Mar 15, 2005 0:07pm
If you think about who you are now and how much you’ve grown in recent years, how far back do you have to go before you were someone who you wouldn’t now trust to make an important decision? This is your most recent medecessor. (I have my friend Hanne to thank for this charming and apposite word.)
There is no decision I wouldn’t trust the Chris of yesterday to make for me, the Chris of today (except perhaps what to have for breakfast). On the other hand, there is very little I would trust Chris -5yrs with (except perhaps what to have for lunch). Since I first came up with this idea in my teens, the TPM (Time to Previous Medecessor, naturally) has varied widely, from hours to weeks to months and even years. On at least half a dozen occasions in my life my TPM was measurable in minutes, as my psyche was hastily remodelled by the brutal hammer blows of Love, Death or Revelation.
What’s your TPM?
Imagine if you could graph the TPM for every moment of your life, with Time on the x-axis and TPM on the y-axis. What would the shape of the graph be? And — even more interesting — what would you *like* the shape to be? A series of peaks and troughs, a line which asymptotically approaches zero, or an infinitely ascending staircase?
It’s difficult to say for sure, but I think my TPM right now is only weeks. Difficult to say because there is nothing specific I can identify as some kind of tipping point. What has changed? Also hard to answer, but I can characterise it as a kind of settling within. Some changes are sudden, violent, the result of deep tectonic forces. Other changes are more elusive and organic, less perceptible but potentially more significant. Time will show.
The other night I went to see the KRONOS QUARTET play in Brisbane. Two violins, a viola and a cello. You might know them from the ‘Requiem for a Dream’ soundtrack; at least, that was my introduction. They performed works by Australian, European and American composers, including a rendition of a Sigur Ros song and a Hendrix-inspired Star-Spangled Banner as encores. The evening was sublime. Music can claim to be the greatest of arts, being both timeless pattern and time-bound expression. At its best it approaches Theatre.
As I watched the four players, they seemed to me the epitome of Flow, each utterly absorbed by their instrument, yet relaxed, each completely aware of the other three, yet free. (Perhaps not surprising when you learn the group is older than I am.) I’ve been reading about Flow lately, trying to understand how to get into the zone as often as possible. That exhilarating feeling of being so completely absorbed in doing something challenging but achievable that Time dissolves. Listening attentively to Kronos, I approached Flow.
The psychologist Cziksentmihalyi distinguishes people with intrinsic motivation from people with extrinsic motivation. The former are, in the words of Horace, “complete in themselves, smooth and round like a globe”. The latter are the channel-surfers of life, the ones always looking for distractions because they don’t have sufficient internal resources to weave their own meaning from the world. An extreme illustration of this is how people react to solitary confinement. Some people survive relatively unscathed, sustained by internal worlds — one WWII POW even managed to improve his golf handicap, simply by mentally playing a full 18 holes every day. The others go mad.
If you were confined in isolation, what mental resources would you have to sustain Flow? In my case I’m not sure. I’ve begun to memorise things, especially other people’s words — just in case I’m ever subjected to 12 months solitary confinement. A better memory does have other fringe benefits, of course, but training for solitary confinement sounds a tad more exciting than remembering to buy some toothpaste next time I’m at the local Night-Owl.
Time had a beginning, and presumably will have an end. In my case Time will end on Sunday, April 23, 2051. At least according to http://www.deathclock.com, which calculates your Personal Day of Death. It sounds a bit morbid, but I think it concentrates the mind wonderfully to consider the flickering numbers, like the digital count-down to a blockbuster you pray won’t be a non-event.
At the very second I am writing this, I have only 1,454,909,477 seconds to live.
I think I’ll live a little longer than that. Assuming everything goes according to plan, of course. Life is terribly, wonderfully uncertain. In a few short months it will be two years since Veronika died. Hard to believe that she is already so far down the dark tunnel of time. I managed to ignore the anniversary last year, but I will mark it in some way this year. Connecting to the memories, to fortify them against Entropy. And in so doing change them, like an Egyptologist wandering through a tomb examining the dusty artefacts and taking notes.
I had a dinner party a couple of weeks ago with my Brisbane friends. Twelve people crammed into my little courtyard of plants and tadpoles, all eating, drinking, talking amongst the candles. It was a good night, a shared memory minted fresh and added to the image-hoard. Vero would have enjoyed herself, like I did those nights in Jinan when friends gathered in her home. It got me thinking about happiness and contentment, how often it lies in the future, or in the past. No matter how many times I tell myself to enjoy the living moment. I think, with tongue only slightly in cheek, that a rough measure of happiness is given by T-GOD, or Time to the Good Old Days. Now, for the first time I can recall, I can say that T-GOD=0.
Time. A very strange thing. The physicists suspect it doesn’t even exist, but tell that to those of us stuck on Einstein’s train, our noses pressed to the glass as the light flashes before our eyes, never to be seen again.
Heh. What will my medescendants make of all this? And what is my TNM?
p.s. By the way, those growing impatient with my solipsistic navel-gazing over the past couple of years, take heart. I have begun planning my next journey. In 2006 I am returning to the jungles of Papua New Guinea, where Time began.