The Time Traveler
– ryan christopher
I believe that I am a time traveler. When the clock ticks forward, it doesn’t go in a straight line. It makes the shape of a rhombus. Or it goes at the speed of a breeze blowing through forest leaves, and then over miles and miles of dunes.
Let’s play with some examples.
I have never been late for anything in my entire memorable life. I’ve never been late for work. I have never been late for a show. I have never been late for a meeting, a bus stop, a coffee date. I work backward from a discrete point in time like an obsessed accordion player. I stretch backward through all possible physical realities and start my journey toward my goal with the assurance that time does not slip by me. I put time on a leash. I scratched behind its ears. I give it a warm winter coat to wear if it’s cold outside.
On the other hand, I almost never know what day it is. I might use landmarks. If the neighbors have their trash out, I know it’s probably Wednesday. There’s a good chance if I passed by a school during daylight hours while the sun is up and blinking at me, if there are no cars, it’s either weekend or holiday. Even though that becomes indistinct sometimes.
I have a conflicted relationship with cooking. And I blame time. Every time I tried to learn the secrets to cooking, I’ll ask the same question. How long do you cook things? And the answer is always the same. You cook them until they’re done. But this does not fit with my fixed worldview of seconds and minutes. So it’s taken me an extra 20 years to cozy up to food in a pan or pot or hanging out in boiling water. Instead of time, I might use my nose. Or I could literally stick a fork in it to tell that it’s done. I have become an amateur magician on various types of stoves with various types of heat. I will cook you until you’re done. If you’re burning, I will turn you down. If you’re taking too long, I will turn you up. I would never make it as a chef in a restaurant.
I’m afraid another casualty of my relationship with time traveling is my peculiar driving. If my hands are on a wheel in a car, life becomes a throng of shape and color. I get tunnel vision. Even if there’s a clock where the radio should be, the ticking minutes have no relationship with what’s going on in my brain, or the distance that I’ve traveled.
I can go down the same road at the same speed in the same conditions 50 times in a row. And at no point will I have any idea where I am or how much movement it will require to get me to my destination. There is a greater than 50% chance that I will pass by my destination. This is a fixed attribute of my life. Expressways are particularly bad. Because time and space don’t chain themselves together accurately, I get more the impression that the highway is moving underneath me and all of the vehicles around me are standing still, and we’re all just trying to balance ourselves on top of a wavy plain.
Mind you, I’ve never hit anything. I’ve never been in any car accidents other than when someone hit me when I was stopped. My parking is atrocious. But since I park as far as possible away from any entrance, that’s never been much of a problem. I promise I drive slower than anyone you’ve ever known. I drive the speed limit at all times. This means I have a perfect ratio of being on the road and never passing anyone else, while people on both sides of me fly by. I don’t succumb to road rage, however, which means that every face I see glaring at me turns into a smile as soon as their vehicle disappears past the horizon line.
Left to my own devices, I will arrive at destinations just about two minutes before some event is supposed to start. Because nothing ever starts on time, this means I am always inhospitably early. By some backward set of etiquette, I’m a permanent outlier, but that means that I get to help set things up. This timeliness has created ripples in the past, and it will create ripples in the future.
For one example, my girlfriend at the time was out of town, but I had tickets to go to a show with a friend of mine. My girlfriend stated very explicitly to this other friend that the world would most likely end if she didn’t pick me up 15 minutes before we were supposed to leave from the house to go to the show. This friend of mine was notoriously 2 to 3 hours late for everything. Ultimately, she showed up 15 minutes before we were supposed to leave, and her knuckles were white, her eyes were bloodshot, and she was breathing hard when she knocked on the door just a little too loud, shouting, I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.
On the other hand, I schedule things for blocks of time that don’t make any sense. I put arbitrary bookends on visits to people. I say that I’ll be somewhere between two and four. Why those hours, someone will question. I have no idea, comes my answer. But I assure you, I will be there from 2 to 4, and then I will leave, usually abruptly, under the pretense of needing to go somewhere else that I have scheduled.
