This is our truth, tell us yours
One of the illusions we like to comfort ourselves with is the linear nature of time. Event follows event and we move forward like the horses on the racing game they used to have in Spanish City, mechanical movement, jerking forward until we finish the race. I am not about to attempt to argue from a position of physics here, on the reality of the temporal as a dimension. I am aware there are arguments my mind barely grasps, as to whether X follows Y from convention, our current laws, or an immutable law of the universe(s).
Instead I am caught wondering about the idea that our personal time, our narrative time if you will, progresses in a measured, linear, fashion. This wonderful post explores how queer time breaks the traditional narrative rules, for so many reasons. When your sense of who you are develops in fits and starts, with lifetime realisations occurring in lightbulb moments, and decades wasted trying to fit your queer shaped self into straight shaped holes, time and narrative both move in different ways. Perhaps the image of the racing game is more apt here, since the horses move fitfully, and who reaches the finish line first seems in the hands of blind chance.
Even with the concept of queer time being slower, less measured than “straight” time there can still be an assumption we move forward, of progress, of event X being in the past and event Y the future, with a bridge between to two which we can easily recognise. Once I was asked to draw a timeline of my life, marking significant events, and recognising the very falsity of the idea of personal timelines I drew a meandering river, twisting and turning upon itself, sometimes narrow and fast flowing, sometimes wide and slow, time passing in a month of sunday afternoons, with eons between each clock tick.
By convincing ourselves there is a straight line, progressive narrative (and all of popular culture, from job promotions to the relationship escalator) encourages this idea, then we can feel we are failing when patterns repeat or we do not reach the next marked milestone. We try to force our histories, and our futures into that neat, shakespearean pattern of seven ages, each leading to the next. Which is not to say we do not age chronologically, the number on the card increasing by one as the earth revolves around the sun.Although even this is more arbitrary than we might think as different cultures use different measures of age. But an assigned number, as a measure of time, logically should have no relation to how we live our life, whether we have children, are studying, are still learning who we are.
I want to suggest our personal, narrative, time is instead a series of spirals, circles within circles, where we repeat, cover the same ground, but with different awareness, and often walk paths over and over. Not because we are stuck, or making the same mistakes, but because the linear model is an illusion, the line from birth to death, interrupted by education, marriage, work, parenthood, in that specific order, is a false creation, imposed upon humans. People are messy, circular, ambling, exploring, and trying to force straight lines upon them is like trying to carve away at stonehenge to make the blocks more regular. Once we ditch the idea of time pulling us forward, marching us to the next way station, we give ourselves more space to be forgiving and self accepting. A lot of pain is caused by the idea we do not fit the narrative, or by “not being over” our experiences, but this pain only exists because we have accepted we should replace natural curves with imposed straight lines.
Perhaps this is a truth the ancient celtic builders of labyrinths understood which we have lost,that only by circling, by seeming to repeat, by ignoring that a straight line exists, can we truly understand the process for what it is.