong, perverted and discoloured by my lack of true information.
I was bewildered and bedazzled by sheer novelty, I was delusional, I was high on culture shock. But twelve years ago it felt good, I was pouring out my secret dreams and successfully pretending they had come true.
Now I am a tedious realist about this place, back to square one, my delusional illusion is long over, things here are not strange and glamorous, they are down to earth… Actually this scene is still very pretty, even prettier than I remembered, but I am realistic even about the prettiness.
Where has she gone, that excited and impressed Jasmina, stranger in the strange land? I still have her dreams and images, but once they became true, she disappeared. I conquered my dreams, and they did not survive being conquered.
Am I dreamless now, dream free? Am i poorer without dreams? The poor rich girl? I possess cynical doubts that I couldn’t afford when I was flying forward, high as a kite.
So tempting to revive those times when I, the Balkan dreamer, sat with the solemn hobos of Los Angeles under their blazing sun… Now like Walter Benjamin’s hapless angel I look backward into the past, how I braved the psychedelic ordeal of living among Californians, and got away with it — it was even fun. Why break with the past, why break anything, why must everything change?
Why this harsh movement of matter in time, it moves any way and in all ways, time is like a motor, driving more relentlessly than the ceaseless traffic of Los Angeles. I didn’t have to leave Los Angeles, I could have just waited it out, out-waited any circumstance that might have taken me elsewhere, but the tide of time washed me elsewhere in the world. As a poet told me, you always think and act in terms of waterfalls, with no thought for the drops of water!
It doesn’t rain much in Southern California. I will move into the shade with the homeless derelicts, who are still here twelve years later, in their droves.
Remember, when you can, the brief happiness, the elation of a mere cluster seconds, the time-capsule when you felt delight…. When life was good, and you were yourself fulfilled.
When you that little pill of a past moment, you have a medicine for the pangs of the present. It works, and it is worth a lot. But you can’t buy it with the counterfeit coin of superstition and cynicism.
Dreaming of life renewed, imagining doing fresh new things, instead of dragging myself through this heat. We made our sweaty bed with global warming, and now we have to lie in it.
Just an old tune, but it makes me feel better, reminds me when I often felt a childish sense of joy for no good reason. That are plenty of reasons for a child to feel pleased if she is secure and loved, but they’re not the kind of reasons that a child can understand.
I just knew that there were melodies around me, as if music wasn’t composed and played by skilled adults, but just came from some magic dimension, so as to please me. Music gave me a cozy feeling of being accompanied in the world. I didn’t know that music had genres and categories; even a cluster of notes could make my day.
I will thrive on music today, too, but I also understand what music I love and why I love it. We become choosy, we form a taste for music by knitting together a chain of good feelings, of musical sensations. Like a melody, favorite songs follow each other in a row, maybe almost randomly at first, but impressing themselves in some archive of musical memory, making a space for themselves. They grow and bloom and leave a sign, an artwork impressed in our bodies, art that we can express through our bodies, remembering experiencing and retelling through dance.
I know that some songs are better than others, more artistic in a world in which a human is an artist by definition. That is the world I inhabit, which I cannot leave, in which my lifelong love for hearing, playing, dancing, performing, composing music was not even a choice of mine, but a destiny of my human condition, maybe even a curse.
Nothing much to it, nothing much left to learn, my lifelong effort to understand music was like digging the Suez Canal, making something natural become entirely different with enormous effort and thought. And then, while listening to sad music, all of a sudden, a tender thought of tucking my old father into bed, and how I will never do that for him again. If I am lucky maybe somebody will do it to me. That is all I know about the music of time.
I dream of a utopia inside my own head, an island of absolute safety. What if that place really existed and my parents hid it from me, never told me the secret? They had to fight a world war, they hoarded secrets and survival rations, they knew things about survival that they didn’t want a little girl to know. I didn’t know what their secret burden was, but I knew it was suffocating, like a kind of original sin. There were times when I wailed like a newborn.
Now my fingers, dusty with the sand of the hourglass, stroke the keys of a mute piano. Is there is a secret way out of the human condition, a parallel space-time, a magic closet no one told me about, maybe marked with mystical magical signs? If some great wizard knows, they won’t tell a deaf and blind creature like me.
