Time’s Illusion

Time is supposed to be an illusion created by our brains to organize events into past, present, and future. (I’m sure there are other, more scientific reasons for the illusion, but as a practical application, in day-to-day living, that’s what it seems like.)

Everything that exists or has ever existed is supposed to exist in the eternal right now. We project onto that reality our own perspective. Time does not flow, nor do we flow through time, but whatever the truth, time’s illusion seems to be getting stronger. I can’t tell if I am standing still and time is slipping away beneath my feet or if I am floating on the river, but either way, whatever this thing we call “time” really is, it seems to be slipping away from me.

I just started a new job, and already, I am into my third week, (I’ve already had my first paycheck, and boy, did that feel good!) All that time . . . gone. And so fast! When I got the woman’s house yesterday, she asked what I’d done on my weekend, and for the life of me, I couldn’t think of anything specific. She thought I didn’t want to tell her, but to be honest, I couldn’t remember doing enough things to have filled in all those hours. I watered my plants, took a walk (three miles!), read copiously, probably ate too much, probably didn’t drink enough, and the time slipped by.

Even today, though I had plenty of time to do whatever I wanted, here it is, almost time to go to work, and I’m scrambling to finish this blog. Where did the time go? I took a walk — only two miles, today. Then I relaxed with a cup of tea. Afterward, I fixed salads for the next few days, cleaned the kitchen, talked to my sister for a few minutes on the phone, ate lunch (one of those salads) and then, here I am — sitting at the computer wondering where all the morning hours had gone.

Part of the feeling of time slipping away (or me slipping past time) comes from the practicing the art of living in the moment — trying not remember too much of the past, trying not to project myself into the future (the job helps with that — with enough money to live on for now, I don’t have to worry as much about the future). It’s a great way to live, most of the time, anyway. (See? Can’t get away from time, even in such a careless usage!) The exception comes when I try to figure out what I did while time slipped through my fingers.

A lot of things have become habit — my one-card tarot study each morning, blogging, reading whenever I have a free moment, doing household chores — so none of those things stand out when someone asks what I did.

I suppose I could have told the woman I sailed away on a sea of time, or that I succumbed to time’s illusion, but my sense of philosophical whimsy doesn’t always translate to casual conversations, especially with those who are hard of hearing.

In a novel I read the other day, one of the characters expounded on the importance of war and trauma and atrocities because those are the things that make us feel alive, that create instances of courage and sacrifice, greatness and nobility. According to that character, there’s no purpose to a life of peace and calm because we never learn what we are made of.

I don’t know — a peaceful life cocooned in time’s illusion seems plenty acceptable to me. Do I need to be great or noble or self-sacrificing? Admittedly, dealing with such an adrenaline-laden life would slow down the flow of time, but I’m old enough now that a gentle sail on the sea of time is eventful enough. So what if I can’t immediately recall one specific day out of several similar days? It all comes down to the same thing anyway — if there is no past, did those things even exist? (Now I’m being silly. Of course they did, but I still wonder what happens to those things we did that we forgot.)

I’ve floated into a side stream here and gotten way off the track, which is about how time is slipping away from me. Time might be an artificial construct, but that illusion of the flow of time is getting stronger all the time.

And yep, just sitting, time managed to slip away from me again.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Is Twenty-Five Weeks a Long Time or a Little Time?

Is twenty-five weeks a long time or a little time? I haven’t a clue. All I know is that twenty-five weeks ago my life mate — my soul mate — died of inoperable kidney cancer, and I am still learning to deal with his absence. Sometimes it seems as if he’s been gone forever, and other times it feels as if he just left, as if I should be able to reach out, hold him in my arms, and keep him safe. Strange, that — I couldn’t stop his dying when he was living it. I certainly can’t stop it now that he is gone.

When I was a child, twenty-five weeks seemed a lifetime, especially if I was counting down to Christmas or summer vacation. When the weight of age began settling on my shoulders, twenty-five weeks went by in a flash. Or at least they used to. Now weeks stop and go, dam and flow, and I no longer have a concept of time, perhaps because the passing weeks are not relative to anything but his death and my loss.

Even the future seems long and short by turns. I think of growing old by myself, of learning to live with the limitations aging will bring, and ultimately of dying alone, and the coming years seem long. Yet those same years will still be full of life, maybe even happiness, which will make them feel short.

I do know that twenty-five weeks is a long time when it comes to feeling lost, alone, and confused by this major change — both his and mine. (I am very confused by his death. I worry about him still, feel sad for what he is missing, glad he is beyond pain.) At the same time, twenty-five weeks is way too short to even begin to process all that this experience means and will mean.

So, is twenty-five weeks a long time or a little time? I haven’t a clue.

Making Time, Finding Time, Having the Time of Our Lives

Once upon time when I worked in retail, I noticed that whenever a day seemed to go slowly for those of us womanning the cash registers, customers would complain about how the day was dragging. Conversely, when the day seemed to fly by for us, customers would also comment on how fast the day was passing. I started taking an informal poll then, asking people if the day was moving fast or slow. With but a single exception, the days went either fast for everyone or slow for everyone, which made me think that time was variable, though somehow our bodies and artificial timekeepers managed to key into the new time speed, so there was no way of knowing that time moved at different rates.

Oddly, time is no longer variable for me. It speeds up and keeps speeding up until I wonder how twenty-four hours manage to fit into a single day. Except when I write, of course, then it seems as if time doesn’t exist.

Time is a major factor for all of us. People often ask me how I juggle promotion, writing, and offline life, but the truth is, I don’t juggle very well. I always drop a ball or two so that a single ball is kept in the air at a time. (Am I mixing metaphors?) Right now my offline life is taking precedence (nothing particularly good or bad, just work). I am doing almost no promoting, not keeping up with my discussion groups (except for this one), doing a single blog post a week, and yet all that and more used to fit into a few hours a day. Now it barely fits into a week.

So, let’s talk about time. How do you make the time to write? For those of you who are published, how do you find the time to promote? How do you make sure that you are having the time of your life when you are writing, or does it become work after awhile? If you don’t want to talk about time, feel free to talk about any aspect of writing or your writing life.

Let’s talk.

My writing group No Whine, Just Champagne will be discussing this article during a live discussion about writing and the writing life on Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 9:00pm ET. I hope you will stop by our Writing Discussion #96. If not, leave your comments here. I always enjoy seeing what you have to say.