Oh Sweet Jesus! Let’s talk about TIME! I spend a relatively large chunk of my waking hours wishing that kronos would speed the hell up so that these past four years might fade more rapidly into the background of my life. All the while, I beg for time to please, please SLOW DOWN because… well… apparently, there’s a biological time bomb ticking away in my ovaries. And underpinning all of it – especially throughout these past few months – I am tormented by a constant sense that there is never, NEVER EVER ENOUGH TIME. I’m harangued by a nagging voice reminding me constantly just how “behind” I am. My inner critic looks over my writing from the past year and shakes her head disapprovingly. Just four measly blogs? And this one itself has been in process for five months?
“Tsk. Tsk,” says time. (Or at least that’s what my mind tells me that time said.)
For months now (since before the last post In the Name of Rafa) I’ve been thinking and feeling into many different aspects of time. Ironically, I’ve not found the time to come here and express myself. Over the holidays was listening to a conversation between my colleague, Duncan Autrey, and the stunning, brilliant and inspirational Alixa Garcia. Alixa had a few things to say about time, including this:
Colonization has monopolized and monocropped and single-filed what used to be pachakuti. Pachakuti is a Quechua word for time being spiral, moving inward.. not this linear concept of time, but a spiral understanding of the universe where the past and the presents and the future are always intersecting with one another… Time is this great arm of colonization… this process of dividing time…
Imagine if time was outside of time; what if time was returned back to pachakuti? … Instead of this linear thing from birth to death… instead it was a spiral. What if that [idea] entered our collective narrative and becomes part of the mainstream of our collective narrative? What kind of new possibilities, ideas, concepts, expansions could we engage with as a species?
The concept of pachakuti finally gave me a doorway into this writing.
Have you heard this idea that all possibilities of all occurrences are actually happening simultaneously on different planes/universes? This odd thought that all the things that have ever happened or will ever happen are actually happening now, in this instant?
I’m admittedly a bit skeptical of this theory. If it’s so, than how come Rafa or Ramona or the other baby of ours are not actually here with us? Or why is my consciousness not in that place where they are alive and exist? But through the lens of pachakuti maybe I can understand and express more of what I am living in these strange days, weeks, months… oh time, you are everywhere and nowhere at once.
In August of last year, I started writing a post which spoke very specifically to a moment in time… and a chronology of things. It was directly linked to the ideas and experiences I had written about two months before. When I came back to writing one month later I was in a very different place. I left this unfinished writing on the page and let the words free-flow and this poured fourth:
There’s nothing we can do to change the limbo-ness of this existence.
What happens when so much time passes between beginning to write something and then coming back and the cognitive and emotional dissonance between “here” and “there”? I am no longer feeling spacious or well. I mostly feel like it’s the end of the world, really. Not in a metaphoric or transformational death-birth-cycle, bullshit kind of way. Like really: we are dying.
The part of me in denial of all this shitty shit-ness is the same part that keeps me so busy with other people’s shit that I never sit down here to write out my heart, my thoughts, my sadnesses, my longings, my questions… the part that can’t bear the ugliness. I was going to write “the pain,” but this ain’t pain. It’s just plain, petty yuck. And then there is the part (it’s quite meek and tiny) that beckons me, with a nearly invisible crooked finger, to come closer… to just be with it… to see what’s here in this mucky, poopy, uncomfortable and undesirable place. It’s like: what if all this that I’m feeling about the world doesn’t fit neatly into the neatly organized boxes for blogs with intriguing titles that harken back to where I was two years ago when I first started writing all this shit? The truth is, how can I not look at our shitty, angry, confused and frustrated pandemic-riddled world and think: really, what is all this for?
This writing, entangled with other words and experiences coalesced into The Tupperware Tub back in September. And that moment of feeling calm and positive in August was somehow left behind. Or was it? I thought what I had written would no longer be relevant, that I’d missed my chance to share… Now, it’s been five months and, of course, I have passed through even more feelings, states of being, ups and downs, twists and turns. Obviously, I am not the same. But I’d wager that this time back at the end of the summer is still alive in what my friend Bayo Akomolafe and his mentor, Karen Barard, might call “the thick now.”
I sense the need to rethink, or perhaps better still, to re-feel the way I’m relating to time. In his book These Wilds Beyond Our Fences, Bayo writes: “In order to help this world-eating machine of capital globalization grow more tentacles, a universal time and singular future was pressed upon everyone. A linear notion of time – one that flows from past to present and to the future – helped foreground the discourses of development and progress as the engine of a Future-yet-to-come… The rituals of attending to what the world is doing are displaced by new modern rituals of trying to escape it.” In the end, I do not need to fall prey to the single story about what time is and how it works. While our understanding of linear time within the prison of modernity is, indeed, just a concept, it feels like this kind of time is always hot on my heels… constraining my movements and thoughts… creating the conditions for the air I breathe and water I swim in to be infused with anxiety and worry.
As I have written about before, all of time changed for me when Rafa died and was born. Yet the way that I experience life would make it seems that I am entrapped by the relentless grip of linear time. I seem to be constantly ruminating about the dates, years and months: romanticizing the times “before all of this,” when I was largely innocent about the experience of pain; or feeling full of regret for now cherishing the blips on the radar of my life when I was pregnant; or churning because I cannot know what the future holds. While all of these feelings are real and valid, is my attachment, obsession almost with time in its linear expression serving me? If so, how?