What if I could really stop time, make time run forward or backward at my own will, if if if… If I had such incredible power, could I make responsible decisions… Well, no no no…
Even as goddess of time, how could I cope with all the low and slow things, low life, the myriad details of disgusting little events, the dirty habits, real yet hidden, of everybody, everyday, in all humanity, the drives, obsessions, compulsions, the biologies, the philosophies…. I couldn’t abide that, the spin of the earth, the ticking of normality.
Those actors and actresses from the black and white movies, all dead and gone, they are mere fictions, every shot is directed and edited and composed by masters of film-time. And yet those people on film, they make things with their hands, then they eat them, they sleep over them, they even discreetly visit the bathroom to shit, although the movies, of course, would never show is such a dreadful thing.
Now imagine being the almighty film editor of a billion material bodies and things, and even souls, thoughts… Imagine the obsessions. Thank goodness we don’t have to do that even for ourselves, we just obey the urgings of time, fulfil our appetites, and ride on.
Before clocks existed there were healthy strong human animals, voyagers who never heard a factory whistle or had to feed coins to a parking meter. They knew nothing of my doubts or troubles… Time didn’t persecute them with punctuality, they didn’t have to sneak looks at the classroom clock while they gazed out the window… They didn’t have my education, they didn’t have to pretend.
Postponing my decisions, my actions, even my discoveries. When I dither and procrastinate, is it a matter of time really?
It is our inability to cope with life, not with time. When I dither I don’t do nothing, lazily; no, I pack too much knowledge into the decision, learned speculations, emotional consequences. At those moments of frozen indecision I dread the flow of time. First I hide from the truth that I’m running out of time, but that’s not possible. So I get anxious and try to outrun events. Then I burn out and give up.
When I give up from lacking time, what is it that I give up? I don’t quite know, I just don’t participate; I float as if I were invisible, a nonexistent particle of some other universe that lacks clocks and knows better…
Why all this running and planning ahead, when I know that I will procrastinate? Is it an attempt of control, a pretense of self-control that I subconsciously sabotage? Is my impossible schedule a vain attempt, a presumptuous attempt, or is it just habit because I can’t baldly admit that it’s sweet to do nothing?
More than obeying speed limits, I have the feeling I dodge my way through live with good impromptu driving skills. But maybe my speedometer, that sister of a clock, has its own way of driving me. How can we tell who or what is in charge?
The older I get, the more I am pressured by the road signs, milestones that feel like scars, like vulgar tattoos, that demand attention and make bold public claims. It is a mental burden, I feel myself getting weaker, that Other, that mazy labyrinth of signage is covering the free earth, soft but heavy, everywhere, ubiquitous. Just five minutes of peaceful wilderness is all I ask, but no one is in the business of giving that to me.
This is a complete dissonance, I am coming to hate the harassment, like being torn limb from limb by four horses. Too many prompts and directions, too little time, it hurts and is senseless, offensive. It’s like the day bursts and explodes, an information overload of commands and messages flitting by my like bullets. It is vast and monstrous yet it wants to be invisible, and it wants me to take it for granted, and to become one with it.
Where do people find this incredible blind strength to go on with their lives without stopping? To go on metabolically, living, eating, breathing, without questioning the future, the past?
The past throngs with terrible situations, centuries full of them, for women especially. I look at the faces of the women of the past, I read their stories, study the laws and material culture, what a woman had to do to get by: I cannot imagine myself surviving.
If those women knew what awful luck they had, dealt out a handful of bad years to play at the casino, surely they would despair. Given that we can’t choose to be born, we have no way out… Suicide would seem the rational choice and yet, throughout history, women struggle, risk themselves, given themselves, endure pain and shame, get hurt and hurt others, talk, write, compose, act, run, hide…that’s what call living. Until we don’t live any more.
I dreamt of my father, my dad, who appeared to me as a child, nine years old. He was dressed as a lad of the distant nineteen-twenties, when young boys wore the clothing of men, except with short trousers. He appeared to me in black and white of course, like a period photograph.
He had a playmate, too, a slightly older kid. My father looked rather devilish, full of wicked bad-boy charm, but the other boy was calm and gently smiling.
I found myself catapulted into this situation, for I had to take care of them. I wasn’t certain that the young boy was my dad, until someone in the dream assured me that he was. So I looked them over carefully, being responsible, and sure enough, the little boy simply felt like my dad. I knew that it had to be him, though he had no awareness that I was his daughter from the future.