I will often have no idea what I’m doing at any given point, or what comes next. I haven’t thought much of past what I’m going to eat the next time I’m hungry. I have created thousands of careful lists explaining in delicate detail all of the things that I need to do, and sometimes the order that I need to do them in. I have dozens of sketchbooks full of these lists. My handwriting goes from neat and smooth at the top of the page, to choppy and almost unintelligible by the bottom. I’m not sure that I’ve ever completed a full one.
All this, from the life of a time traveler.
I have been saying for years now that I feel like I’ve lived my life four times over. When I combine all of the dates and times, and I combined all of the hundreds or thousands of hours pursuing this or that activity. When I think about the places that I visited. The education that I’ve smashed my way through. The careers that I’ve had. The stacks upon stacks of failed endeavors.
The rooms I’ve lived in. The houses I’ve lived in. The apartments I’ve lived in. The warehouse closets I’ve lived in. And I don’t remember the time frames of any of it.
Each one of those places that I’ve taken up residence has a concrete timeline attached to it. But in my memory, each one of them lasted just about one day. Long enough for me to figure out where the walls were and where they weren’t. Living in a place for eight years. Living in a place for three months. Living in a place for a few weeks. Each location takes up a memory the size of a postcard. Any explicit events are all stacked on top of each other as a continuation of the same minute or same hour.
And so, pushing 40 years old right now, I feel like I’ve been folded in half twice, making me 160 years old as the crow flies. Right around the age of 29, my clock started winding down. It’s like one of those springs made out of two metals where the weather conditions make it bend one way and then the next. But this business is all rusted. It doesn’t twist on a single plane anymore, but instead corkscrews everywhere and results in a hyper-focus on the moment of now.
And I have a sore hip from who knows what. One of those lifetimes of dancing in dark rooms for as long as the music was playing. And I have a sore wrist. I fell on the ice like a cartoon one day when I was out running. I cradled my arm to my stomach for the rest of the run home, small chilly tears running down my face while I was giggling in hysterics. It was too cold outside to wait for anything else to happen. I only had a few fingers that moved right for the next few months. Now I can’t remember which wrist it was though. So, because the mind is an awesome thing, they both ache when the weather changes. And the weather changes all the time.
And it all wraps together through the concept of time. And time travel of course. Quantum physics suggest all sorts of different things. None of which I can remember all that clearly, except the fact that you can define time in one specific way from a discrete chemical perspective. That is, time is present when a heat source can’t go backward. There are a lot of videos you can take of specific occurrences when you play them forward and backward where it’s difficult to tell which way is which.
Beyond the concept of potential gravity, time becomes an illusion with the motion of objects in this back-and-forth ping-pong. However, if there is heat involved anywhere, then only one direction makes sense. A candle wick burns down. It doesn’t burn upward. Time doesn’t make sense if there’s any way to repackage released heat in nature. Fire, or melting, or the bonding of atoms. This is time. And since all of that excitement has no requirements to operate on a consistent schedule, that explains entirely clearly why time travel isn’t possible, and why it’s the closest, nearest, and dearest thing to my heart.
Let me tell you about the daily struggle of waking up and going to sleep. Without time anchoring you down, chaos will reign. Time makes you tired. Time wakes you up. Without time, you’re on your own, Kid.
At one point I had no responsibilities. I ended up working days and nights on something like a 30-hour schedule. I had no work, but I was working. I had no social interaction, so I hung out with the visionaries that created epic TV series. I watched them all, straight, and remember none of them in retrospect.
Anyone who knows me knows that I drink a lot of tea. For the last five years now I have drunk anywhere between two and eight cups of tea a day. A lot of it, particularly expensive. And with tea, there are various specific temperatures and times that you have to deal with. Green tea gets steeped for 90 seconds at 175°. If you’re more than five seconds plus or minus, it’s not going to taste right. Oolong tea. Black tea. Herbal tea. They all have specific numbers. And so I do a lot of timing. I will go into a panic if you try making a cup of tea anywhere near me and don’t set your clock. There are few things that are more of a tragic error in judgment.
