- Rebecca Friedman
I just closed the book on Time. Quite literally. My monograph on Russian Time is now in page proofs. Perceptions of time shift profoundly across history and geography. How long is a second? A day? How long have I been in my sweatpants or not left the house? (My 18-year old – who should be flying back to college today – is playing a game with himself to see how long he can stay indoors, creating “stations” for sitting inside, in order to demarcate the bits of the day. There were always meals (breakfast time, lunchtime, dinnertime…..) but now we have sitting stations (chair, couch, stool, bed…..tic toc, tic toc)).
I am always aware of time, its movements and deceptions and too its friendlier guises. Once one turns fifty years old, all bets are off and one wishes for time to simply slow the hell down. Not now. Not in the Age of Corona. How many weeks until quarantine is over? Test results in? I can return to normal life? How many hours until it is tomorrow?
Why do we wish for temporal speed? Perhaps because we wake not to the sound of the alarm reminding us that our children need breakfast and to be ushered off to school nor to the knowledge that we have to make it to the gym before our eight o’clock class. Instead, the day begins when we decide to open the shades or pour the coffee or go for a run. There is no set moment. No need.
And inside each day there resides a whole universe. A whole range of feelings and contemplations and cogitations; from joy at unity to grief at the Italian bodies on social media to fury at the lack of Federal leadership in this country. Fear, grief at death and poverty and the unknown. The bed that was once a refuge, is now a trap. What will a minute feel like when it is all over?
Time has slowed down in ways I might have wished for just a week ago. Has it really only been a week?
- Julio Capó, Jr.
- Ana Menéndez
Oranges and eggs have vanished from the stores. Are vanishing. Vanished? Have vanished is so weak, and yet the mind struggles to reconcile the linear expediency of verb tense with the vertigo of time in pandemic.
The recent past now seems achingly far. Was it only two weeks ago that I was assuring a colleague that it was fine to travel to D.C. for a conference? A week that I returned from back-to-back trips? When was it that we were making plans for March – festivals, seminars, dinner parties -- as if the future were a willing dance partner?
Yesterday recedes, while the long past, always precious, seems suddenly close enough to hear.
I think of my grandmother Kika who loved Carlos Gardel. She would sing along whenever the Argentine’s classic Volver came on the radio: Sentir/que es un soplo la vida/que veinte años no es nada/que febril la mirada/errante en las sombras/te busca y te nombra.
Kika was the daughter of Lebanese immigrants who had survived sorrows they kept forever buried in memory. Her mother never spoke of famine or genocide. Not of the first husband killed by a train. Not of the first child, lost to epidemic. To sense/that life is mere breath/that twenty years is nothing/that the fevered gaze/passing in shadows/hunts you and names you.
My parents who left Cuba in their early twenties still live inside the trauma of their flight. An entire life lived in the continuous present tense of loss.
And now here I am, standing in front of shelves emptied of oranges and lemons, mandarins and eggs, abruptly pulled into a simple, private past.
I cannot remember Monday, but without willing it, I’m back in Tampa 1979, my childhood home, a mid-century ranch abutting public land that my father "borrows" to raise chickens. We have what seems an endless supply of fresh eggs and, when someone is prepared to do the killing and plucking, all the free-range chicken we can eat. My immigrant father has planted a grove of citrus, a fence against deprivation. We live inside the seasons, from frost, to buds, to fragrant blossoms, to the lemons, oranges, mandarins, tangelos and grapefruit that we pick from the trees. The memory is so close now. The sweet scent of orange fills the empty store, and I sense that if I turn suddenly, I will meet my nine-year-old self, outstretched arms full of abundance.
- Susan Gladstone
I am a very big fan of Downton Abbey and one of my favorite characters is Lady Grantham, played by the marvelous Maggie Smith. The character has lived a life of total leisure for 80 or more years. There is a brilliant scene in which a new character has joined the family, a person with a ..... JOB. He mentions that he will have some free time “ on the weekend”, to which Lady G. asks, “What is a weekend?”
While the reason behind my current circumstance is totally different, and I am working from home and certainly not feeling leisurely, I am losing my sense of days of the week. And so, I find myself asking the same question. “What is a weekend?”
