Thursday, January 11, 2007

Keeping Time

I turned 38 a week ago. A delightfully curvaceous pair of numbers, wouldn't you say? I never mind, at least so far, turning a year older. It's better than the alternative, as my grandmother would say. But more than that, I like its reminder that time is passing.

I like the way age is phrased in French. J'ai trent-huit ans. I have 38 years in my life. In some ways, the English phrasing is accurate--but it's a bit presumptuous: I am 38 as if 38 sums me up.

I received a wonderful gift from my friend, srf, for my birthday. It's called the ECOlogical Calendar: A New Way to Experience Time, created by Antenna (a theater company) and published by Pomegranate. The ECOlogical Calendar emerged from a project by Antenna called AllTime in which they try to refocus our attention on the age of the universe rather than our usually constricted notion of time as counted out by the Gregorian Calendar. If you want to know what time it is, click here.

The ECOlogical Calendar incorporates many different ways that we experience the passing of time on earth: changing seasons, phases of the moon, changing tides, shifts in weather or winds, shifting biological behavior of plants and animals, seasonal stars, visible planets, and more. The calendar seeks to release us from our constricted, industrialized notion of time. In the introduction to the calendar they write: "As societies grew increasingly urbanized and diversified through industrial and technological progress, the calendar became more like a clock: a continuous, never-ending march of numbers, a business machine telling us when to be where, with appointments to keep and obligations to be met."

Aside:
As for me, I've never primarily experienced time in terms of numbers. I never experience anything in terms of numbers, not even math! Which is why I suck at math! :) When we did word problems in the sixth grade, I was always much more interested in the stories behind the problems. "Ann and David are traveling on two trains to Washington DC. Ann's train is going sixty miles per hour and her destination is 120 miles away. David's train is traveling 90 miles per hour and his destination is 240 miles away. Who will arrive at their destination first?"

That was the least interesting question to ask, as far as I was concerned. Why are Ann and David traveling on two different trains? Do they know each other? If not, will they meet? Why are they going to Washington DC? Who are their seat mates? How early did they each have to get up to catch their trains? Are they being reunited after being apart for a long time? Are they going home? Or leaving home? When Ann looks out the window, does she catch the reflection of someone else (a man? or a woman?) who is gazing at her? Is David reading a book on the train? Does he fall asleep and miss his stop? How would this affect who gets there first?

Needless to say, I had to go to the math tutor for extra help with word problems...


So one way the ECOlogical calendar undoes the sense of time as an endless progression of numbers is that they rename every day of the week to be something different--all 365 days! The names are lovely, whimsical, and rooted in the seasons (at least on the northern hemisphere). As you gaze across the week, a poem of sorts begins to emerge. So, for instance, this week, beginning on Saturday, the names of the week are:

FrozenSeas
DistantSilent
BarrenTrees
AlpineLake
HowlGale
WindBreak
SquirrelTail

That just makes me smile. And it's such a pleasure to check the calendar every day to find out the day's name. (Now to get these names embroidered on my days-of-the-week undies!) :)

Thing is, I constantly notice many of the things around me all the time. When I walk outside at night, for instance, the first thing I do is look at the sky to check for stars, the moon, clouds, or the silhouette of trees against the sky. But what this calendar has helped me realize is that in noticing these things, I am keeping time.

Because my calendar is an engagement calendar, each day has a few blank lines next to it. I've taken to writing brief notes on each page of something I happened to notice that day. I'll leave you with a few of my entries. I'll use the Gregorian date as well as the new day name.

Jan 3, LusterNight: beautiful moon!
Jan 4, Snow: Windy day, D arrives home
Jan 5, EarthGlow: Monk writes his first page of cursive for homework
Jan 7, SleetGlint: birds singing outside the Safeway
Jan 8, FrozenSeas: Spying constellations with Monk and D (Orion, Bootes, Gemini, Cassiopeia) Beautiful, half moon (lying on her back) at the horizon. HUGE!

2 comments:

Katherine said...

I love it! I'd take words over numbers any day.

cyen said...

Cool post.
Reminded me of this website:
http://www.longnow.org
I bet Monk would enjoy naming the days too :)
Did you see the "jackalope" constellation? (It's a "hillbilly" constellation according to Reno 911 ;)
I think I'll name this day: Mushroom Cheese steak.