Final Blog Post

I remember being so stumped at the beginning of the semester about what time actually meant, and I can say that after a semester’s worth of work that my conception of time has been expanded so much.  At the beginning of the course, time was something that I relied on as a sturdy, unquestionable standard in my life.  Thinking too hard about time’s passage, aging, social change over time and the experience of time was always very stressful to me, so I chose to view time as an objective reality without giving myself much space to question it.  Very early into the semester, when we read Einstein’s Dreams, I already felt my old ways of thinking about (or rather, trying to avoid really thinking about) time slipping away. Reading all of these different versions of how time could work made me realize that my conception of time is neither objective nor unchanging.  There is nothing naturally right about the way that we have decided to break time down into 365 days in a year, 24 hours in a day of 60 seconds in a minute. Lightman really challenged my limited conception of how time is structured. 

One thing that I was very curious to see pan out over the semester was how theology was going to tie into theme of time.  I had no idea that there were discourses about God’s time or that monasteries were one of the earliest time-keeping spaces.  Furthermore, even after hearing about God resting on the seventh day for all my years of Catholic school education, I had never done a close read of the actual passages in which this is said.  I thought it was really interesting how this idea of God resting on the seventh day tied into a discussion about what the difference between resting and abstaining from doing work means, between leisure and free time. 

My biggest takeaway from the class is how time functions differently for different groups of people, such as the incarcerated, black Americans, those with trauma/PTSD, and queer individuals.  At the beginning of the class, I recognized that time was a construction, but I had never really grappled with all the ways that the experience of time is different for so many groups of people.  I loved our session on serving time, and I feel like I learned so much from our guest speaker about what the experience of time is like while incarcerated.  The way that I think about choosing to spend my time is a perspective that those incarcerated aren’t granted because of their highly regimented schedules.   The Du Bois excerpt from The Souls of Black Folkthat we read was also one of my favorites because it challenged the evolutionary, commonly held belief that all things naturally progress for the better with time.  For those who suffer from severe trauma, the entire conception of past, present and future that I relied on as being very objective is not relevant at all.  And finally, for queer individuals, the socially expected timeline of marriage, reproduction and death doesn’t fit.  These lessons specifically were the most thought-provoking for me.  I think that if I were to pass on some information from this class to another person, it would definitely be about the ways that time functions differently for these disenfranchised groups.  When you read the personal experiences of what it is like to make sense of time as an individual with PTSD or a person who is in jail, it’s clear that time is much less objective than I thought at the beginning of the semester. 

Constant News

Our conversation on Monday about the defining characteristics of our generation sparked me to reflect more thoroughly on my relationship to technology and digital information.  I found this Time article, “You Asked: Is It Bad for You to Read the News Constantly?” by Markham Heid. 

 (Here’s a link: http://time.com/5125894/is-reading-news-bad-for-you/)

The article cites a survey done by the American Psychological Association in which “more than half of Americans say the news causes them stress, and many report feeling anxiety, fatigue or sleep loss as a result” (Heid).  Heid argues that these effects could be a result not only of the constancy of reading the news, but also in the physical forms that we receive much of our news today.  He cites increasingly visual and shocking videos and audio bytes as being capable of causing acute emotional responses and states that this can be especially true in watching bystander-captured media (Heid).  

My relationship to the constant access to worldwide news is complicated.  On the one hand, I recognize the privilege that I have in being able to have access to a smartphone/computer and being able to be informed about things that are happening outside of my neighborhood.  Access to information at the speed and scope that we have is definitely a privilege, and I think that the Time article does a good job in addressing the ways that it might also be a problem. I know that for myself, constantly trying to be up to date on the most recent world tragedy can reap negative emotional effects.  Like Edona mentioned in class, I don’t know that we were made to be able to fully process each new story before a new one comes along.  The effect of this can sometimes be desensitization, as that can be the only way to get through all of the news, but can also be heightened emotions.      

Although there is a guilt I experience as a result of not being well informed all the time, I know that sometimes it’s healthier for me to avoid checking the news every once and a while.  The guilt of not knowing as much about current events as I feel like I should is definitely easier to deal with than the emotional turmoil of feeling like another bad thing happens somewhere in the world every passing minute and that the apocalypse is constantly just around the corner.  I think it’s important that we stay cognizant of the way that the constant flow of information affects us and establish personal boundaries to our news sources so that we aren’t getting caught in the negative emotional affects that Heid outlines.  