- Jordana Pomeroy
Once in a Lifetime in the Age of COVID-19
I hear that Talking Heads lyric in my head: “Well…how did I get here?”
“Here” is the Grove, my shelter during the pandemic of 2020, where I live alone with my sweet terrier, Artie.
I think about my children, now grown and living their lives up North with their partners.
I reflect on the past five years, on losing my sister, my sister-in-law, my father.
“Letting the days go by, water flowing underground,” the song continues. Water, a metaphor for time’s passage. But time doesn’t flow during the pandemic. It seeps…slowly.
Across the street, in Regatta Park, families leisurely bike and skate. The power boats and jet skis in the bay have slowed to a standstill.
I work at home, running a new museum, a virtual version of the building where I usually work. It is a museum without space or time, never open, but always open.
The hours pass, without the interruptions that usually punctuate my work day. I walk with Artie, basking in the sun’s warmth, a break in my unending day.
Time streams onward, toward an unknowable destination. Same as it ever was?
- Stephanie Doscher
The quantum physicists tell us that time, and reality itself, is an illusion. What we perceive as the directional flow of time, from past to present to future, is just our perception of the process of entropy, the progression of order toward disorder. Reality co-evolves as we interact with it—we measure what we can sense and we sense that which has order. The past is a known thing. We experienced it, we interacted with it, we sensed things and we can describe what happened, what we saw, felt, heard, tasted, smelled. The future is full of disorder. We cannot describe nor sense what it is because we have not interacted with the things it holds. In the present we walk forward carefully, step by step, along a razor’s edge of past and present, order on one side, disorder on the other, our hands gripping a guardrail of perception that keeps us from falling into another reality, another world.
And then the guardrail disappears.
Suddenly we no longer interact with the world as we once did, and time folds in on itself. Disorder slips into the present and seeps into our perception of the past. Where once there was order, we now see chaos. We look to the future and see a new order, a potential for more safety in the unknown than we ever experienced in the known. We freeze in place, unable to take move forward. What is reality? Has the world changed or has my perception of it changed? If I step this way, am I moving toward my future, or am I re-living the past? The physicists tell us that the true nature of reality is found in the quantum world, a place where entropy does not exist, time does not exist, and particles can exist in two places at once, their location solely determined by the position of the observer. And so, alone, standing on the edge of time, with no guardrail at hand, we slowly, carefully, bravely, blindly, take a cautious step in a direction that we cannot measure, we cannot sense, alone.
- Martha Schoolman
“So your future veils its face….”
Herman Melville begins his book of Civil War poetry, Battle Pieces: Or, Aspects of War (1866) with a poem called “The Portent.” It is a grisly work, recalling the execution of the militant abolitionist John Brown, whose raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry is widely viewed as the first, if unofficial, battle in the US Civil War (1861-65).
In my courses, I teach the poem as an example of the large body of literature trying to make sense of John Brown’s actions. It is a deep and fascinating literary tradition that began in 1859 and continues into the present.
Under our current “arrested” circumstances however, the poem has been speaking to me more abstractly for its ability to capture the feeling of a moment like ours that seems both momentous and radically uncertain.
In the poem, John Brown hangs, swinging from the gallows, his face covered by the traditional executioner’s hood. That it is an event that “portends” something we cannot deny, but from the poem’s position in 1859, we do not know what.
My own day-to-day life is so far only minimally affected by social distancing (with gratitude I can report today that I am not ill, I am employed, my family is thus far uninfected). My principal change in temporal awareness has been toward the future. While such is always the case, it somehow seems especially true today that we do not know what tomorrow will bring.
- Luna Goldberg
In this first week of social distancing and quarantine, time has felt fluid. Days rollover into the next and feel continuous, especially as we live with little leave from our homes. Place, too, has an effect on our sense of time. Movement and a change in setting can help structure our days, and with restrictions enforced, one can't help but question how to break up time, or create structure to give meaning to each day. This has been my focus this week as I build in time for a daily walk, schedule time to connect with a loved one, or limit time watching the news or being on a screen.
