My oldest daughter Riana was fascinated by numbers when she first discovered them as a child. Numerals actually. She had no concept, really, of what numbers were, no understanding of value or measurement. When she was a toddler these were words she knew and knew she liked. Funny, now she is teaching statistics, but then she would rattle off numerals so proudly, spew them like a mathematician, understanding only the sounds and how they felt on her tongue. “Seventy nine fourteen five million.” She recited them as often as she could, and I am now sure she thrived on our reaction. When we asked her, as we often did, (oh, the things parents do to keep themselves entertained) questions that required a number in the response, it was lovely fun.
Me: “How old are you, honey?”
Riana: “Three hundred twenty eleven.”
Me: “How many days are in a year, Riana?”
Riana: “Thirty five one nineteen two.”
Me: “What time should you go to bed?”
Riana: “Fifteen seventy two thousand o’clock.”
Of course our laughing would reinforce the behavior. But her persistence that the figures correctly answered the questions, and the way she could rattle them off, delighted us. Now she loves data, figures, logic. It started long ago. Fifty three four eighty thirteen.
It really is telling, however, isn’t it, about how much we rely on things like time, weather. Simple numbers provided to us, numbers that we have imagined and systematized. To an alien from another planet we humans might probably sound like Riana when she was a child.
What time is it?
Eleven Forty Two.
What is the date?
Two Twenty Eight Two Thousand Ten Seven.
Three Five Zero.
I so often start my day with an uncontrollable editorializing. I write, and I always note the date. There it begins. It’s the first day of March. Oh my God. Where has February gone? It is 5:15. Good, right on time. It’s Wednesday, third day of the work week, hump day. Okay, here we go, half way there. (Where?????) I slept for seven hours. Nice, now, I have two hours before I have to leave for work, perfect. On and on it goes. A quick analysis of my life, my day, my moments, all based on time. Numbers. Simple constructs we smear over ourselves like lard on glass. Stuck.
We know no time. We have no control over time. And yet we try. My father handled it perfectly. He used to sign his letters with wonderful little ditties. My favorite was this…
Yours ’til the ocean wears pants to keep its bottom dry.
Perhaps it really is the only way to talk about time. With metaphor. Not measure. With exaggeration and imagination. Not mechanics and logic. For all the guidance we hope to get, we are so often lost in the construct anyway. Being a poet type it’s always made more sense to me to approach time this way than the numbers and concepts and philosophies we attempt to attribute to the uncontrollable and unknowable, like time and weather, and love. My dad simply measured how much he loved me by comparing it to the ocean. A tangible. A forever. What more could a girl ask for.
Three forty nine fifty two eleven.
Time rarely soothes us. It messes with us. As we continually attempt to mess with it. How often have you or someone asked “How can it already be 2017?” “Where did the time go?” “March already?” “Lunchtime so soon?”
We question it constantly. As if our construct for it was doubtful. We don’t really believe it. But we all know how it works. Always have. Always will. It, time, does not do anything. We celebrate its passing with anniversaries and birthdays. Yet we condemn its passing almost hourly. Where did the morning go? I am late! (Again.)
Can you believe it’s been a year? Let’s celebrate.
Can you believe it’s been a whole year. How sad.
We can’t make up our minds. Do we like its passing or don’t we? And the ridiculous thing is that it does not matter one little bit because it doesn’t change. It is the same thing year after week after day after minute after month. It just is what it is. Sun up. Sun down.
Thirteen eleven fifty ninety three.
We think we control it with Daylight Savings Time. And that is ridiculous. We think we’ve controlled it with February. Twenty eight days. Or no, let’s make it twenty nine. Wait. Twenty eight. What?
And don’t get me started on the weather. But at least that is more visceral. Sensual. We have absolutely as little control of it, but we can put a jacket on or off. An umbrella up or down. Windshield wipers. Galoshes. Gloves. Bikinis. Sunscreen. We have all kinds of equipment, tools, if you will, to manage how the weather makes us feel. And we complain about it as much as we do time. But for time, we have no tools.
Imagine. Putting on my month umbrella so time doesn’t bother me today. Doesn’t happen. Oh, where are my hour galoshes, so the hours don’t go too fast today. Nope.
Time. No control. No tools or equipment to make us feel better about it, or avoid it, or deal with it. We just invent these silly games. Anniversaries .Birthdays. Alarms. Chimes. Bells. But all they do is tell us time has passed. Which we know. But how much times has passed. Which we measure. Feel in control.
Fourteen twelve one hundred ninety seventeen.
I had a sociology professor back at Wayne State University who requested, did not assign, but requested that we take off our watches, and cover our clocks, for a week. This of course was before cell phones and laptops and tablets. I don’t remember now how many of the 40 some students in the class completed the exercise, but I did. I loved what I learned: that I could still proceeded through the day and the evening in a timely fashion. Slept the right amount, got to work on time, didn’t arrive late to classes. But as much as I might have liked it, when the assignment was over, yeah, well, back to the clocks.
It is a social construct that we have created to control something we can’t control, she said. Or something like that. She proved her point. Here I am rambling on about it years later.
What if we didn’t not only look at a calendar or clock for a day, but didn’t think about it, or talk about it, or comment on it. We would be very quiet. Try it! I dare you.
In the end, my little girl Riana had it right at the early age of three, numbers are fun words, fun to say. To recite and to repeat. Time, weather, age. Numbers. Whatever they mean. I like them. What else to do but write a poem.
An Ode to Wishing We Could
Time droops like a drum
old and cracked
no more rhythm, no beat
rum pum pum it’s bleak
tat tat that hand’s asleep
never ever hitting next
stuck again, again repeat
over and over and it’s complete
time’s a drum when you’re sad
time stays trapped
inside your dread
Time frolicks it rocks
like a child, mismatched socks
might be late, maybe not
nobody notices, where’s the clock
ticking tocking tick tack tock
it runs fast unorthodox
time’s a child
when life’s all right
lined up neatly
Time creeps crazy
like a cat
dressed in black
how’d it get in here
disappeared so fast
slips like oil
down my back
now it’s tomorrow
then it’s next month
slides like tap shoes
slap stop jump
when you’re busy
no time to roll
with the punches
out of control
Time is planted
like religion in sand
roots are hollow
we so want sanity
theory and truth
it’s all silly vanity
round and obtuse
second hand chases
the first and the third
we measure like music
time plays undisturbed.