It is funny what you notice, sitting at your desk over a few years’ time. Due to the changing of the seasons and the angle of the sun, this is the time of year I start to get what I call the the second sunrise. My apartment faces East, and in the mornings I always get the sunrise and light streaming in, sometimes quite intensely. And starting near the beginning of April, around 5:30 in the afternoon or so, I also get a quite intense light of the sunset reflecting off the buildings across from me. Since I am facing East, I call this my second sunrise of the day.
And I like how the simple act of noticing these things connects me to the planet, the sun and the mystic past. All the places on earth where ancient peoples erected alignments of stones and portals and buildings to keep track of time and the seasons and their place in the order of things.
My parents are here visiting, and they brought me a box of old photos and letters that I had left at their house before I left on my world tour in 2006. I was hoping to find some photos of my friend Andrew to take up to Toronto next week when I go, so I had asked them for it. I wasn’t at all prepared for the wave of nostalgia that would confront me when going through all of this. I found, in addition to hundreds of photos covering roughly 1988 to 2005, a ton of old letters of all sorts: Letters from family members, old boyfriends (and girlfriends), postcards, thank you notes, old administrative copies. Some of these things made me queasy with sensations both familiar and foreign all at the same time. I came across things that made me marvel at how young we all were. I saw things that I hadn’t any recollection of at all. I came across many items connected to people I am no longer in touch with and don’t know why. I saw photos that were lovely and some that made me cringe.
I decided to sort them into piles roughly by place: Paris here, San Francisco there, LA, New York, road trips of all sorts. And in and among these, I started to come across a few of Andrew. I stared at them each for a few moments longer than the rest. As I finally made my way through the entire pile, I wondered why I didn’t have any of Andrew and I together in the same photo. Some of them I had taken, some our friend Karin had sent me. But it made me a little sad that there weren’t any of us in the same frame. As if to put a point on our long distance friendship and the fact that now we never would take one together. I also found some photos of the apartment we shared on Rue Damrémont and I will take those and the others along to Toronto to share with Shaan and Andrew’s friends. I am left with a ghostly melancholy from all of this, and a sense of the rapid passage of time, things slipping away, never to be captured anew.
Another great byproduct of working on a project that makes such heavy use of time zones and world mapping is that it piques my curiosity about these things. Did you know for example that time zones are a fairly recent invention? That they were needed by the invention and use of higher speed forms of travel like the train? That before the International Meridian Conference, held in 1884, there were no time zones and generally around the world the day as we understand it started at noon and not midnight? And before that of course the day was just the variable period in which there was sunlight (as opposed to night, the variable period of darkness). And before this conference (and afterwards as localities slowly adopted the resolutions of it), each place had its own time, a more precise division of where they were on the globe. Which I guess meant for example that Manhattan could have had a time that was a few minutes different from Brooklyn and even greater difference from Boston. Each city or locality set its time based on noon, meaning when the sun was highest in the sky. You can imagine how this made making train schedules somewhat difficult, as they would have had to calculate a far greater number of times of arrival than they do today with only 24 zones to consider. I find it really fascinating that a scientific or industrial notation for understanding things becomes intertwined with our sense of the world and what is “natural” or “normal”. The precision with which we need to understand the day is entirely a result of commerce and transportation. And yet at this point is feels perfectly natural to consider midnight the dividing point between days, even as our sleep cycles say something completely different.
An don’t even get me started on Daylight Saving Time…
I absolutely HAVE TO reset my clock to a different schedule. Juliette and I have been the early birds for this entire trip, getting up around 6 or 7 and launching into our days, crashing normally around 11 (or 10) in the evening and starting the whole cyle the following day. This is not in any way normal for the people of Peru, who seem to be (if our hosts Jaoquin and Ricardo are any indication) quite the night owls. Last night we arrived around 8, had dinner out around 11 and then Juliette crashed while I went to a birthday party with Joaquin and Ricardo. Since this was well past my normal bedtime, I was pretty out of it and I would guess that my party conversation could be compared (rather unfavorably) with watching paint dry. After that, Joaquin was still full of energy and wanted to go out dancing, but I finally made it back to bed at their apartment. Tonight Juliette leaves to go back to London, and I have a big all night dance party to attend with our hosts. I am going to try to take a big disco nap and get an intraveneous caffiene drip so that I can begin to shift my schedule forward by a couple of hours. I have it so rough, don’t I? Wish me luck.
I had a breakfast date with a guy this morning for 10am. We set the date a few days ago, and didn’t bother to confirm, so I was ready for the possibility that he wouldn’t show (as happens often here if one doesn’t confirm). So imagine my surprise when he shows up at 10am on the dot. We had a lovely breakfast and conversation covering a wide range of topics, and he seems like a real sweetheart. As the topic of appointments and time came up, he was in total agreement with me over my assessment and admitted that it was something that bothered him as well. When I asked him what was different about his conception of time and engagement from the rest of the populace, he had an interesting take on it. He told me he thought it was at least partially related to the culture of religion, not just place. His family is Protestant (only about 6% of the population here), and he felt because of that he was raised with a somewhat different ethic with regard to promises and engagements. Interesting.
Why is it so ingrained in us? Is is the fear of death, of non-existence? Is our relationship to time inborn, or culturally nurtured? I tend to think it is a little of both actually. My experience in a variety of other cultures has shown me that we need not be as time (and therefore youth and death) obsessed as we are taught to be in the West. I have learned that the present and eternity can be one and the same, and I have learned to find peace in the now. And yet, this tick-tock is still largely my frame, no matter how much I try to break free of it. I know in my head that time obsession is a frame of mind, yet deep inside me its imagined importance keeps creeping, and rearing it’s ugly head on occasion. As June 10th (the day I fly to LA) approaches, I feel the weight of some unknown decision that some part of me is telling myself I must make. Will I return to Mexico in a month or two (to continue learning Spanish and work for a time)? Will I take a job in the US? Will it be in SF, LA, NYC? Will I take the rest of my savings and travel South America? Will I return to a job in technology (the easiest path) or will I try to work as a writer or something else?
Part of the reasons these are weighing on me a bit is that a date (June 10th) is approaching. And part of the reason is that I feel at a crossroads and don’t know what I want. But really I am not bound (at least not yet) by anything other than some self imposed perception. I don’t really have to do anything until my savings run out, and that won’t be for at least another 6 months. My wiser, inner self is telling me to chill out.