Eons

Everyone has heard the metaphors that relate the time the earth has existed to some sort of easy visual totem. If all of history were a twenty foot rope the time humans have spent on Earth would be one frayed fiber at the end of it… yada yada yada, blah blah blah. They’re interesting images, don’t get me wrong. But they don’t really make the time any more comprehensible. I mean how can anyone imagine billions of years. I can’t even imagine a billion dollars. Recently I listened to a podcast that had an archaeologist on it. He was fascinating. He proposed a theory in a book of his; advanced human civilizations existed before the ice age. One of the examples he gave in support was a bracelet found recently, created by a proto-human species called Denisovans. The bracelet itself was unremarkable, a typical band. But what was interesting was that a hole in the bracelet (presumably to hang a charm on) was made by a high speed, fixed drill. At first I thought this meant a power drill and I kind of lost my shit. That would be insane. The truth is less exciting than that but it’s still fascinating.

This bracelet was dated before the ice age. It would be literally hundreds of thousands of years before human species would start building advanced tools. Of course they had hand axes and fire and things of that nature, but they weren’t complex tools. A stable drill that can move quickly. That’s advanced. But if it were pre-ice age that would totally reframe everything that we think about early human development. It would destroy the kind of linear understanding most people have about human history. Humans progress and then regress, technologically, socially, biologically. But most people don’t think about that.

For hundreds of thousands of years, small bands of humans would explore the world around them. For hundreds of thousands of years! Now we’ve gone from horse and buggies and kites to sports cars and jumbo jets in only a hundred years. How will human history progress? Will we continue to grow exponentially in both population and technology. It seems impossible. Steven Hawking said that the next hundred years would determine the fate of the human race. How can that compare to hundreds of thousands of years?

I guess I really didn’t have much of a point I was trying to get across with this. It was more of a meditation on the incomprehensibility of time and history. I’ll try and update the post with the podcast when I find it. Although I am a bit embarrassed to admit it was a Joe Rogan podcast. If you’re more interested in the Denisovans, a simple google search brings up some really interesting results.

Narrative Time and Stakes

I’ve been thinking about stories much more than usual this semester. I attribute that to my screenwriting class. This whole semester I’ve had to work through one story and write the first act in a screenplay, roughly 30 pages (not standard pages, screenplay pages are much shorter). But, to write the first 30 pages you have to have a good idea of what you’ll do for the next 60. One of the first things you really have to figure out before writing is how much time you want your story to take place in. Now every movie is different, they have different structures, stories, and stakes. But, one of the best screenwriting books I’ve read has a “rule”: when at all possible, have the narrative action take place over a day.

Now at first, this sounds incredibly restricting. How are you supposed to tell a full story over the course of 24 narrative hours? But that’s not really the point of the rule. Like any rule about writing, it is purely a guideline, by no means a commandment. What this rule really means to me, and how it has helped me, is to think of it like this; a day is arbitrary, most often stories are told over the course of much more time than just a day. But what distinguishes a good from a bad story, is how much time is wasted. Films have a cut-off time if you want anyone to actually watch it. There’s a reason most movies don’t go over 2 hours and 15 minutes. It’s because people don’t like to sit and watch one thing for that long. So with a screenplay, economical writing is the best writing.

Have your story take place over a day, really doesn’t mean 24 hours. It means this; tell your story in just as much time as you need. No more, no less. Come into a scene as far into the action as you can, don’t meander on pointless bullshit, like greetings or entering rooms. Trim anything superfluous. It’s really not restricting at all, it’s focusing. What is so important in any film is the stakes. What is the why behind the action? What is the what-if ahead of the action? These are the questions audiences have been conditioned to ask. So you need to make sure you have real stakes. Stakes that matter. And one of the best ways to do that is to set a story with a time limit. If things happen over too long a time the stakes can seem low, boring, uninteresting. Of course, many movies don’t have insane stakes, but they still have their own version. Some films meander, but only if the story is about meandering. Keep only what you need and forget the rest.