Coming of Age

I took a class this semester called The Female Bildungsroman that I really loved and that mapped out pretty nicely with this course.  We have been reading women’s coming of age stories, and so I have been thinking a lot this semester about what it really means to “come of age”.  The bildungsroman is essentially a genre that is defined by a protagonist’s moral and psychological growth, but is more commonly just referred to as a coming-of-age novel.   I have been really surprised as to how each new book we read challenges what I, and many theorists we read, thought a coming-of-age story looked like.  This was especially present in my mind after our conversation about queering time on Monday. There is a certain timeline that is expected of us all, be it enforced subconsciously or not.  Halberstam defined this societal timeline that queer individuals didn’t map onto as “birth, marriage, reproduction and death” (2). We read many coming of age novels in which protagonists did not meet the traditional structure of the bildungsroman that we learned from theorists at the beginning of the semester.  The timeline or structure of the traditional bildungsroman involves an individual learning to negotiate one’s individuality within the rules of their society’s reality and then excising pieces of one’s personhood in order to reach social integration, which is the supposed goal of coming of age.  But, just like how Halberstamexplored the different ways that queer individuals did not fit into the traditional timeline, many individuals’ coming of age can’t be mapped out nicely on the above structure/timeline.  

The traditional female coming of age novel is Jane Eyre.  Jane starts as a young girl with a fiery spirit, troubled by her familial and economic situation.  When we leave her, she has matured into the role of educator and wife.  Jane maps out pretty nicely onto the traditional theory of the bildungsroman.  Next, we read Sula by Toni Morrison.  Sula didn’t fit into the traditional timeline of coming of age because she never accomplishes social integration because the women of her community despise her rejection of monogamy, her promiscuity and her lack of regard for what others think of her.  We then read Woman Warriorby Maxine Hong Kingston. Kingston’s coming of age defied the traditional definition in that she experienced her identity of being a first-generation immigrant as causing her to have a different relationship with time, between her present and her family’s past.  The last novel we read that expanded upon our original conception of the bildungsroman was Redefining Realness by Janet Mock. As a trans woman, Janet wrote about how her coming of age dealt heavily with coming into her gender identity. 

I think in the same way that we had difficulty agreeing on what a timeline for a “normal” life looks like, it’s difficult to define what it means or looks like for someone to come of age.  One individual’s coming of age seems inherently bound to their specific circumstances, and thus a catch-all definition is sure to leave some people behind.  Also, it’s interesting to think about the value systems that are behind the expected timelines of our coming of age and entire life, more fully.   Not only might one’s coming of age be about something entirely different than the acceptance of reality and social integration, but also the placing of people within strict temporal boxes can be limiting for trying to understand diverse perspectives on what it means to come of age. 

Source: Halberstam, Judith. In a Queer Time and Place.

PTSD/ Leave No Trace

Our conversation about memory, trauma and PTSD last week reminded me of a movie that I watched this year called Leave No Trace.  (I’ll put in a link to the trailer if anyone is interested, it was a really beautiful movie). The film opens with a father and daughter duo, living in a public park in Oregon.  The father of the pair is a veteran and suffers from PTSD from his time in the war.  Because of the trauma he endured, the father no longer feels safe living inside traditional shelters.  So, he and his daughter Tom set up a home for themselves in the park, sleeping in tents, living mainly off the land, spending all of their time together and making occasional trips into town for vital groceries.  

Twice during the film, Tom and Will, the father, are forced to leave their traditional setting and live in more stable housing because of outside forces. The first time, social services finds them living in the park, and ends up placing Tom and Will into a house on a Christmas tree farm.  As long as Will and Tom adapt to the community and help out on the tree farm, they will be covered for their housing, food, clothes and anything else they might need.  Will could not feel safe in this environment, still dealing with nightmares and being triggered daily by the helicopters that carried cut trees.  After running away from the farm, Will and Tom hitchhike to Washington where they face really brutal cold temperatures, living outside again. The second time they are taken out of their routine of living outside comes about after Will suffers serious head and foot injuries because of a fall.  Although Tom, the daughter, grows to like the RV community that they end up in, Will can’t escape the feeling of entrapment and feels he needs to go back into the woods. 

