Saturday, October 06, 2012

Who knows where the time goes?

Across the purple sky, all the birds are leaving
But how can they know it's time for them to go?
Before the winter fire, I will still be dreaming
I have no thought of time

For who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?

Sandy Denny,
"Who Knows Where the Time Goes?"

Speak, Memory, Nabokov titled his autobiography. His memory spoke to him right enough, but in the way it speaks to us in the latter half of our lives -- not as a connected narrative, but in flashes, images imprinted so strongly that they exert a hold on us after decades and decades.

In Nabokov's case, memories were probably especially uncoupled. The Russian revolution interrupted his youth and his family had to flee from Russia to Germany; needless to say, that required further emigration later. His father was killed by an anti-Communist Russian, in a mistaken assassination. Nabokov became the eternal re-settler.

If he wasn't just rationalizing experiences he couldn't have helped, Nabokov professed to find psychological advantages in discontinuity.
I wonder, however, whether there is really much to be said for more anesthetic destinies, for, let us say, a smooth, safe, small-town continuity of time, with its primitive absence of perspective, when, at fifty, one is still dwelling in the clapboard house of one's childhood, so that every time one cleans the attic one comes across the same pile of old brown schoolbooks, still together among later accumulations of dead objects, and where, on summery Sunday mornings, one's wife stops on the sidewalk to endure for a minute or two that terrible, garrulous, dyed, church-bound McGee woman, who, way back in 1915, used to be pretty, naughty Margaret Ann of the mint-flavored mouth and nimble fingers. 
The break in my own destiny affords me in retrospect a syncopal kick that I would not have missed for worlds.
Still, it's a strange business to look back on a life that seems to have been lived in water-tight compartments. There isn't a soul, aside from relatives, that I've known for more than 18 years. (At my age, that's not so long.) How much of what we "remember" is spiked by reminders from other people? From photographs and recordings?

In (I guess) my early 20s, I briefly reconnected with a high school companion. He recalled an occasion when I was giving a "speech" in class. He said I'd stood at the front of the room, mumbled for 15 minutes, then finished, "Well, uh, I guess that's all." I had completely forgotten (repressed?) that gormless performance, but I recognized my younger, even more insecure personality.

Sad, deserted shore, your fickle friends are leaving
Ah, but then you know it's time for them to go
But I will still be here, I have no thought of leaving
I do not count the time

For who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?

Just the other day, in a mood of bottomless boredom, it occurred to me to see if Google could dredge up anything on the Web about my misbegotten tenure as a radio personality in Santa Fe in the '8os. It seemed unlikely -- that was, of course, pre-Internet -- but I did once find a newspaper piece about the chap who'd been my best friend in college, with whom I'd long since lost touch. It was his obituary.

Even Google, no surprise, took me through pages and pages of irrelevant and peripheral Web material. Eventually, it brought up an article in Billboard, dated July 21, 1984, quoting my good self as I was then.
Short concertos are often played complete, but symphonies rarely. Most likely just the quicker movements are aired, with largos or andantes felt to dissipate the upbeat ambience sought by the station. Some purists are displeased, confesses music director Rick Darby, but these dissenters have KHFM [an Albuquerque classical station] to listen to. 
Still, says Darby, "We treat the music with respect." All selections are identified on the air, but historical analysis is eschewed. "We're not out to educate our audience," the music director adds.
What was odder than finding that on the Web was, I had zero recollection of it. You understand, in the music business, of which music radio is a part (much more in those pre-YouTube days), Billboard is the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the New Testament. How could I have obliterated all conscious traces of being interviewed for, and my words appearing in, the publication?

That brush with transient fame means nothing to me now, but how many "significant" moments vanish to some Hades from where they cannot be precipitated into the present?

Montaigne, who confessed to having a lame memory, found a benefit in time canceling the past:
I find some consolation, first because I have derived from this evil my principal argument against a worse evil, which might have taken root in me: the evil of ambition. For lack of memory is an intolerable defect in anyone who takes on the burden of the world's affairs. .. 
Then, as several other examples of nature's workings show, she has generously strengthened other faculties in me in proportion as this one has grown weaker. I might easily have let my intelligence and judgement follow languidly in other men's footsteps, as all the world does, without exerting their own power, if other people's ideas and opinions had ever been present with me by favour of my memory.
Physicists tell us that energy can never be created or lost, only changed in form. The Vedantic tradition of India, and its modern Western derivative of Theosophy, say the same of all past experience. We can forget, but nothing is lost: it resides forever in our individual souls and in the metaphysical Akashic Records.

And I am not alone while my love is near me
I know it will be so until it's time to go
So come the storms of winter and then the birds in spring again
I do not fear the time

For who knows how my love grows?
And who knows where the time goes?

Occasionally when the conversation seemed to warrant it, I've mentioned the idea of the Akashic Records to people who had never heard of it. My experience is that after a moment while it sinks in, they are surprisingly open to it, as if it's a kind of archetype we all grasp by intuition. Most of our time is lost to our conscious minds down the years, but something insists that eternity has a place for it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Borges would probably agree.