The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, July 31, 2006

Everything collides

by Tamara Lee

Long before the crystal-huggers and LSD-droppers started questioning linear time, the Maori had Dreamtime. Most of the western world now lives in some form of linear time, accepting synchronicity or coincidence or, if you’re feeling especially optimistic, connectivity, but someone like Maori writer Patricia Grace sees time more like an eternal whirl: the past, present, future happening simultaneously since, and for, forever.

When we start considering the passage of time, it’s hard not to immediately think of clichés. Hell, the phrase ‘passage of time’ itself is a cliché. And yet, whether we’re writing about it or describing it, we have surprisingly few options for depicting time: a falling leaf; a fast-forward camera shot; a chunk of white space between paragraphs, clichés and short-cuts, all of them.

I started thinking about this because it was my birthday last week.

I started thinking about this because I recently bumped into an old high school friend.

I started thinking about this because I was at a baseball game yesterday.

The last time I was at a Vancouver Canadians game, the team won the league championship, and had been so successful that year it was being moved to the US of A. At the top of the 9th, on one of the last days of summer, a perfect V-shaped formation of Canadian geese flew low over the field, heading south. Without a word from the normally over-instructional announcer, the game stopped, and everyone watched, knowing this was some significant moment.

Not to mention, one reeking of eau de cliché.

Flash-forward several years: same place and team, different league. As I watched the kids in the bleachers and the man-children on the field playing, I was listening to my friends catching up on what’s going on in their lives and making plans for the next get-together. And I felt that thing: A simultaneous past, present, future ‘moment’ and realised that that was what the baseball cliché is all about. Baseball, to those who are obsessed, will forever be a symbol for the spirit of past, present, future. It’s sort of the dreamtime of the western world.

Now, I’m hardly a big baseball fan, but I’m human and easily, readily, sucked in by the cheesy fun between innings; the food and drink excess; and the music. Oh, yeah, and the game… But mostly, it’s about the community. Plus, it’s difficult to look at those squirming kids in their baseball caps and baggy t-shirts, scarfing hot dogs, colas and popcorn, and not consider how those kids are in the midst of what could easily be a good memory.

That cheeseball, between-inning entertainment must have gotten to me: kids racing in tandem to make an oversized plastic sub sandwich, or spinning themselves around a bat then racing tricycles through an obstacle course. I found myself in the midst of my own memory, realising age happens, whether I live in the present or not, whether I believe in dreamtime or not. Nostalgia swept over me before time had even passed.

Damned birthdays. At least I had the good fortune the night I turned the-age-I-will-not-speak-of, of bumping into an old high school friend who, the dear heart, generously informed me I looked like I ‘hadn’t aged a bit.’ We didn’t catch up on the past 20 years; we simply talked about what we are doing now. And I was grateful not to have to summarise a lifetime in a sentence or two.

Trying to capture, no describe, time… Trying to reveal it without resorting to standard-issue tricks is akin to performing calisthenics on an empty tummy. In everyday speech, the old standards, like timestandingstill and timeslippedaway, are nearly excusable. For a writer, it's never excusable, but rather an exhausting pre-occupation…

So, as I sipped on my over-priced but surprisingly refreshing grapefruit cider at the ol’ ball game (sacrilege, I’m sorry, but I just can’t drink beer like I used to), in one brief moment, I realised I’m just not as anxious as I used to be, about being the one who stays behind as everyone in my life gets on with life.

But I am reluctant to leave you with an image to sum all this up. So far I’ve given you baseball, geese, kids… Whatdaya want? Sand through an hourglass? You get the picture.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It’s sort of the dreamtime of the western world."

I don't like baseball, but I love going to baseball games. For me, it's all about the hot dogs and trying to get on the big screen.

Happy Birthday Week, to you and to Anna.


Tue Aug 01, 11:56:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

I related to your concept here Tamara. For me I think it's all the typical western celebrations, (weddings, Christmas) and all the associatated traditions and details that brings my past and future to the present. Love your 'man children' :)

Tue Aug 01, 12:06:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

I love those moments when you realize you've moved on to something else, not necessarily better, not necessarily worse -- just different. Growing older is a continually nostaligic event. Enjoy your wisdom, Tamara, and Happy Birthday!

Wed Aug 02, 11:51:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

"Dreamtime" is also a great Stranglers album.

there's always the sun,
always, always,
always the sun

Surprisingly pretty, considering it's the Strangers.

Thu Aug 03, 07:53:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Hey, youse guys, thanks a million.

Wisdom? Hmm, not sure I won't go into middle age kicking and screaming once in a while...

And, oh, the Stranglers' Dreamtime... I forgot about that. I even have the record. (Note to self, get turntable fixed.)

Fri Aug 04, 02:17:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Records! Like vinyl? LPs? Are you sure you're not just masquerading as this younger person? I want to see three pieces of ID, missy.

Fri Aug 04, 02:42:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Tricia, dearie (said it crotchety, wavering voice...) I have several hundred records, as a matter of fact. Down from the near thousand I had in the late 90s when I traded 'up' for cds, which have all since been stolen. Sigh. Records are harder to lift in a break-in ;)

Fri Aug 04, 03:01:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger craig said...

Whoa, Tamara, you're reading my mail. I think about time and baseball a lot, too much really. I am a sucker for any kind of baseball story (W.P. Kinsella, Malamud's, the Natural, The start of Delillo's Underworld). There is something about baseball that transcends time (to use another cliche).

Both concepts popped up in my novel - and they keep showing up in my stories.

One of these days I need to write a hockey story, but it's just not the same.

LOVE the Stranglers. But I'm more modern, I have them on cassette.

Sun Aug 06, 05:51:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Heya, Craig. My favourite baseball movie: '8 Men Out'. It's beautifully written and seems to be the kind of baseball flick those of us who aren't obsessed can really dig into and get a sense of that whole world. If you haven't seen it, do. One of John Sayles' best movies (Lone Star being the other)

Sun Aug 06, 09:35:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tamara, your article gave me pause for thought. My father in law always said, "There is no past. Only the present and the future." Time is illusive on so many levels.

Terrific piece, Diane, The Maple Room

Mon Aug 07, 10:30:00 am GMT-4  

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