I thought this movie did a really good job at showing what PTSD can look like for some veterans without ever showing us any graphic flashbacks of Will’s time in the war.  Rather, it focuses on what it means to try to adapt back into a specific context and way of living that no longer feels safe.  We see Will waking up in a panic from nightmares and crouching down in rows of Christmas trees, covering his ears in an attempt to block out the noise of the helicopters. We often hear noise through Will’s perspective, cars and city bustle sounding much louder than usual.  

We talked a lot in class about PTSD and trauma experts that are calling for reformed treatment that is more focused on working through it in a group setting. The benefit of unpacking and working through traumatic memories and PTSD with other people who have had similar experiences is that it lessens feelings of isolation and creates the space of community that veterans have lost after coming back home.  Something that really struck me in the movie was that in the RV community, there was another veteran that tried to help Will cope and adapt in healthy ways. For example, he gave Will his service dog for a few days, who could sense restlessness and wake him up from nightmares, and welcomed both Will and Tom into the community’s cookouts.   I thought that this relationship in the film was a good representation of what the kind of group healing that we talked about in class could look like for veterans, on a smaller scale.  Leave No Trace was especially impactful for me because of the character Tom.  Although she is only a young teenager, we see her throughout the film trying to help her dad adapt to new settings while struggling herself to continually get used to new environments only to be pulled from them once her dad feels the need to return to the woods.  Overall, I think it did a great job of showing the reality of how trauma is like a constant manifestation of one’s past in the future and how trauma can distort people’s perceptions of time and space. 

Clocks Art Piece

I was telling one of my aunts about this class over Easter break and she told me about this art piece that she really likes that has to do with time, so I figured I’d share it with you all too.  

Untitled (Perfect Lovers)
Source: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/81074

It’s called “Untitled (Perfect Lovers)” and it was made by Félix González-Torres.  It consists of two perfectly synchronized clocks hung on a wall right next to each other.  They’re the kind of clocks that you’d imagine seeing in a grade school or an office.  The idea was that, although at the time of instillation the clocks were in sync down to the second, eventually they would fall out of sync because of the inevitability of mechanical issues. The clocks were made to represent González -Torres and his partner, Ross Laycock, who was fighting an AIDS-related illness at the time that the piece was made.

The description on the website for the Dallas Museum of Art for the piece states:

“Two clocks are placed side by side; one will inevitably stop before the other. The date of this work corresponds to the time during which Félix González-Torres’s partner, Ross Laycock, was ill, and it embodies the tension that comes from two people living side-by-side as life moves forward to its ultimate destination. González-Torres once commented: ‘Time is something that scares me . . . or used to. This piece I made with the two clocks was the scariest thing I have ever done. I wanted to face it. I wanted those two clocks right in front of me, ticking.’” 

Source: https://staging.dma.org/collection/artwork/f-lix-gonz-lez-torres/untitled-perfect-lovers

González-Torres also spoke on the piece in a letter to his partner in 1988.

“Lovers, 1988
Dont be afraid of the clocks, they are our time, time has been so generous to us. We imprinted time with the sweet taste of victory. We conquered fate by meeting at a certain TIME in a certain space. We are a product of the time, therefore we give back credit where it is due: time.
We are synchronized, now and forever.
I love you.”

Source for above quote: https://etd.ohiolink.edu/!etd.send_file?accession=kent1277860830&disposition=inline

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct-action movement that was “well timed” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “wait.” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “wait” has almost always meant “never.” It has been a tranquilizing thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights.”

-Martin Luther King Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

 After our discussion last week about unmet expectations, I was reminded of M.L.K’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” and of the W.E.B. Du Bois reading in which he used the framework of Exodus and waiting for the freedom of the promise land to talk about the delay that black Americans experienced in waiting for equality.  