- Tim Rodgers
Some events linger in the mind far too long: drowning as the pneumonia advanced; remembering the red-faced man sitting next to me on the plane; reminding my husband I wanted to be cremated; seeing blood in my urine; a feeling of resigned amusement.
Some things now take far too much time: making breakfast, lunch, and dinner; walking the dog; washing dishes; discussions of the future.
- Yoana Lorenzo
Time is relative.
It slows down or speeds up Tentative
Depending on the movement of something else. Health?
Time is relative and to millions, time slowed
Dulled by the mundaneness of too many Zoom meetings,
Deprived of face to face greetings
I bet seconds feel like days at the ends of unemployment lines
Time is relative, and to first responders, I’d bet time’s speed increased
As hours of life turned to thousands deceased.
Minutes must feel like seconds, when exhausted fingers are moving to save expended lives
Minds racing, spending too many moments wondering how many will survive
Time is relative, and to those who’ve lost loved ones, I can imagine how it stopped.
As unspoken words and unmet kisses lay on regretful lips.
Tears slip, in rooms absent of one’s voice that was never meant to die so soon.
I can imagine how one second can last a lifetime.
Time is relative, so we no longer measure this year in 525,600 minutes
While waiting, we measure a year
In daylights and sunsets
In assignments and push-ups
In laughter and longing
In the number of cases and number killed
In all things, now considered a little more consistent than time.
- Ellen Friedman
Time: The ambient atmosphere has changed. Although I go about my day more or less as I had, it occurs in a reduced theatre, the computer. Much of my activity is contained within the dimensions of my screen. I meet my classes via Zoom, though some students do not show up on my screen and I worry; I grade papers on line as I've done since courseware took over. And I meet them virtually. I type instructions, videotape lectures, conduct some discussions asynchronically online. I carry on, I carry on. Take walks, do my small weights, shop for groceries--very carefully, read, watch foreign films on the IFC channel. Suspension, unreality, and no sense of an ending. Beckett's Waiting for Godot or Endgame, which?
- Max Friedman
My sense of time has not changed during the pandemic.
I am always conscious of time mainly on the historical and scientific levels.
Historically, time flows smoothly from the ancient to the contemporary. Right now I'm reading about the byzantines and Alexander in India.
It's all one large canvas and continues in all directions but keeps moving. Actually this idea of time, and one can also include the history of our planet, solar system, galaxy, etc, makes more sense to me as a fourth dimension than Einstein's time as dimension. But I do think about this physical concept. I'm also reading Lisa Randels book on extra dimensions and have read that the universe on the plank level (10-33 cm) is composed of space time tiles. Can we come to understand this along with Plato, evolution and our own personal use of time? We should try..........we have lots of Time during the plague to do it.
- Donna Ruff
When the stay at home first started, I thought I’d spend my time learning, and took an online art history course on the Book of Hours, a common medieval book that served not only as a devotional, but also as a perpetual calendar. Faced with unknown numbers of days home alone, I started to make my own perpetual calendar, on a blank accordion Moleskin book I often use to make art. On each page I drew a grid of seven squares; and each day I fill in a square, in sequence, so that the end of one week continues to another. Each page is dated and I’m almost at the end of the book, double sided, which contains 63 pages- nine weeks. Soon I will start again at the beginning, dating the page, which started on Friday, March 13th, my first day of isolation. The second instance of Friday after nine weeks will be May 15th.
As it happened, this coincided with a period in Jewish holiday ritual I didn’t know about: The Counting of the Omer. Instead of counting down days, in Judaism the days are counted up. A Torah commandment is to count 49 days starting on Passover, ending on Shavuot. This period of time is intended to prepare to receive the Torah and its teachings. I found this passage from Psalm 90: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
The idea of counting days has moved me deeply, when I know that we are experiencing an unprecedented period of grief and vulnerability. Time for me feels elastic- sometimes the day goes by and I wonder where it went. Sometimes it feels like an endless expanse, one hour, one day, one week blending into another. It’s important to me to mark these days, to have something tangible to show for my time. I hope that one day I can end my isolation- but I will not end my counting.