I gave up trying to time myself when I would go out running. I could never make any sense out of it. I was cruising, the wind stinging my eyes because I was sprinting as fast as my muscles would go. But then I would check my stats. Slower than yesterday. But I knew I certainly wasn’t wrong with my interpretation of the situation. Obviously, there are occasions when stop watches don’t work.
I will admit that there are tons of occasions where I can slide sideways in time without the traveling aspect. I have music hardwired into my bones that will forever take me to the exact same place when the melodies first stamped themselves against my body. Maybe I’ll share those songs with you. Maybe I already have. I won’t light off any fireworks to get your attention. Some things are more subtle than that.
Conversations can be a mess when it comes to ensuring that there are 60 divisions within the construct of a minute. I will tell you straight up that I am very rarely listening to the words that you say when you’re talking to me. Instead, I’m counting the beats. I’m listening to the tonal shifts.
Because a long time ago I figured out that when people tell the same stories, they repeat, exactly, the pattern of their speech. Now, I spend my time comparing what you’re saying presently with what you’ve said before. As soon as I hear something that drops out of the consistent river of our history together, I’ll drift out of my daydream and see what’s new that’s happening with you.
Chances are likely there is some element of time involved. And I can take my needle and thread and start sewing the patches together into an amateur tapestry. I have so many now that I can’t tell one from the other. Still, I appreciate the way your body moves when you’re talking. I spend a lot of time watching muscles around eyes and mouths. It’s easier to tell what people are feeling that way, rather than what they’re saying. There’s always a difference.
Time is funny when it comes to growing your hair out. You can get the best haircut the world. And then a few weeks later, you find that each individual hair has a mind of its own. I’m not just talking about length. I’m talking about directionality. I’m talking about the ability to bend. It’s like each hair follicle has a different destiny, and each one also has its own time reference. I’m terrible at shaving. And I never look at mirrors.
There are a few things that I do that always take just about 15 minutes. I can play around on the guitar. I can hit some notes on the piano. I can shoot some words out of my brain and put them on paper and split them up into six sections of four. I can draw a picture. Or I can take an image and turn it into a scene.
Or, maybe, I sit and do nothing. I used to lay on the ground for those 15-minute segments. Where I live now though, the floor is a little bit colder. I use to stare at a light fixture on the ceiling. Now I might close my eyes. But time stays the same whether or not your ocular senses are running at full tilt. When time stops, nothing moves, so your eyes aren’t worth much at that point anyway.
Food has a funny way of suggesting the passage of moments as well. How long are canned goods really good for? If you put a cucumber in a plastic bag in your refrigerator, what is its lifespan? I’ve had a bottle of low-salt soy sauce with me for what seems like decades. It tastes terrible. But since I’ve been in survival mode for so long, I can’t bring myself to dump it down the drain. You never know when I could use it for an art project.
All these things together lead to a kind of perpetual entropy. Everything outside of me wants to be a well-manicured golf course. It all wants to have edges and borders. It all wants to have lengths, widths, distances. The trees are never supposed to grow branches that get in the way of your clear, 4-iron shot. The ponds never have less or more water.
But everything inside of me is a jungle. Amazonian. Visceral. No one will be playing golf here. It’s almost impossible to even to walk 10 feet in a straight line. There are vines, shrubs, and ferns everywhere. There are wild animals that stare you down from places you can’t see. But none of them are out to get me. None of them are poisonous. But none of them have any interest in letting me swing a golf club, either. There’s just no time for that.
And of all of the important things that need to be done, surely none of them have to be done in a hurry. And chances are very likely as soon as I reach anywhere near the last step, a timer will go off and remind me I have to jump back into the overgrowth to take my tea leaves out of the hot water.