Memory

Time is a fickle creature, that much we’ve all learned from this class. It’s simply impossible to ever truly get the reins on it, on how it works. I still just can’t get comfortable with that. This class has maybe even made me feel less comfortable. What makes me uncomfortable about the ever shifting experience of time is that I feel powerless. I know ultimately we are all powerless, tomorrow I could get hit by a bus, or an asteroid could hit the earth, or someone could walk up to me and give me a million dollars. We can only ever have marginal control over our destinies. But destiny is about the future. What about the past? Is it any easier to control?

I wish. But it’s not. At least, that’s how it is for me. I have a horrible memory. I don’t know why, though I have my theories. But at the end of the day theories don’t mean anything, I just have to live with my horrible memory. I always bemoan my memory. I don’t do a great job of just living with it. I always think I would love a photographic memory. When I say always I really mean it, too. I remember sitting on the rug in the third grade reading Cam Jansen books, thinking, “wouldn’t that be nice.” But is that really a memory? I can’t tell. Is it revisionism? Am I amalgamating a bunch of memories into one representation? A memory that never truly happened, but did happen, just spread out over time. I could have put together a million little instances of reading on the rug and arranged them like a collage in my head in a way that would make sense and be easy to take in. I know that’s a more accurate representation of my memory. Talking about old times with friends is like arranging a puzzle. Sometimes I let them build the border then I fill the inside, and sometimes its the opposite. I like when its the former. I feel more stable like I control my brain and that it’s not the other way around.

You can implant memories in people’s heads. It’s really quite easy. I remember seeing a fact a long time ago (that probably was a pseudo fact but who knows), that said if you adamantly insist someone was a part of a memory that they actually weren’t, their brain will construct a memory and place them in it. That’s crazy! I bet if you think about it right now you can remember a time when you reminisced with a friend about a story, until it dawns on one of you that you weren’t actually there; you were reminiscing about something you didn’t experience. It’s happened to me plenty, but maybe I’m just crazy. Or maybe I have a boring enough life that every event bleeds together. Maybe my whole memory is just one big collage. Maybe one day someone will say to me, “wait a minute, I don’t think you were there,” and all my memories will fade away just like that. The curtain pulled back, they will reveal themselves to be nothing but stories. But is that all of us? Does everyone just have a head full of stories that they’ve collected and retold over time? I’m sure that’s the case. Memories can never be true unless they’re photographic. Even the most vivid memories will have omissions. Think about an intense memory that has a bookshelf somewhere in it. Can you name every book on the shelf? No? Those are all holes in the memory. So if every memory has holes like that who’s to say it doesn’t have many more holes filled in. Holes filled in with your minds inventions. Additions to the story you tell yourself. The story you call memory.

Devin Dyer

Final Reflections

Starting this assignment, I’ve realized just how much we’ve discussed in this class, how many different topics we’ve covered. It’s honestly quite hard for me to narrow down what I’ve learned and to summarize it. It’s not because I haven’t learned anything, it’s because I learned it in such a different way. When it comes to learning about time in this class, it feels like we took the scenic route. At the beginning of the semester, I was focused on the route, but by now I’m focused on the scenery. Because of the unifying theme of time we’ve studied history, theology, literature, sociology, and more.

One of the more interesting revelations I’ll take away from this class is the realization of the uniquity of our time. By our time I mean really the last hundred to two hundred years. Time today is a science, more so than any other time in history. Someone researched the atomic clock for our second essay, something I had heard about but never really thought about. After our presentations, that changed. In a way, the accuracy of the atomic clock and its sheer existence baffle me. It has made time seem iron-clad—constant—definable. It has removed some of the mystery, some of the magic, from time. It runs in opposition to one of my biggest takeaways from this course; that time is in many ways undefinable. No—undefinable isn’t the right way to describe it. A better way would be to say there is a myriad of definitions, and they are in a constant state of flux. What is true about time one day is false the next. Some days feel like years and some seconds. Our bodies clocks can be thrown way off by even simple changes in our surroundings. And time is such a personal experience. It means something different, moves differently, for every person. Yet modern science has negated that. It’s told us it’s the same for each person, but I just can’t believe that anymore. Not after this class. If you asked me at the beginning of the semester; “what is time”; I’d like to think I would have a firm answer. It might be tricky to word but I’d get there eventually. If you asked me today the best I could do is shrug my shoulders. That’s not because I haven’t learned, but because I have. I’ve learned that time is such a huge concept, a huge force, that it is just as hard to properly explain as would be the total order (or disorder, depending on how you look at it) of the universe or the entirety of human history. Time simply cannot be wrapped up nicely in a bow.

