|Someday, Marchipelago 12,
So, Someday finally gets here and how do I observe it? I observe
it by waking up unable to remember the name of the comedian on "Saturday
Night Live" who used to play The Liar. You know - the guy who now
does ads for the Yellow Pages.
It eventually came to me after I went methodically through the alphabet,
thinking of every male first name I could until "Jon" clicked.
I'm just glad Mrs. Lovitz didn't name her son Zack.
Why did I wake up wanting to remember Jon's name for anyway?
I have no idea....
Yesterday I woke up unable to remember the name of the actor who played
the Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz."
I never would have forgotten that 20 or 30 years ago.
And my wife remembered it right away when I asked - saving me from having
to go through all those "A" names unnecessarily.
I can only wonder what else I'm forgetting.
Most frightening of all, what questions.
What's going on here?
Did the entry I wrote on Friday about my childhood home succeed in triggering
a flood of memories which has clogged my neuron pathways and washed out
my bridges to other sorts of information?
In looking back over that entry, I've come to realize how poorly it said
what I was trying to say.
It wasn't an exercise in nostalgia, you know.
It was my attempt to express complex feelings about time and memory which
words, perhaps, can never do justice. I realize that my particular
memories, like my particular life, have no special meaning. But they're
all I have to work with when I reflect back on the succession of events
and try to make sense of that succession - try to understand the way tomorrow
becomes yesterday, and what impact that endless process has on the perceptions
and evolution of the mind.
Given that a single blade of grass is a source of endless fascination for
me, I guess it isn't terribly surprising that 40 years of time and memory
can occasionally hold me spellbound for days at a time....
Well, leaving no room in my head for Jon Lovitz, anyway.
This is nothing new - this fascination with time and memory, I mean.
Ten years ago I attempted to catalogue every single memory I had of my
first ten years - just to see how many memories make up a childhood.
And to see how we evolve from formless infants to opinionated adults.
And to try to detect some surefire way of separating the remembered past
from remembered dreams.
Turns out that, in my case, the first decade of life boils down to about
1514 distinct memories.
How we evolve into opinionated adults remains an open question pending
And if you think I'm ready to address that third question I raised just
now, you're dreaming....
What interests me today is how inadequate I find Friday's entry.
To my mind, it failed to convey the overlapping sense of time I
had when I was writing it.
I don't like the way most novels and films handle the flow of time - and
for much the same reason. Proust certainly succeeds in giving the
flavor of the flow of time, but even he leaves me unsatisfied in the end.
"Rashomon" does a good job of conveying my sense of the highly subjective
nature of events; what I need is a work which does the same for
my sense of time.
It seems that most works posit event A - a murder, a loss of innocence,
whatever. It doesn't matter. For the rest of the work, event
A pretty much remains event A, frozen in time. Something the characters
must deal with as if it were a pebble in their shoe. Maybe they succeed
in removing it from their current life, maybe they develop a callous around
it, maybe it drives them crazy, maybe it ends up being redefined as actually
a piece of glass placed in the shoe by a jealous sibling. The thing
is, this pebble - this past event - is treated far too simplistically,
in my view.
Why? Because an event doesn't exist merely at the time it occurred.
It exists in each subsequent moment between the moment of its occurrence
and the moment we call Now. And it can be very different at each
moment along the way.
The only thing I've ever seen which catches a sense of what I'm talking
about is Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 movie, "The Conversation." In
it, Gene Hackman overhears a snippet of conversation using hi-tech spy
equipment and, as the movie progresses, that moment he overheard is re-interpreted
and relived by his mind in very different ways. The scene is replayed
with the actors using different tones of voice, different inflections -
and that, in turn, changes everything else.
Making the point that life is essentially a thing we construct in our minds,
moment to moment. It doesn't exist objectively Out There somewhere,
and the past - well, there is no past, really. There is only a sub-set
of the Now moment which we call the past.
And the past, far from being Truth Forever Frozen In A Moment In Time,
is actually a highly malleable thing which can vary greatly, moment to
An undying worm, forever turning in our minds...
An undying worm which will soon come to contain This Now Moment within
its bowels, too, along with all the others....
All of which is both more and less than I mean to say.
