It has only been just over a week since I started my new job but it feels like an eternity. So many new experiences encountered one after the other – people, sounds, sights, tastes, paths, notwithstanding the myriad of obstacles and challenges that come with trying to become part of a new institution. And all that travel on Southern trains.
I am so not used to it – no wonder I am exhausted this weekend. I dipped into Eugene Ionesco’s “Fragments of a Journal” this morning – remembering when I first read it, being struck by how he poignantly captures the stretching and shrinking of time in people’s lives. When he was 8 years old he remembered:
“everything was joy, everything was presentness. The seasons seemed to spread out in space.”
But paradise does not last long:
“since then I have tried, every day, to cling on to something stable, I have tried desperately to recover a present, to establish it, to widen it. I have travelled in search of an intact worked over which time would have no power. Indeed, two day’s travel, the discovery of an unfamiliar city slow down the rush of events. Two days in a new country are worth thirty spent in the place we are used to, days shortened by triteness, debased by familiarity. Familiarity smooths down time, so that you slip on it as on an over-polished floor.” (p. 11)
It got me thinking about part of the problem of aging is the paradox of routine. Having a structure in life gives it meaning but our string of daily habits makes life all too familiar, and so we slip on time. And as we slip out of the routine of work into the routine of retirement our habits become even more familiar and yet we linger on them, trying to stretch them further but in doing so shortening the present. Taking an hour to drink a coffee, and reading the paper from cover to cover. And then it is lunchtime.
Given this inevitability how might we change time, even trick our perceptions of it, as we get older? How might we evoke memories that make the present more present rather than simply triggering faded, fond memories? Is it possible to build on the Proustian experience of involuntary memory – “…than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me…” to doing something more with them – that is if we are lucky enough to encounter them in the first place?