Stevieslaw: Thoughts? My Lit Club talk from January

“Who Knows Where the Time Goes?”
Psychologists carefully define “significant life events” as events that are significant and happen during a life. Strictly in terms of that powerful definition, I had two significant life events on a single day in December. First, I was informed by a computer in Shields Building, in a memo addressed to “hey kid” that my 95 day emergency rehire contract with Penn State had been terminated. The two page memo went on to describe what I must do to finalize my career—a career, I might add, based on the premise that I might someday teach my students never to use the word “finalize.” (My students would say I have issues with the word). I was not surprised by the termination. I had been receiving threatening emails from the Shields computer for much of the year. The second life event, which was completely unexpected, was the sale of The Golden Wok, our beloved Chinese restaurant. Sure the food was so-so, the service just okay and the atmosphere lacking, but it was our Chinese restaurant. Echoing our recently deposed president, Deryck, I can only say—mostly about lunches—what now?
Later that day, while sitting in my recliner and rereading my well-worn copy of “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People,” I thought “What no nostalgia”? I am a sensitive person. A friend likens me to a soft-shelled crab. Did I not miss that squeaky clean young man that started so many years ago at Penn State with the dream of becoming the centerfielder for the N.Y. Yankees? Where had that person gone? After reminding myself I was still here, I began—as I often do in moments of great nostalgia to hum and then to sing. I believe that is the reason people say the word “nostalgia” has an ugly ring to it. I sang the Judy Collins version of a song by Sandy Denny, Who Knows Where the Time Goes? Surely, you know the song, it begins:
Across the evening 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?
Truthfully, I don’t believe I ever knew the answer. Sure, I remembered that time could fly when you were having fun. I also knew that time was relative and could stand still. For that, I had the evidence of a recent Penn State meeting on “planning for the allocation of staff resources during the 2015 Holiday Break”, which was scheduled for two hours but took pretty much an entire lifetime. Clearly, if I wanted to know where the time goes, or for that matter find a good working definition of time and its passing, I would have to search.
I turned first to a few of my relatives, although I hadn’t much hope there. After all, my Aunt Addie’s epitaph read, “Shut up and Deal.” Sure enough, Cousin Myron, the fiery red-headed math whizz, answered my query with, “To Milwaukee, you wuss,” and slammed the phone down. My brother’s twins, Mayhap and Mayhem, were more helpful, offering up that time went to the Florida State Correctional Facility in Tallahassee in units of five and ten years. My rich cousin, Adam, said “Time is money,” but I think Ben Franklin might have said that first. And, since it seems that when I call, my friends—inadvertently, I’m sure— don’t answer their cell phones, there was no help there. “But have no fear,” I thought, “for I am a researcher.”
My immediate source was “Quotipedia,” an essential on-line listing of sayings the famous, the nearly famous, and the completely unknown may or may not have written or said. As with much of the information on the net, the quotes are presented randomly. I quickly learned that Shakespeare (henryIV,pt1) might have written “and life time’s fool and time (that takes survey of all the world) must have a stop,” —a phrase stolen and shortened by Aldous Huxley for the title of a novel. But the writer-physicist Stephen Hawking and his gang would hardly agree. Stevie, as all his fellow scientists call him, believes that the universe will expand in time for forever, along Time’s Arrow—which is sometimes pronounced “entropy”, until nothing remains in the cold, dead and nearly infinite universe but some sort of vacuum energy. I find this concept of time oddly comforting. Perhaps you do too. Speaking of time’s arrow, Groucho often said, Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana, while Martin Amis wrote a really good novel—Time’s Arrow, about a life lived backwards. Woody Allen likes the concept as well. Woody said, “I want to live life backwards. You start out dead and get that out of the way…You spend your last 9 months floating in luxurious spa like conditions with central heating and room service on tap, larger quarters every day and then Voila. You finish off as an orgasm.” And we have Jerry Seinfeld to thank for clearing up the difference between space and time—that fourth dimension humbug. Jerry tells us that you can measure distance by time. How far away is it? Oh about 20 minutes. But it doesn’t work the other way. When do you get off work? Around 3 miles.
