The Illusion of Progress

I’ve been thinking very intensely about time – a necessary result of writing a time-travel novel – and though I’ve been gathering thoughts on the subject since stumbling in off-campus attics as a freshman in college, discussing seconds passing while slobbering over solo cups of mysterious blue liquids, interrupting myself with “man” and “like” and “whoa” as much as a 90s rad dude stereotype, I’ve come to no firm conclusions on the topic. But it has never failed to fascinate me, and continues to completely boggle me while staring at vistas or sitting in my car alone or staring at blank walls. In popular culture, in the public eye, it’s a topic sidelined to either enthusiastic, poofy-haired physicists drawing maps at CERN or open-minded surfers who are “spiritual, not religious, man.” It’s regulated to the far corners of society, but it touches all of us: What is more ubiquitous than experiencing the strange sensation of time passing along our bodies like the current in a pool?

Some academic-minded English and Psychology majors would say that fear of mortality is a primary motivation for most things, if not everything, from creating a pyramid to writing stories.

I would argue, however, that fear of time and fear of mortality are separate from each other. Death is an event, either desired or feared; time passing is constant. Its motions never stop. It continuously drops on our foreheads as we’re waterboarded by minutes, to the point that, as a thirty-year-old, it’s both blindingly fast and hard to notice.

This latest project, which I have decided to name The Madonna, demands something impossible of me: to imagine an existence outside of time, independent of it. It goes against the whole narrative of our world. There is a beginning, middle, and end.

Of course there is. Indeed, it goes against the whole idea of narrative in the first place.

Something happens, then something else happens. Existence is this. If you’re reading this, you’ve patiently read down the page and are now further along than you were before.

Some who meditate or enjoy illegal substances might claim to tap into the world of the timeless, to let go of ego enough to not feel its weight and float above the waters of time like a buoy.

I believe them; however, no matter what temporary (temporary, temporary) experience you might have with the timeless, you’re always dragged back under.

It’s something I struggle with a great deal. My mother’s illness makes me very uncertain events in the past at times. Guilt and memories can be crushing, and the lack of them is even more terrifying.

And it’s impossible to see the future – but that doesn’t stop me from having ruminations so terrible that they stun me to a catatonic state as I struggle to control, to see, to master the possibilities, trapped between choices like a child between two walls.

And the now? What is now?

Until very recently, I felt a victim of time, as a climber feels the victim of a mountain. It’s taken me many years to realize that, really, now is the only time that not only matters but exists; everything else is a fiction we tell ourselves to make sense of things.

Yes, actions have consequences, and we – as time-based Earthlings – need our consequences to form our moralities, else life would be very difficult. But there’s a reason why AA members tend to “offer up” their past sins to a higher power at the beginning of their programs. Carrying all the weight of it all is too much for them. It cripples them from all action, positive or negative. And if you walk around trying to anticipate a thousand of the most negative and positive possibilities, you will never do anything. For many years, I’ve been frozen by looking up and down the long tunnel we’re all in, petrified by the two mirrors on either side of me showing a row of an infinite amount of objects that that don’t exist.

The past and future are full of distractions, and real meaning is only found when one burrows their eyes into the depths of the present.

To be present. To see. If you cannot see, you cannot create art. If you cannot observe, you cannot judge. If you cannot be present, you cannot be happy.

Perhaps my new book will only be enjoyed by trip junkies and very angry physicists (I’m OK with that), but I want to bring readers to a place where their imaginations can fill in a world in which time exists, surely, but is irrelevant in every sense, powerless next to greater forces. Just because we are trapped in time, that doesn’t mean timelessness can’t exist. We’re not its master, and it’s not a master of us.

Wish me luck, friends!

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