Since I was a grown-up and he wasn’t, he didn’t even care. But I did care, I looked after him, and enjoyed minute of it. We talked, we even played. I found that I didn’t understand his old-fashioned regional accent, for his accent was almost a hundred years old. Quite a lot of things happened during my dad’s extensive lifespan. I had remembered his birthday before I had this dream, and it struck me he would have strongly that he would have been 94. That’s where my dream came from; my awareness that he hadn’t always been old. He lost his youth, but I was dreaming of it. I was trying to remember him from times when I couldn’t possibly remember him. And, he was lovable; such a charming, clever, lively little boy.
While delivering my one and only baby, after reading Thomas Mann through nine months of pregnancy, mostly to stay aloof from my primordial fear, I had my strongest experience of abstract time versus real time.
During labor I hallucinated, gigantic mermaids floating all around me in the delivery room. But the room also featured an outsized hospital clock and I was watching its hands move, for was nothing else to do but breathe, suffer and wait.
I started following the motion of the clock hands at exactly 3 pm, and at 8.10 pm my baby came out of me. I was wide awake and made careful note of the time. However, those five hours of labor passed through me in an half an hour, at most. Why, how? Well, my busy body and mind were in some other space of temporal apprehension.
I can vividly remember the clock-hands moving as time whipped by. I could see that the clocks behavior was normal, but not my experience.
I always rather wanted to see that happen again, though the experience would have required another baby. That wouldn’t have been so much a price, as a gift. It was a major privilege to learn that time could feel so different, that a baby arrived in my world wrapped in a kind of time-capsule. It was a direct experience of the nature of time in the cosmos. What a privilege to be a woman.
What about calendar reform, or daylight savings time — so arbitrary. If we were willing to pass the laws, we could do anything we wanted with the measurement of time. Instead of tiresome years, months, days, we could shatter time into ever-smaller units — live by seconds if we liked, or milliseconds, nanoseconds, picoseconds, battering time into dust until we feel cosy. No more dread of long, unwieldy time-spans, such as prison sentences and golden wedding anniversaries. After all, we are just humans, and with short attention spans. Why not break time into bite-sized pieces we can mentally handle, and set ourselves free?
Seeing time run on a digital display while I exercise on a gym machine. The first seven minutes of treadmill walking feel long, hard, nerve wracking, a waste of time… Until I catch my breath and find the machine’s groove, and then I feel like I could march the entire Earth without ever moving from this spot.
I walk without moving anywhere, so I could destroy my material being, my body, my shell, the only vehicle I’ve got on the planet earth, and just keep walking, straight to nowhere. Each rubbery treadmill step is like a drop in an ocean, purifying, beautiful edifying, repetitious like the surf waves.
No pain, no heights or depths, no stumbling, it’s a walk so plastic and mechanical that it feels like a taxing aircraft. But then I stop, because the digital clock tells me that I have to stop. This is serious exercise, I have to get down off the too-smooth machine, so as to not overdo it. Otherwise, tomorrow I’ll feel sore and I’ll regret this, my gym encounter with this clock-like no-place, where there is no dirt or dust, and the air is conditioned, and I can never write, in rude graffiti, “Jasmina was here.”
Some small small talk for big big fear, I had a nightmare encounter with eternity, images came in the depths of night that were unthinkably vast, endless, timeless… If I choose not to write about these abysses of darkness, will I feel better? Or maybe the act of writing about these phantoms will chase them away from me.
Why does everything remind me of something, or someone? I cannot break away from my dead mother. It is as if she were here, present, alive, eighteen years after her death. Time does not touch her because she is an aspect of me
My mom used to tell me: when your mother appears in your dream, it is always a good sign… Your mother in your dream is always good for something, so don’t worry…
So, I won’t. Why should I fret, why worry about the dead and the living spending time in my bed of slumber? I am safe in my own bed, I will cheerfully go to sleep again, cover myself like a baby in warm blankets and dream. Dreams are necessary, they feel good, they are edifying, dignifying, sometimes prophetic. I cannot avoid seeing more, and feeling more, than my waking mind can tolerate… I am a Cassandra, and always was, even as a child. I must learn how to live with nightmares without suffering.
But still, why does everything remind me of something, something different but the same, from the past… or the past that is still within me, as I grown blind to the lost details, smart now that I have the big picture, wise in my senility, shrewd in my sentimentality, timeless in my aching nostalgia — I know the answer. Each memory of time is different because it is me who is changing. The devil is in the details and I am that devil.