One of the aspects of the new materialistic perspective on time is that “the past is not fixed and is often resituated.” When I first read this, I balked: How could this possible?! I cannot go “back” and bring any of my babies to life in this now. They are all dead! Bayo acknowledges that this non-linear experience of time doesn’t signify that “we can change the past, go back in time and correct it, or simply come up with new interpretations of happenings, as if the world were simply a product of our meaning-making ventures.” It still feels like a small slap in the face.
But I read more of Bayo’s book and these ideas about time go deeper and become even more convoluted (in the best of ways). Karen Barard writes: “What we are seeing here is that time is not given, it is not universally given, but rather that time is articulated and re-synchronized through various material practices. In other words… the ‘past’ was never simply there to begin with, and the ‘future’ is not what will unfold, but ‘past’ and ‘future’ are iteratively reconfigured and enfolded through the world’s ongoing intra-activity. There is no inherently determinate relationship between past, present, and future.”
So, no, I cannot “go back” to change anything about the past. However, the now I am in is in constant, changing and entangled relationship with all that happened during Rafa’s conception, my pregnancy, his death, birth, the months afterwards… the other two pregnancies and miscarriages. Now THAT is a magnetizing proposal. Barard’s perspective also suggests that what is happening now is also intractably interwoven with what is to come; that what and how I am in this very instant is “reconfiguring and enfolding” what will happen down the line (¡ay yay yay! what terrible linear temporal metaphors we have).
This perspective on the present moment is relieving for a number of reasons:
- I sometimes feel self-critical for being so obsessed with what has happened in our lives these past years and frustrated because I cannot know what will happen in the future. This particular view of time quiets that inner critic and alleviates suffering about the suffering that I tend to create.
- These ideas about time are not about our narratives. I don’t take what Barard says about the now to mean that we are simply in a constant renegotiation of our stories about the past or the future. I see what she’s saying is that time is actually pachakuti… not only spiral time but entangled time. There is no separating past, present or future; they simply do not stand alone.
- Finally, I’m just less self-reproachful for the “long” lapses of linear time that have passed between post and post this past year. Each time that I have hit the “Publish” button is not a simple, singular moment but an assemblage of feelings, experiences, reflections, ideas written by hand or typed out in this document, words crossed out or erased… paragraphs cut and pasted… time all scrambled up. It doesn’t seem the same as: “everything has unfolded as it was meant to” or “the future is already written,” rather something much stranger and challenging for my modern mind to grasp… ungraspable, even.
Before we go into the linear-time scrambler machine here and I share the words from so many months ago (a.k.a. right now; a.k.a. 17 years from now), there’s a tender and vibrant topic that I’d just like to touch on: my own victim consciousness. This may be a theme alive for many of us today, given cancel culture and the hegemony of political correctness and identity politics predominant in many places these days. It also seems to be a symptom of the deep-seeded fear, racism and prejudice which run rampant everywhere. I sometimes notice how I see myself as a victim of my own life and the things that have happened “to me.” I ask myself how it is possible that I could have relinquished the idea of getting pregnant four years ago, only to get pregnant, only to have that baby die after nine months together. I ask myself how other people (some of whom don’t even want to have babies) are getting pregnant and having kids left and right (twins even!). I then also remember the hundreds of people I know who have also experienced the death of a baby or young child: stillbirth, miscarriage, SIDS, accidents. I’m not that special.
I also think back on the hours, days, weeks and months after Rafa’s birth and ask myself how I survived them. How I was working again just two months after the birth. How I went on to jump back into such a busy and burdensome life. I suppose this takes me back to the topic of time again because I think that it was one experience then and now it is another (though all of the moments live wrapped in and around each other, of course). Now, I think: did I ever imagine that I would spend every day of my life for the next two and half years thinking about this? Did I ever imagine that this experience would so fully penetrate and alter my day-to-day living? No. I did not imagine that then. I was not thinking it then.
But I am not a victim of my life. And I do not need to feel badly about the way that Rafa’s life and death and birth have altered my living in such a quotidian way. It seems that being able to see how I make myself the victim and then being able to see how I might step out of that mindset is a pivotal part of my journey on this planet at this time. That does not mean that I do not suffer or wish that things could be different still, but I feel the need to accept my suffering and my wishing as part of who I am and to trust that these experiences and learnings are shaping me and the future in a meaningful way. But I still ask myself questions like: What purpose does this ubiquitous victim mentality serve in our world today? How does it pit humans against one another and against the world, nature, even the divine? What is it that we feel we are owed in this world? How might constant comparison with others’ lives be a cancer that eats away at us from within?
So… ready for time travel? There’s even a wormhole within the wormhole as a good amount of this writing was about memories that I was having of Rafa’s labor and birth. Let’s go back and see what I had to say some five months ago now! What will be alive for me/us in this now? I remind you all that this was written after coming out of a month-long break from plans and work during the second anniversary of Rafa’s death.
Read A Birth, Still.