Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The Time Traveller's Trouble & Strife

We humans 'know' past and future and, as far as scientists can tell, this ability is not shared by other animals. It’s interesting to think that animals can’t conjure up memories or envision something in the future. Time is a tricky business. We all seem to take it for granted that it does exist but why do we believe in something that we can’t see, taste, smell or hold? Why does it only travel in one direction, from past to present to future and not the other way around? If this thing called time is so elusive, does that mean that it’s real or a figment of our imagination?
Time may be elusive but, for the past few years, it’s become painfully obvious that it’s not a figment of my mind nor is it travelling backwards. I know this because of the deepening furrows on my forehead, the crow’s feet, the laugh lines and the spreading and sagging and creaking. I not only know what a wattle is but I have enough to share. But you know what? I’ve earned all these battle scars and I wear them proudly. Also, I’m not so keen on needles or scalpels.

Besides the inevitable ageing process, I’ve discovered another interesting thing about the passage of time. As I get older I’ve begun to identify with my grandparents’ need to share their stories from the past, memories of their golden sun-dappled days of youth. I find myself doing the same thing lately, telling my kids all these old stories that I unearthed from my own childhood, digging them up like an eager archaeologist, blowing off the dust and entrusting them to my children as if they were the treasures in King Tut’s tomb.

Partly, I’m reminiscing because my long-term memory is becoming better than my short-term memory. But there’s another part of me that gets a thrill out of remembering the past. Sometimes, as a parent, as a spouse, as a tax-paying, bill-paying member of ‘responsible society’, it’s fun to remember that I have a history, that once upon a time I was young and carefree and devil-may-have-cared but I didn’t. I tell my kids about some of the crazy hijinks from bygone days, editing out the truly disreputable parts and skipping the story about how I jumped off a moving train that was headed to Budapest when I needed to get back to my school in Germany for final exams. And that is a true story. [Aside: Just for the record, even if you can still see the platform, once the train is moving it’s going faster than you think and the majority of train station platforms are not made out of that spongey stuff they use in playgrounds. Just saying. ]

But mostly, I reminisce about the good times and the funny times and the times when I felt sad or confused or scared but came through it okay. I share my stories with my kids as a way to connect with them and I like to think it helps them make sense of the world or maybe just lets them see that I’m a person too and not just their mother. They like to hear about the music I listened to and the TV shows I watched and the trouble my sister and I got into. They ask a lot of questions about what it was like to grow up in the cave ages, before the Internet and Facebook and Skype and Twitter and Nintendo. So I tell them that I read a lot of books, the kind with real paper on the inside and I listened to record albums. And they laugh. And it’s a little bonding exercise, free and fun for the whole family. But, despite all the reaching into the past for jolly tales of yore, time keeps moving forward. And there’s nothing that we can do about it. Hopefully, time is on my side but, if it’s not, my kids will remember some good times and funny times and sad times and pass them on to their own children some day. I give them my time today and my memories from yesterday and they’ll have that in the future.

On another note regarding time, I have always been fascinated with the whole concept of time travel. If you were given a chance to travel in time, would you take it? Would you choose to travel to the past or the future? And, upon your return to the present, would you want to remember what you had seen?

I wrote this post for Josie’s Writing Workshop at Sleep is for the Weak. The prompt I chose was Time.


  1. I am not sure I would want to see into my own future, or the future of those I love. But I'd rather see the future than the past.

    So if I were to time travel, it would want to be ten thousand years from now. Then I could remember it. And, hopefully, if what I see is strange, or bad, it's so far away that it wouldn't hurt any more than visiting the Stone Age.

    We haven't, after all, been around for long.

  2. Great post. My son too loves hearing my stories from the past (edited of course)and asks for the same ones again and again. He can't believe that I didn't have the internet or a DS or a computer. What did you do all day Mummy???

    I've been thinking a lot about time travel recently after being affected by the last episode of Doctor Who and Vincent Van Gogh. Did you see it? They took him into the future and showed him what a world famous artist he became and what a legacy he left and his longevity. But he still killed himself. I may blog about it!!

  3. Really enjoyed reading this post. Time is quite complicated, especially if we just want to reverse it. Those long terms memories are what I have these days; haven't a clue where my short term memory went!

    CJ xx

  4. Theodora, that's an interesting idea---wonder what the world would look like 10,000 years from now?

    deer baby, no, I didn't see that episode of Dr. Who but I've always had a soft spot for Van Gogh--Starry, Starry Night--wonder why he still killed himself. Would definitely make an interesting blog post.

    CJ, Time is complicated---I don't even know if I want to reverse it but sometimes it would be nice if it stood still or didn't go so quickly!

  5. Lovely post. I often think that I'm happy with the passing of time. The older I get, the more comfortable I am in my own skin.
    I don't think I'd like to time travel.
    The Time Traveller's Wife and that episode of Dr Who both made me sob uncontrollably! x

  6. Great post, and interesting question about time travel... I think I would want to travel into the past, mainly to see how things really were. Does that make sense? See it for myself... I guess poking around in the future would scare me just a bit too much. Maybe... I'll be thinking on that one.

    I think it is fantastic that you share your stories with your kids - I love to hear about my own parents' hijinks from their younger, freer days.

    Wonderful post, thank you for sharing!

  7. Sandy, I loved the book 'The Time Traveller's Wife' and cried my way through many parts. And you're right, I think that as we age we start to feel more comfortable in our own skin.

    Annie, it makes perfect sense to want to go back to the past and see what it was really like. I'm with you---not too sure I'd like to visit the future.

  8. Yes, totally agree and I find as my sons get older, they are asking more questions and wanting to hear the stories about my childhood! Lovely post!

  9. My eldest daughter is four so, for now, she just can't grasp how there was ever a time when she wasn't here, when we were without her. One of the reasons why I wanted to write stuff down, to blog, was to leave my kids something of me, an insight into how life is right now. Weirdly it hit a nerve with my Mum who's writing down her memories, I hear she's hit 40 A4 pages so far! My Nan too wrote her memoirs which is an amazing account of what her life was like. Oh, that was a bit of a rambling comment, sorry!

    p.s. you must try and catch that Dr Who episode, I cried my eyes out too :)

  10. What a fabulous post!

    I'm fascinated by the concept of time, the way our perception of it seems to change even as it marches on so relentlessly. I seem stuck in a perpetual present right now, every day seeming longer than the last, with only my changing boy growing out of his nappies to remind me that time is passing.

    Loved your musings. Thanks for sharing x

  11. If I Could Escape, it's nice that they want to hear our stories, isn't it?

    scribblingmum, funny you say that about your mum. My mum is also currently writing her life story and enjoying it thoroughly.

    Josie, watching our children grow up is the most immediate way of realizing how quickly the time goes!

  12. Yes, I too find myself telling stories from the past to anyone who will listen. We reach a certain age and we all go through the same stages. I think that we try to remember the past because it is getting so hard to remember what we said two minutes ago. We cannot be losing our memory if we can recall the exact events from grades chool, right?