I’ve included an excerpt from the letter that I thought best embodied what we have been talking about in class about unmet expectations and anticipation, but the full letter is available online if you are looking to read/reread it.  In this excerpt, MLK responds to the comment that he frequently received that disenfranchised African Americans should just wait for justice and civil rights, rather than engaging in a movement that was not “well-timed.”  In response to this, King emphasizes the fact that justice doesn’t just naturally come with time, that it is people who make things change. Furthermore, he says that “wait” usually just means “never”.  This passage in particular reminded me of this quote from the Du Bois handout: 

“So woefully unorganized is sociological knowledge that the meaning of progress, the meaning of ‘swift’ and ‘slow’ in human doing, and the limits of human perfectibility, are veiled, unanswered sphinxes on the shores of science” (214). 

Both King and Du Bois discuss the anticipation of justice, liberation and equality while also voicing the frustration that comes with these expectations going unmet in the timeline that was expected.

Memory and self-perception


Last weekend, I finished watching a new Netflix show called Russian Doll (I highly recommend it, if anyone was looking for a new show).  The episodes follow a woman named Nadia who is stuck in a time loop of dying, waking up in the same day again, having to relive it and then dying again, over and over and over.  While this is a super interesting concept in it of itself, time-wise, there was a scene near the end of the show that really got me thinking about memory and self-perception. During one of the loops, Nadia begins to see her past self.  Adult Nadia keeps seeing this younger version of herself, first on the street and then in a deli.  The first time adult Nadia sees her, she stops dead in her tracks and is visibly shaken by what she is seeing.  Although Nadia’s past and present self have the same, very distinct hairstyle, (I’ll put a picture for reference) this scene made me wonder if I would be able to recognize my past self if I were to somehow magically see her on the street.  

Adult and child Nadia

Even after suspending my disbelief and being fully on board with the idea that it couldbe possible there are multiple younger versions of me out there, waiting to be seen, I do not think that if I saw a 5-year-old or even 10-year-old version of myself I would recognize her to be myself.  The combination of warped self-perception and fallible memory makes me believe that the 5-year-old Arden that I picture in my head probably looks different enough from what 5-year-old Arden actually looked like that I would not recognize myself.  

This is why I always get a weird feeling looking at childhood pictures of myself from before I can remember the time in which the photos were taken.  There’s something about the distance between present me and baby me that seems insurmountable.  Similarly to how Barthes talks about trying to “find” his recently deceased mother in old photographs, sometimes I try to find some essential part of myself in photographs of the younger version of myself that seems harder and harder to reach. Also, I really loved how the author of Poppies of Iraq decided to take a childhood photograph of herself and reconstruct the context of the photo. 

Biological vs Mechanical Time and Resolutions

On the first of every month, I like to set aside time to reflect on what has happened in the prior month and set some intentions and goals for the next month. I have always been a big fan of resolutions (especially new year’s) and I try my very best to stick to them. Just before the new year, I was talking to one of my aunts about new year’s resolutions and she told me that she likes thinking of her resolution restarting every Monday.  So, within a span of a week, she will try to maintain her resolution. If she missteps one week, she absolves herself of this guilt by starting with a clean slate for the next week.  By looking at it this way, the pressure and guilt of trying to keep a new habit up for a whole year lessens.  I thought this was a really interesting take on the concept of a new year’s resolution.

            On a different note, I was really interested in our class conversation of biological and mechanical time on Monday. When Professor Gribetz first asked us which time we would prefer to live by, I immediately decided on biological time. I think that it would be really nice to structure our schedules depending on what our bodies are telling us.  In really busy weeks, when I find my routine to be falling apart and I am over-tired and rushing, I am always conscious of the strain that I am putting on my body.  I am grateful to be in good health and am aware that we are each only given one body to last us a lifetime.  I think that if I could solely follow biological time, my body would thank me for it.  But, I know how much I rely on the structure that I get from mechanical time, which is something that would be hard to give up.  

I recognize that my cognizance of the changing weeks and months helps me to structure each aspect of my life and allows me a schedule and routine.  But, although this stability and structure is comforting in a sense, it can also feel restrictive, which is why biological time seems so appealing to me.  I guess, overall, I value the structure that mechanical time gives me and how I can use it to define goals and habits for me. But, I sense that it would probably be better for my overall health and happiness to follow only biological time. Although the free-falling effect of the lack of structure would probably scare me for a bit, I think that I would grow to enjoy biological time.