Time’s conceptual illusiveness both frightens and excites me. It excites me because it is a concept that constantly begets more questions. There are no firm answers and thus there is no end to questioning. I love being a student, so a truly inexhaustible subject excites my desire to question and to learn. But, there is also something very frightening about facing a concept that you can hardly understand. It takes a certain kind of humility to accept that the forces around you, that shape you and everything about you, can never truly be understood. There will always be questions left unanswered, and most of us like things to be understandable and explainable.

If someone were to ask me to impart to them a lesson from this class I would say this; the things you see as the smallest parts of your day, or even your personality, are really the biggest things. The way you allot time to yourself, the way you reflect on time spent, your proclivity for punctuality, all of these aspects of daily life carry with them fascinating revelations waiting to be experienced. I would tell this hypothetical person to simply question. To try and locate the most mundane aspects of your life and dissect them. That process will always lead to great knowledge not just of yourself but of the world around you.

Sleep Time

By Devin Dyer

Quite honestly I have no idea what I should write about. I’ve had a serious case of writer’s block that just won’t quit, so I’ve decided to write out the first thing I thought of when ruminating on my perception of time.

When I think of the way time passes when I’m asleep, I have trouble then getting to sleep. So much about it freaks me out. Sleeping is something I experience every night and yet if I were asked to describe what it was like I would be totally at a loss for words. I mean, how does one describe the sensation of sleep? When people try and relay their dreams it is an inevitably futile effort. How can someone ever truly tell the story of a dream? Personally, I think it’s impossible to ever do a dream justice in its retelling. The memories of dreams themselves are imperfect and fractured, so how could the story of those memories be any better? But, dreams are just a small part of sleep, they make up only a small fraction of someone’s sleep time. So why are they so important, what about the rest of the time you spend sleeping, what’s that like. It bothers me that I have no way of answering my own question. The closest I’ve ever gotten to understanding what it feels like to be asleep came from an irregular type of sleep I would get. I don’t know what caused it, and I’m sure everyone has experienced it, but I have a few distinct memories from when I was a kid, where I would close my eyes, just for a blink, not even to sleep, and then when I opened them I was awake the next morning. The feeling was surreal, but it was measurable. It was simply the feeling of opening and closing my eyes. It was like when I closed my eyes the lights were off and before I could open them someone turned the lights on. That was it. That’s all it felt like. It was a non-experience, a sensation I could describe but not understand. So, it was like the rest of my sleep, not understandable, but this type was more describable.

What happens on normal nights is still a great mystery to me. How do I think in the time I’m asleep. I know that the point of sleep is basically to not think, but its not like your brain literally turns off, it doesn’t die for a few hours and come back to life. When I’m asleep does it feel long? I certainly wake up with the firm knowledge and feeling that time has passed, but is that only because I know it has. If nobody ever told me that time passes when you’re asleep and nothing changed around me while I was, would I still feel the residual effects of the passing of time? I don’t know. So how can we ever really know time has passed when we can’t remember the experience of that time passing? These thoughts confuse me. Even writing this I’ve confused myself. These questions are nonsense, unanswerable, and yet I keep asking myself them. Maybe one day I will get the answer, and I truly hope I do. I want to know, what does the experience of sleep, the thing I will spend half of my life doing, actually feel like?