Sometimes it is better to avoid writing about time.
Approaching Belgrade, dreams like Breughel’s wasp nests. I must toughen it out and take it like a natural Belgrade girl, for this city is part of my life.
How many parallel cities, how many parallel lives do I want to live? Can I even imagine all of them? I had a nightmare of losing all my travel gear, my core valuables, my passport, my glasses, my clothes. I was nude, drenching wet and on the verge of some abyss, literally and metaphorically.
But I was not frantic, instead I was briskly surviving, like nobody s business. I was once again the Balkan woman, ready to haul my ox-cart from the mud; to adjust again just took me a couple of days, a couple of nightmares.
Now my soul aches for all those lost things in the past, lost days ago or even centuries ago. It’s only the loss itself that matters, not the time. It’s like that antique table clock that I took this morning to the grumpy clock repairman, who didn’t even look at its clockwork entrails, but simply barked: get rid of that rubbish, it’s a hundred years old.
Can’t they see that something a hundred years old is not rubbish. Well, not here, not exactly. In Balkan village life, if you’re a hundred years old and therefore useless and burdensome they take you out to the mountains and place a final round loaf of bread on our bald and spotty head, and then slice off both your head and the loaf with one quick swipe of a scimitar. You get the bread loaf as a formal courtesy, since you are longer the bread winner.
They perform this act out of love, your own sons and daughters approve, and, since you’re not required to do it to yourself, you feel grateful for it. You have to meet death sometime, and since death is taking his time-out it, you go to the mountains to meet him in a brave and responsible way. It’s an act of sturdy virtue, really; I am trying to learn the merit of it by writing this.
Now we in the Balkan can also measure out time in a more pleasant and palatable way: you drink 40 year old brandy, and to compensate, you distill a similar brandy that someone else will drink in 40 years.
My father gave me, for my fortieth birthday a whiskey he bought when i was born. It was already 12 years old when he bought it. He included a handwritten note stating: this whiskey is older than you, it is your birthday today and i hope you will find the right moment to enjoy it.
I kept the old bottle on my piano, as a trophy of time and love…expecting the right moment to arrive. And then the moment came, my mother died. I was hollowed out with grief, but also in a strange elation, so I decided to guzzle down that bottle… So I went to snatch it off its treasured place on my piano, and my treasure was gone. Somebody, at a party maybe, had simply appropriated it and chugged it down.
I was stunned and amazed at the loss of my bottle, in denial about it, like the loss of my mother. I was forty-seven.
Many years later i realized that I had never carefully checked the date on the bottle. So maybe dad had stretched the truth about the age of that whiskey. After his death I found a locked drawer where he’d stored quite of few other identical bottles, with no particular care for their age and rarity. When it came to the hushed sanctity of totems like vintage whiskey, my father knew a lot about the power of suggestion. When handling items like whiskey, my father was a very bright guy.
Okay I confess, I have never fully understood the fable of the turtle and the rabbit. I can’t understand the nature of this senseless competition and who we are supposed to cheer to victory, or why. Maybe that’s why i love writing about it so much. When the moral of the story simply dashes past you, or entirely fails to arrive, you can enjoy the tale as pure fantasy. The turtle and the rabbit: maybe they can give up that undignified racing, and devote their precious time to discovery and exploration.
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 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 abstraction, 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.
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 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, 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 through 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; woman 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.
I was in Pompeii yesterday, getting my purse stolen. Getting a bag snatched by lazzaroni seemed like a proper, timelessly Pompeiian thing to do, that town with its all too obvious tourist-robberies, slave-markets, public combat-pits, stoney little brothels. Thieves can be impressively skilled, and dangerous only when they want to be…
Pompeii, a city full of the doomed, luckless wretches whose sybaritic seaside town was transformed into a stone museum of itself. Lacking geological records, they had no idea that the local mountain, Vesuvius, could do such an awesome thing…. Some suffocated almost instantly in a vast cloud of red-hot ashy darkness, likely never knowing what had hit them…
It’s easy to know how they would have reacted: like any living Neapolitan. Naples and its crooked little streets, full of petty commerce, tasty snacks, street-wise characters with a thousand ways to get by, some of them even honest.
Pompeii is like a proof-of-concept for a woman determined to grapple with time.