Stevie Hawking aside, the scientists were not as much help as the humorists in my quest to zero in on the nature of time and where it goes. Isaac Newton, whom I am pretty sure I went to school with, chimed in with “I do not define time, space, place and motion, as being well known to all.” Useless. Although, psychologists might benefit from his example. We all remember that Aristotle would always say, “If the now had remained the same, time would not have existed,” although I, for one, wonder why he bothered. Even my Uncle Albert (Einstein) would only say after dragging on his pipe, “Time is what a clock measures.” Way to go Al!
I thought that the novelists might help, so on the Megabus back from NYC this Sunday I decided to skim through my new edition of Proust, “In Search of Lost Time” and the twelve volumes that make up Anthony Powell’s “A Dance to the Music of Time”—another stolen title (from a painting by Poussin). Unfortunately, the combined 18 volumes are something like a million pages. Why don’t the publishers highlight the significant parts? We do get some useful hints from Proust however. He reminds us that “the remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were,” and that “Time passes, and little by little everything that we have spoken in falsehood becomes true.” First, as I’m sure you will agree, no finer advice for writing a memoir has ever been given. And second, Proust makes me feel a whole lot better about all the stuff I’d said and written during my career. You should all read the Anthony Powell books—you’ll have time as the universe winds down to cold, dead, near emptiness, but even now the titles, as the commercials say, are priceless. For example, those of you who have ever been in my home know that “Books Do Furnish a Room,” pretty much sums it up. And how about “Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant” for a title? Have you seen the new sign in front of the Golden Wok? No. Excellent. It says in neon, Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant. How did Tony P. know?
Next, I thought, “what about the poets?” But do you have any idea how many poems on time and its passing have been written? I bet there are nearly a hundred. We know that poets can be classified as optimists or pessimists—although sometimes they jump back and forth and one or two have been known to do their jumping in a single poem. I’m not sure where to put T.S. Eliot, who gave us “time is unredeemable,” (four quartets) although I think he was just upset that the Green Stamp redemption center on the Benner Pike had just closed. Ogden Nash summed it up for the optimists with the title of his collected poems, “I wouldn’t have missed it.” Billy Collins says much the same in “Days,” a poem that likens days to carefully stacking dishes—“No wonder you find yourself perched on the top of a tall ladder hoping to add one more. Just another Wednesday you whisper, then holding your breath, place this cup on yesterday’s saucer without the slightest clink”. Between clumsiness and entropy, I’d maybe last a week in the Collin’s household. Phillip Larkin has a poem with the same title (sheer laziness), in which he warns us not to ask “What are the days for… as asking that question, brings the priest and the doctor in their long coats running over the fields.” That is a great image. Then, I found a poem by Basho that on alternate Tuesdays and Thursdays sums the whole subject of time up nicely. The poem is translated by Jane Hirshfield, who is a wonderful poet in her own right. Her poem on time passing begins “This was once a love poem, before its haunches thickened, its breath grew short, before it found itself sitting, perplexed and a little embarrassed, on the fender of a parked car, while many people passed by without turning their heads…bummer. Where were we? Haiku, right? I love Haiku. It always passes the eight- lines- or- fewer- limit that most of us reserve for reading poetry. Often I find a haiku profound and silly in a single reading. Basho’s poem goes: In Kyoto, hearing the cuckoo, I long for Kyoto. Wow. Want that again? But then I thought, perhaps it could be rendered: Hearing the cuckoo, in Kyoto, I long for the cuckoo. And what does a cuckoo sound like anyway? OH.
Cuckoos aside, I was getting nowhere. And then, on the walk over to the meeting tonight I thought, Why not discuss it with the club? And with you. So let me ask you since…
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?
Help me out here.

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3 Responses to Stevieslaw: Thoughts? My Lit Club talk from January

  1. Carole says:

    you two, that is.


  2. Carole says:

    That’s when we are supposed to write, here in the North! Or are you at the NC shore? I’m working on the picture book series that has pushed the novel aside for a while. I’d like to be in a warmer place for a few weeks, however. Surely you don’t lack for absurdities to mock. Or are you really just tired of the political scene?


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