Meditation and Time

By Devin Dyer

I’ve tried meditating a few times in my life, with varying success. I think it was JJ in class on Thursday that talked about meditating and it made me want to try it again. When I got to my apartment, nobody was home, it was the perfect time. So, I went to my room, took a seat at my desk and started up my headspace app. On the app they give you ten starting meditations to do for ten days, to acclimate you to the habit of meditation. I was on day five and had been for somewhere around 200 days. Something about that made me feel guilty, like I was lying to the nice British voice that supportively told me the right things to do. But anyway, I chose the ten minute meditation, put on my headphones, and started the session.

That day’s meditation was all about the lack of effort. How to relax without “trying.” Before I could get into the session in earnest I was treated to an animation that compared meditation to falling asleep; the harder you try to do it the harder it is to succeed, and the second you stop trying, you’ll succeed. So I resolved to do it, I would try not to try. Semantics aside it’s pretty difficult not to try. At first, I found myself lamenting about the ten minutes of absolutely nothing. I’m typically stimulated from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed. I listen to music most times I walk anywhere, I take my phone into the bathroom, I watch TV when I make my bed. To just take ten minutes to do absolutely nothing, to put nothing in front of my face, and nothing in my ears just felt… wrong. Normally, I’m like an old man. I like to talk about how bad phones are for people, complain about the constant need to document your every action, meal, and thought, and I find a distinct, smug pleasure when I get to tell someone I don’t have an Instagram. I’m out of the loop, and I’m kind of proud of that fact. But then, sitting with my eyes closed and listening to nothing but the sounds of the city, I realize I’m completely in the loop, albeit a different loop from some. I still bombard myself with stimulation—multiple forms of media at almost all times. When I realize this, I start to understand more clearly why I’m even meditating in the first place. I need to let my mind rest just as I do my body. A reorientation occurs upon the completion of this line of thought and I shift into the proper headspace. I start actually meditating.

Once it gets going, there’s something really glorious about it. I feel at once acutely aware of my body as well as forgetful of it. It feels different. As the meditation really starts going my body feels different. My hands feel like they’re a mile away from my head. I feel not like I’m floating through space, but like I’m sitting in it, like my body is simply an extension of the air around me or the floor beneath me. And it feels great. I lose my sense of time completely, I was adrift in it. I couldn’t remember when I started, where I had to be in an hour, all of those things were just details. But then I started to think normally again, and not in a good way. I started dreading the time that I would open my eyes and the meditation would be over. I knew it must be soon, ten minutes really isn’t that long; anything that takes ten minutes is close to being over the second it starts. Ten minutes is nothing, but when I started out it felt like everything.

When the time actually comes to open my eyes again it is surreal. My body comes back into focus in the way I recognized it before. The space all around me rushes back up from the void it temporarily resided in and my room is once again my room. If I didn’t set out with the ten minute goal in mind, I probably would have no idea how long I was in that little trance. It was wonderful. It felt like I stepped out of time for a moment, or a non-moment, it’s hard to tell which. I eagerly awaited my next session, something I tried today, to no avail however, as my roommates were blasting I’m Blue, that horribly infectious song (I’m blue da boo dee da boo die da boo dee da boo die). Some days I can do it, and do it well, other days I can’t. Some days I just try too hard, or maybe not enough. But, I plan to keep trying.

If anyone is thinking about meditating after reading this, try the headspace app. It’s really awesome and easy, I couldn’t recommend it any higher.

The Trees

I stare out my back window at the trees in the yard. Their bark is almost invisible now under a thick blanket of leafy vines—an invasive species, a hostile invader. They are old, like many of the trees around my house, and they have been living there far longer than I. They stand five in a line, twisting high into the air like gnarled, arthritic fingers. The skimpy boughs of dark green pines contrast the bright green leaves of the vines. The trees are at once overgrown and sparse. The vines wrap around their trunks like boa constrictors around their prey. They are dying.