Because the town was standing there, rather glamorously, with fashionable stores, fast-food joints, mansions alive with mosaics and frescoes, house-plants, whorehouses, hot baths, places to pee…An eclectic variety of temples, cults from all over the Mediterranean, but not a Christian church in sight.
The weight of the ash fall knocked most of the roofs in, so it’s a bit skeletal. But it still features greedy, self-indulgent tourist gobbling bad Pompeii fast-food pizzas… The public square with a valiant warrior on horseback has quite the feeling of the martial horse in downtown Belgrade… Different warriors, but a militant society always ready for a scrap…. They don’t even copy one another, they simply arise from the same attitude…
Then there’s the famously dead mummified stony bodies, real people, seized in hot-packed ash and turned, millennia later, into plaster lampoons of themselves… And the gloomy stadium, a public death-pit bigger than a town square, where the locals could enjoy the edifying spectacle of slaves and criminals — like the guy who stole my purse — ripped publicly to shreds by starving imported lions… To walk into that arena today, with its impregnable walls, is to sense how eagerly the general public likes to see people dead.
They were very up-front about the public slaughter entertainments, unlike the whorehouses, which have a furtive, ashamed, downmarket look, small claustrophobic rooms with mere stone shelves rather than beds. The prostitutes didn’t sell sex, they had already been sold entirely as slaves and were having their bodies rented out. Nothing more, nothing less, the world as it is, the time as it is. It was far less scary than I imagined, because it was so up-to-date.
I realized, the prospect of being dead doesn’t bother me. What gives me my angst is the fear of not being in time, of not participating any more, of running out of time. Once I realize that the condition of death doesn’t scare me, I feel good about myself, I feel brave, but to run out of time, to have no more time to live, I circle that concept anxiously, like a moth around a flame. Unlike mayflies, which have their one sunlit day, moths are like memories, dusty, furtive. They eat your best clothes, moths; they turn them to rags, which have to be thrown away.
My grandma used to look at these black and white photographs, of people I know scarcely at all. I remember her saying, staring at them and squinting her wrinkled eyes: that must be me, the girl on the far left.
Now I can look at these old photos and I feel a calm interest. I don’t know them all, but I don’t mind them; I feel a camaraderie with them. I feel a solidarity with them; one for all and all for one. This morning, I feel like we are all blessed by time, rather than afflicted by it. A year ago, when I began this diary, the sight of these photographs hurt me. Maybe I am cured.
A sharp feeling that this whole episode will be over some time, maybe even quite soon. Maybe it is foolish to relax…. I might have a relapse…but still it is true. My giddy time-sickness can’t last forever, any more than a sea-sickness does.
I still have polaroid photos of my daughter’s childhood. When I created those instant photos, now oddly discolored, with an obsolete chemical camera, did I ever think of how soon those days would end? My family, my vocation as a young mother? Did I realize that the struggle to raise a child, really, the bliss of it, was a passing episode?
No, I didn’t know that. As I captured the instants of time with the Polaroid, I didn’t even know that the condition I was in was a bliss. Some other young mother has the bliss and what I have are these bad polaroids, which popped out like bread from a toaster and have now gone impressively rotten with chemical decomposition.
My father also made polaroids, God bless him… although I didn’t think much of them as he took them, in fact I disdained his efforts, because I had been to film school and knew what real photographs were. Now I cling to a chemical scrap of memory.
I can stop these pangs of nostalgia, if I want to. I can take a plane, disembark in some place new to me, drink the strange local liquor, get weather-beaten. I can jump in a chilly sea until my feelings freeze… I won’t forget, but I can expand my capacity to endure more. I am a Cassandra of the airports, jetlagged to hell and gone, mistress of my own clock. Truly yours, incurable.
I had some dazzlingly brilliant thought at dawn, while half asleep, about time and how one should write about it… Of course I don’t remember a thing.
Instead, I got up and started to house-clean. Collecting rubbish, little crumbs, dirt, pollen even, microscopic, health-damaging particles of smog have become a specialty…
My dreamy clairvoyance had something to do with that, writing tiny statements about the smallest crumbs of time, like a lunatic on a park bench who rants to some curious child… writing, in minute detail, about minutes. Maybe there’s something to that.
In any case, I think I know how my diary of one year concludes. I began it in the mountains, so I must end it on the beach. Like the flow of time, which is entropic, downhill.