- Molly Daggett
- David Rifkind
I used to think of time as a finite resource that I had to use as economically as possible toward the larger goal of productivity: writing, researching, teaching, engaging in service to the discipline. I even measured my parenting in terms of how efficiently I used time. I came to resent the time I was compelled to “waste” doing things that should have brought me pleasure, like eating a meal, reading something unrelated to my scholarship, or sleeping late on a weekend morning. No more.
The current crisis has helped me focus on the necessity of enjoying the pleasures contained in the practice of everyday life. I cherish the time I devote every evening to making dinner with my partner. I relish the time I share with friends riding bikes three mornings a week. I prize the time I spend with friends and strangers hanging out virtually to discuss movies and whatever else seems interesting or important.
I no longer measure my life in terms of how much time I can devote to my profession. Life is too short.
- Mary Larsen
On Friday I hugged my students and wished them a good weekend. Then overnight, without any training, I became a virtual visual arts teacher. The reality of facing quarantine alone began to sink in. The first two weeks were filled with intense anxiety, sleepless nights, random sobbing and a deep loneliness that hit me hardest in the middle of the night. But then something slowly shifted in me. As the initial panic and fear of isolation gradually dissipated, I began to embrace the solitude, the moments of peace, knowing that I had so much to be grateful for. Little by little I found my groove and began seeing the quarantine as a gift. My days had a rhythm to them, and I started to feel content with being alone.
Part of my day is spent teaching, looking into the vacant, scared faces of my students, frustrated at my inability to engage them. Afterwards, I retreat into my studio, blast music, paint and dance. No matter how hard my day is, dancing puts a smile on my face. Artists, by nature, spend a lot of time alone and I began to pour my anxieties into my work. Making art keeps me sane in the best of times and is a lifesaver during this surreal moment in history. At dusk I sit in my yard with a glass of wine, listening to the birds and watching the butterflies flit around the flowers in bloom and every night I cook myself spectacular dinners like I’m on a special date with myself.
Before the pause, I spent an enormous effort each week making plans, attending social events, going on dates with mediocre men in an effort to not feel like a loser. It was exhausting. Suddenly, I’m free of all the pressure to maintain the social life that was expected of me. It’s incredibly liberating. Still I vacillate from contentment to complete despair and there are days when I don’t know if I can bear the isolation and lack of touch another day. But I try and stay in the present and hold onto little moments of joy like when my daughter, in Queens, sends me photos of the microgreens she’s growing on her fire escape or my son FaceTime’s me from his tiny apartment in Paris or seeing my sisters, who live all over the country, for a weekly virtual card game. This pause allows me to breathe, focus on my work and nurture myself. Some days I fear that I might never want to return to “normal” life. I’m content that my world has gotten smaller and life, simpler. Whenever I venture out, I feel a sense of relief to be home again. After 46 days of quarantine, what I miss most is intimacy, being hugged and touched. I think I’d be happy if I never had to go to another art opening or party but being deprived of touch may be my undoing.
- Juan Lopez
I am 44 years old and I have lived in westchester for all of those years. I have spent my time trying to negate my fears by way of an extreme effort to make the most of the time I may have. First, I decided to fortify my body and prepare it for what could be a fight for my life. I’ve changed my diet to absolutely no sugar or processed foods and have begun walking, bike riding, and calisthenics in the yard. I will not go quietly. To date I’ve lost 35lb and I am consumed with a feeling, that I need to outrun this specter. When I’m not strengthening my defenses, I’m Looking at pictures of old friends and places of significance in the story of my life. The tree by Sylvania Heights Elementary where I had my first fight, it’s also the place where I realized I loved Van Halen. The Westchester Library on Coral Way, where I learned to appreciate books and borrowed Van Halen tapes. Trusty Bird drive park, he place us neighborhood kids would go to unwind. When you live in a place long enough, every corner is a sacred memory. I don’t like the idea of saying goodbye, but if I must. I’m going to the park, surrounded by ghosts and listening to Diver Down. My name is Juan Lopez, some people called me Big John, and I was here. Van Halen rules.