Last year when a bad storm hit, a massive branch—really the size of a tree itself—fell from the neighbor’s yard into ours, crushing the pool filter and part of the garage. My mother loudly foretells that it will happen again, that any one of these days one of our trees will come crashing down, taking something with it. She theorizes; what will it be this time, pool furniture, a car, “god forbid,” she says, “a person?” And so, the trees stand like dominoes anticipating the day some cosmic hand will give them a push. We are powerless to stop it, they aren’t technically our trees, they’re the neighbors, so all we can do is wait.  It’s only a technicality to me, in my memory, they are mine, the consistent vista of my childhood. I’ve watched my home change; I’ve watched the wooden green playset (a million splinters waiting to happen) get dismantled, its former spot dug out and replaced with the blue shimmer of the pool; I’ve watched the decorations go up and go down for graduations, baby showers, family gatherings; I’ve watched my home grow, and I’ve watched it shrink; but, through it all I’ve watched the trees stay the same. Each year maybe some fewer needles and more vines, but in my mind, they’ve stayed the same. Only now that I’m older have I truly realized; they are dying.

A rust-colored carpet of dead needles covers the ground. Big bunches of them clog the filter. Stragglers cling to the dogs’ fur as they rush inside. They’re dying faster now, there seems to be more vine than tree, and each day more blue is visible behind the dark green canopy. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but as I look out the window I know the sight of these balding pines depresses me. When I was a pretentious and angry high-schooler I saw the trees as a metaphor: the vines were the overbearing tendencies of my family, I was the tree struggling against them—suffocating slowly but surely. Now that I’m a pretentious and depressed college student the metaphor has changed. I still am the trees—at least part of me still is. They are a symbol of my childhood. As I played in the backyard that felt so much like my own boundless kingdom, they were the sentinels standing over me, protecting me from the world outside, the serious world, the adult world. And now they’re dying, falling to the ground one day at a time. And so my childhood dies day by day. With each class credit earned, each internship applied for, each rent check signed, I become less and less of a kid, and it terrifies me. I am afraid of my life as a child coming to an end. I am afraid of the encroachment of the real world’s suffocating vines. I am afraid for the day the trees finally fall. But I have no reason to be afraid. When one tree falls another takes its place. Nature is cyclical, death simply makes room for life. When a tree falls in the forest it becomes a home for millions of tiny organisms, it becomes the incubator for more life. And so as my childhood dies it will provide the sustenance for my new life, my life as an adult. Here I am, staring out the window and the trees are still standing tall. One day they will die but for now, they are living.  

Controlling Time Through Editing

Devin Dyer

One of the few constants in my life is my love of film. There is something inherent in the medium that resonates with me like no other type of art can. I’ve known for most of my life that I want to be a filmmaker, and so I’ve studied how films are made all this time. What intimidates me the most about the filmmaking process is editing. To me, editing is the most crucial factor in making or breaking a movie. But, editing is strange; people always say that when it’s done right, you won’t even notice it. Unlike cinematography, acting, or sound design, editing doesn’t draw attention to itself as a rule.

Editing should feel natural—but, by natural I don’t mean realistic, I mean right; a film’s editing should feel right. The pace of each scene, the transitions from one to another, the rhythm of a conversation: so many small scenarios present in every film that need to be edited just right for the movie to be genuinely great, and it’s all that which scares me. How do you create a natural sense of how things should be on screen? How do you learn to feel what is right? The answer is time.

The heart of editing is the manipulation of time. With editing, you can turn a 30 minute morning routine into 30 seconds. With editing, you can draw a moment out and let the audience ruminate on it. With editing, you can subtly undo an audience’s sense of “real time.” Merely knowing how long something should be onscreen is nearly half the battle of editing. The other half is figuring out new ways to bend time to your will; to make a joke land the right way; to make the audience jump out of their seats; to make them swoon with infatuation; all of it comes down to a powerful manipulation of time.

If any of this interests you, or if you want to hear someone speak much more eloquently on this than I can here’s a great video.