My family were mountain people of sorts, mountains are a native Balkan heritage, a place of cracks and valleys, limited, cosy warm-hearted, and cruel like sharp peaks and landslides.
The ocean before me is fluid, mutable, unknowable. I am not myself a shadowy mountainous landscape where crooked valleys carry water downhill to a vast, sunlit sea, but maybe everybody is. So may it be!
Entropy is my thought for the day. I think I finally understand this mysterious jargon term from physics, a trendy buzzword that that has annoyed me for my whole life. Entropy: of course everything goes downhill, and the rule of the casino is the second law of thermodynamics; you can never win, you can’t even break even.
However, entropy is how patches of order emerge from the chaos, through time. And at the edge where the order meets chaos, between the dullness of randomness and the dullness of a too-rigid, crystalline order, that is life. The human adventure takes place in that interregnum, between the stony order of the mountains and the flat stolid churning of the sea. I don’t have to fear entropy, or ignore it as something alien to me. It’s not at all alien; it is the human condition.
I have strange dreams here in Ibiza, this hilly little island in the sea. They are simple dreams, yet realistic, even hyper-real.
A man knocked on my door, a man with the burden of time on his wrinkled face, but he didn’t belong in my present. He was a man from my past, and also a man from my future. He was an Intruder.
I didn’t open the door to him, and he walked away, backwards. I am still shivering.
The smell of the nineteen-seventies. I still remember it, something like pot, or patchouli. Ibiza smells like that, actually. I remember the seventies by that smell.
In the 70s I was an adult, for I escaped my golden cage. It was golden, but it smelled like the rust on barbed-wire.
Then, many different places in the world, with different smells. When I felt them constraining me, I left. For years I wandered, reinventing myself, until at length, I became anxious.
I wanted a cage, but on my own terms. It didn’t have to be golden but it had to shelter me. But it had no smell. I had no idea what it should smell like.
I understand the smell of freedom: can I describe it, should I? Sharp and sweet , strong and short. Like freshly baked morning bread. Like the smell of the skin of my new born daughter. Freedom, as if nothing could hold or constrain me, and yet, my past was always there. Looming over me, full of warnings, full of lessons.
It is dawning in Ibiza. Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year 2018. I am observing the sunrise and the sunset most every day on this island. I am not from around here; an island for dancers, off the southern coast of Spain, was never any legacy of mine.
It is an ancient and beautiful island, it will stay beautiful, without me, some day. My life, with and without me. Me, without my life, belonging to the ages. Me, just a flow of words, like a lingering aroma. Thoughts, and emotions, don’t grow old, and they can be put into words. Forever, forever.
The shortest day in this year seems like a nice day. It doesn’t have much sunlight to offer, but I am out to absorb it. I had to fight off some dreams in the night’s extensive darkness, but they didn’t cling me. It felt good to be in what people comically call a “foreign land;” if only I lived in a spacecraft, where I could see the whole earth at once, I would devote a long diary to putting all that straight.
This year of brooding contemplation was troublesome. I am glad to be rid of it; my head feels lighter now, like shedding a pair of antlers.
If you are a young time traveller, and burdened by the thought of all the time ahead, let me tell you: I have few regrets. I generally did the right thing rather than wallowing in what I knew was the evil thing, and if I had those same choices to make, I would likely do much the same. My life was difficult, I was beset by persistent troubles, but I found ways out, if only by episodes.
The trouble of the human condition didn’t go away, on the contrary, I am still human. But I am free of the smaller, particular troubles, the haunting traumas, a set bad of experiences, that still hurt me, though my body was fine. They were like phantom limbs for someone who still rejoiced in all her toes and fingers. Now I am better off, not because I have forgotten them, but because I find I can live without them. I outgrew them, spiritually. Now they are childish dreams or adult nightmares, just memories.
I still hurry too much, I still overthink trouble and anticipate it before it hits, I still plan too much and act too little. I am presumptuous about time; I imagine that I am ahead of it and I tend to think I can store it in cans. My efforts are useless, mostly, except for riding a turbulent, twisting river from the stormy mountains to the sea. There, I do well.
Memories like drops of blood, carne della mia carne, me, the one and only me, and only possible me, the best of all possible mes. I had so many great meta-memories, that entirely escaped ink and paper. Thoughts about memories, poetic fragments, flitting half-remembered things, premonitory hints. I should have been a more disciplined writer, I should pounced like a panther on every one of them, because none of them are in this little book. They are not even memories anymore, just memories of memories.
