Time, memory, spandex  April 27, 2011   «  »

Wednesdays—a whole year's worthWednesday is a strange word—look to the left, all those repetitions only serve to underscore the strangeness of its pronunciation. That n-d, d-n linguistic acrobatics seems odd when we're children but then it's nothing compared to the Sphinx-like riddle of pronunciation offered by through, bough, tough, and dough. Them. Oh, never mind.

Our quirkily-named friend Wednesday finds itself crowned The Middle Of The Week. Well, at least The Middle Of The Work Week. More people come to work on Wednesday than any other day of the week. It's a friendly sort of day, a relatively sick-free day, an I've-finally-pulled-it-together-long-enough-to-come-in day, a hump day, an only-two-more-days-until-the-weekend day. There's something nice about the way it begins with W, too, isn't there? Something kindly. Something that makes you want to get to work.

But I haven't listed the annual dose of Wednesdays here as a meditation on oddity. I've done it to illustrate how few of them there really are. Only fifty-two each year and we're already seventeen Wednesdays in. Seventeen. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. You've read the numbers, now write them out yourself longhand. Something about them changes when you write them as words instead of numbers. An element of time comes into play. Strangely enough, numbers speed along; written words progress more slowly.

Time is a complex psychological phenomenon. While the U.S. navy's cesium atom clock dependably pulses away measuring a mathematically precise element of time that's accurate to within two nanoseconds per day or one second in 1,400,000 years (!), our human-defined clocks are delightfully imprecise. Indeed, some neuroscientists are now examining this individual temporal flexibility. Stop to think about that concept: how long a moment is depends on your personal perception of it.

Now that you're aware of time's potential for spandexiness, will you live your life any differently? How does knowing some things might really be longer or shorter than others affect how you choose to fill your days? Will Mondays feel any different? Can categorizing Wednesdays render them any more special? It's not like Tuesdays are that much different. What about Saturday and Sunday? Is it possible to make those feel longer?

In On Reading, Marcel Proust captures the sublime, youthful, organic intertwining of time, books, memory, and love:

There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we believe we left without having lived them, those we spent with a favorite book. Everything that filled them for others, so it seemed, and that we dismissed as a vulgar obstacle to a divine pleasure: the game for which a friend would come to fetch us at the most interesting passage; the troublesome bee or sun ray that forced us to lift our eyes from the page or to change position; the provisions for the afternoon snack that we had been made to take along and that we left behind us on the bench without touching, while above our head the sun was diminishing in force in the blue sky; the dinner we had to return home for, and during which we thought only of going up immediately afterward to finish the interrupted chapter, all those things which reading should have kept us from feeling anything but annoyance at, it has on the contrary engraved in us so sweet a memory of (so much more precious to our present judgment than what we read then with such love), that if we still happen today to leaf through those books of another time, it is for no other reason than that they are the only calendars we have kept of days that have vanished, and we hope to see reflected on their pages the dwellings and the ponds which no longer exist.

What if the past really is farther away now than it was before? What if the future is closer? Thursday awaits.

Poor Proust, if there's ever any discussion about memory, he gets pulled into it. This is precisely why I like Pierre Bayard's comment on Paul Valéry, "the master of non-reading." Bayard observes, "Like most people who talk about Proust, Valéry had never read him. But unlike most, he was unfazed by this fact…" He even wrote a tribute to Proust. Monsieur Valéry was ballsy, no?

In keeping with Bayard's epistemology, I will confess to rating Proust's works as SB—books I have skimmed, and Valéry's work as UB—books I am unfamiliar with, despite his impressive, without-me-French-20th-century-poetry-would-be-sadly-lacking Wikipedia entry.

By the way, the name of the book that Pierre Bayard wrote? How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read.

Carla Casilli Talk to me at cmcasilli at gmail dot com.