No matter. Time to move on to another point or two I feel I missed
Additional Point #1: Time and memory fascinated me even when I was
a child living in the place I posted the photograph of two days ago.
Consider: I lived above and was a frequent visitor to a hardware
store which hadn't changed much since it first opened in the early 1920s.
At the very same time, I lived less than 10 steps from a radio and TV repair
shop which back then seemed like an emissary from a fantastic future, much
like living next to an Internet hub or a Silicon Valley start-up would
In the course of a very few minutes, I could go from examining receipt
books printed up decades earlier to staring at the otherworldly glow of
a line of TV picture tubes pulled from from their wooden cabinets for servicing.
I spent at least as much time living in the distant past and the far future
as I ever spent in the so-called present....
Additional Point #2: In 1970 - three years after I'd moved out of
the apartment above the bar which had replaced the hardware 18 months before
I moved - I moved back to the area, to the upstairs of a duplex which offered
a clear view of my former residence out its front windows.
So: For the six years I lived in this duplex, the main stage of my past
was in constant view, just two roads and 7 lanes of ever-changing traffic
Before I'd moved to that duplex it, in turn, had been in constant view
of my first residence, though the significance of the fact of course escaped
The essential point is: I never set foot in the duplex before moving to
it, and after moving to it, I never set foot again in my old residence.
Despite their proximity.
Despite their being in clear view of each other.
And as I lived in the duplex and sat staring at my former residence, wondering
about its past and future, as well as my own, I'm sure it was reconfigured
in my mind, moment to moment, day by day...
And ultimately the sense I have of life being a series of arbitrary, mutually
exclusive, unbridgeable stage sets came to take shape....
I moved from the duplex and the entire neighborhood in 1976.
I took the photo I posted on Friday in 1979 - another mindset behind the
A couple months later I lived in a new apartment, farther out, but on the
same bus line as I had used as a child. A bus line which took me
past my former grade school as well as my first three residences within
the space of a few minutes as a matter of course, every day I went to work.
No hypnotist has ever exceeded that simple bus ride's ability to summon
up past lives, I'm sure.
A couple years after that, my first residence burned to the ground, resulting
in a new version of the past.
A version noteworthy for its fragility.
A few years ago, the duplex was demolished and its whole corner of the
block replaced by a drug store designed in some unknown, faraway city,
changing the past again as suddenly the past seemed to be harboring a time-eating
virus which would not stop until every moment has been consumed....
Different times and different people have viewed time differently, of course.
For a long while, Western Civilization viewed time as having begun with
Eden or a Golden Age from which all subsequent moments had constituted
a decline, each moment rolling us all just a little bit further down the
hill to The End....
Cyclical time was in vogue then for awhile - the idea that everything repeats
much as the seasons do. Things don't get worse, but neither do they
More recently, time has come to be seen as steady progress up a ladder
towards ever-greater knowledge and prosperity.
I see time as something much different from all these things. To
me, it's a funhouse affair, a hall of mirrors in which things happen and
then are reflected back and forth and back and forth in varying degrees
of light but always more or less distorted.
Distortion which, of course, everyone sees differently depending on their
place in the life cycle and the mindset their eyes are passing the images
A confusing entry?
A confusing journal?
Well, so much better a reflection of time, memory, and life then.
Or at least so much better a reflection of a mind shaped by such a temporally
confusing place as an apartment above a hardware close to a radio and TV
An apartment which - did I mention? - was one of two.
The other, to our west, a mirror image of our own.
Yes, "Through the Looking Glass" wasn't merely a book to me, it was an
actual, physical place, just a few inches of plaster away.
Really, it's a wonder that this journal isn't even more confusing than
it is - don't you think?
And to think that I haven't even mentioned one of the many Outlandish people
who passed through the stage sets I've now described.
In retrospect, I think I might have done better to write again of lard.
Or perhaps that first little blade of grass I once lived next to but never,
ever got to know....
Back To An Allegedly Recent
Forward To What Is Now A
Future Entry But Will Become
A Past Entry Fit For Writing
In Another Confusing Entry
(©"Now" by the trillions of cells
modern society tends to insist
I consistently attach the English language
label "Dan Birtcher" to)