No troubling theories about time today, just observations of daily life. Things that sound-out, like the pressing doorbells.
When I was 14, I read St Augustine, who was noted for his sacred writing about time. Almost fifty years later, I can say that I am grateful to him, in my non-grateful fashion.
It is through the religious tradition that I know what “epiphany” is. I have been known to have those. Once, as a child, I was simply standing in the street, when I saw myself from the outside. I was the doppleganger witness of a little girl, with short bangs, in a child’s summer dress.
Also, I saw an aura around myself. It was some kind of mystic firewall, like divine protection, but isolation, too. Although there were two of me, the subject and the witness, I was alone, alone…ALONE.
It was indeed an epiphany, because I have always been alone in that way. I associate a fiery heat with that moment, it must have been a very hot summer day… I felt swoony, like the vertigo of Saint Theresa. But I was also a witness to my own presence as a being in the world, and that felt good.
St Augustine’s Confessions told me a lot about confessions. He may have been my first guru as a confessional writer. He was revealing his inner self in those confessions, a man and sinner struggling for sainthood, give me chastity and continence, only not yet. This was enthralling enough to get a fourteen year old girl to pore over obscure Latin terms, on dense pages with tiny print, with undiagnosed astigmatism. Chastity and continence were Augustine’s shields against aspects of the human condition that would come to mean a lot to me. Love was waiting for me.
To be fourteen is very young, but as I grow older, my younger self seems younger. I have a picture of myself handy from 12 years ago when I was 52.
I didn’t much like that picture, I thought I looked like some haggard woman-of-experience. Now I see myself as quite pretty, an ingenue with beautiful eyes and a tender, confiding gaze.
Maybe I’ll persist to be a centenarian, more like a scrawny tree than some temptress Pompeiian girlfriend of the chaste Saint Augustine. What will the world see of me, and when I turn my ancient, clouded eyes on myself, who will I see there?
Once I had a bag stolen from me, that held many personal souvenirs. I’m never gotten over my burning rage and sense of injustice at that theft. It was a pretty purple bag, I quite liked it, but the bag, and its contents, and the money it are long gone now. It’s not like I buried the bag; it’s not like the loss of my mother. But I can’t let go of my indignant fury; it eats away at me, and I live in dreadful fear of having another purse snatched, although, since I’m a traveller, it happens rather often.
Still, I can’t get over it. To lose a mother is one thing, but to lose the precious evidence of a mother, that loss is cruel and severe.
A warning memory surfaced this dawn in Ibiza, while I was watching the streetlights wink out, replaced by daylight.
I remembered myself as a child, sulking alone in a room, or rather, petrified to forsake the room and be out in the noise of the world. I was stubbornly afraid to abandon my own private thoughts and meet other children, while grown-ups, of course, were much worse. I was in a catatonic state, without any knowledge of what was happening to me, or any words for it.
That’s an unpleasant memory, to be pouncing on me here at dawn on an island, because now that I know I have been in that stark condition, I also know I could be there again. I could slip into a profound state of isolation, too agoraphobic to open a door. But that was me, all right, and it makes the course of my life clearer to me. It’s a pillar among the monuments of memory; a stark warning sign, maybe, but at least I see it clearly now.
Me and my troubled love life. I knew what the emotion of love was, I knew what pleasure was, but I was afraid too often. I was made to be afraid too often, pleasure had too much of the taint of threat, violence, punishment. Fear made me long for protection.
An emotional and physical dependence, the state of being sheltered that was what I called LOVE.
I dreamt of my first kiss, under a lamp-post. It was like being wrapped in light.
The past shrinks itself to be packed into memories. Huge rooms, that towered over a small child, become tiny. Dreadful scoldings, just human remarks. The adored older generation, just another set of people. That huge terrace with a looming tree in Cairo, just a terrace in Egypt. My dad’s towering anger, just my dad expressing some worries. My mom’s beautiful fairy tale green gown, just a dress of the era.
And so they dwindle, the people I adored or feared, the places I inhabited or fled. Even the guilt shrinks. Why feel huge pangs about small things? I can’t condemn myself for being human.
And here we arrive we arrive on the planetary merry go round. I started this diary of time a year ago. Do you remember how it started? Now it’s just a memory…
“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…”