A Clock Ticks…

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. – Henry David Thoreau

I just looked up at the wall.  There is a paper calendar up there.  Of course, it would be useless (aside from the lovely pictures atop each page) if I didn’t already know some of the information it offers: knowing the year, the month, and the day of the week is helpful.  Without such prior knowledge, what good would a calendar be?  I lost you for a moment because you were thinking about what kind of pictures were on my calendar.

Beside the calendar is a clock.  The clock’s job is to enhance any apprehensions caused by the calendar so that you can feel increasingly uneasy about being late for something, and feel that way all the time.

It was the ticking that caught my attention.  The tempo is much more regular than my typing.  The two resonate without uniformity to each other, and neither keep time with my pulse.  It is such as a bass player being out of sync with the drummer, and the drummer out of time with the pace of the melody.

Ah, the melody!  I used to perform with other musicians from time to time in honky-tonks and dives, and for a while, had a regular band.  We were like brothers (relatively speaking).  Some of those guys are brothers  to me still, and are among the most trust-worthy men on earth.  Being in a band with these guys was one of the best things that ever happened to me, but there was no loving public with fists full of money standing in huge lines to hear us play.

We had all the audible aesthetic qualities of a train wreck.  It wasn’t so much the fault of the drummer or the bass player as much as it was the obscurity of the melody that kept us from harmonious perfection.  I was supposed to carry the melody, but it would’ve been carried better on a stretcher to the back of an ambulance.  The “tune in a bucket” metaphor works well here.  It takes a crow to appreciate the song of a crow.

The clock continues to tick.  It could be that some other agenda creeps in, at least subconsciously, that allows me to notice and be in some way put off ease by it.  Sometimes, just looking at a clock can do that.  I’m often tense about schedules, deadlines and appointments  that have been set down by someone else for me to keep.  But, what I write here today is being done at my own pace, and in my own time (if there is such a thing).

I know of another clock in another place.  That old clock sits on a mantle stuck in a time left behind some decades ago.  Announcing the passing of each and every fifteen minute segment had gone from curiosity and novelty to interruption, and then to nuisance.  It was silenced, and allowed to wind down: its regularity ceased.  It was allowed to run out of gas, and then decaffeinated.  The spring is relaxed, and so it will remain in a peaceful eternity of perpetual tranquility as long as nobody messes with it.

Even right now its deceptive face declares a time, but there is no cadence: its parade stopped right in the middle of a road that leads to nowhere.  Its face-value has been diminished.  Its current rate of speed would’ve saved the Titanic, but would’ve been no benefit to any horse in the Kentucky Derby.  It is only correct twice in every twenty-four hour period, but that is accidental: it measures nothing.  It’s as if the face of the clock is sticking its tongue out at us.

The time shown on its countenance is of some instance in the past that is no longer real.  Whatever relevance it might have had would be only a memory now, but nobody remembers.  Whatever was the day and year that it stopped, or whether it was morning or evening didn’t make the chronicles.   As far as I know, it marks no significant happening in history, nor offers any prediction for the future.  Maybe it’s just not important.

Here, the clock that ticks in the study where I write could be a metronome for my thinking, but it isn’t.  As such, it would seem to be a constant reminder that I’m out of sync with the rest of the ensemble.  Since I am the only person in the room, it is disconcerting to focus on the prospects that I am out of rhythm with the very tune that is playing in my mind.  Thoreau offered that I step to the music I hear, but the thought has occurred to me that I could be out of step with even that.

Perhaps I should work at timing, or learn to ignore the clock.  Other options would be to disable the clock, or go into a different space where I couldn’t hear it.  But since space and time are a continuum, the damned clock would probably follow me in there.

I think I should work on ignoring the clock, or at least learn to ignore the ticking.  My wife says I have talents for doing both.  She can remember many incidents of me showing no awareness at all of sights and sounds that could otherwise be informative.  I had teachers in school who would agree with her.

I’ll just ignore the clock.  After all, it is just a mechanical device to measure points in time that have been so arbitrarily set by someone other than me, anyway.

Outside of our own species, nothing else on the planet ever inquires or gives a rip about chronology.   All other life forms let biology tell them when they need to do something.  Do you remember the “Bizarro” world in the Superman comic books?  Only in a place like that would an orangutan intentionally wear a wrist watch and care one way or the other about the closing bell on Wall Street.

No, it is only humans that seem to need clocks.  Only human beings have a predisposition to impose our restrictive concepts of what time means onto the rest of the  cosmos (should some three-headed octi-pedal monstrosity with two tails somewhere in the Andromeda Galaxy need to know the broadcast schedule of ESPN).

Then there are time zones that cause Californians to miss lunch in New York, and miss work altogether in Berlin.  These zones leap frog around the globe until they run smack-dab into the International Date Line (which is not:  “Hey baby, wanna ride?”).

Einstein said time is relative.  Well, that sure clears things up!  I should need to understand relationships?  Lots of things have relationships with other things.  For example, there is a relationship between the time allowed for a project, and the time it will actually take to finish it.  For some of us, the actual finish line is always somewhere off in the future while the deadline lolly-gags along somewhere back in history.

Relatives are relative.  There is a lot of give and take with family: some will take the time, and some would give the time.  And in some profoundly universal way, it all means the same thing.

Perhaps in some parallel universe, the old clock (that I’d mentioned on the mantle in another place) would be ticking and chiming in step with however time is measured there.  Some such universe may, in theory (empirical, metaphysical or otherwise), be home to laughter and music shared by others long vanished from our daily walk here on this plane, except in memories.  After all, the song; the dance, the ritual combat, and in fact the entire live theater is a fleeting art form never to be permanently framed outside of memories on this side of the worm hole.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was credited for saying yesterday is gone, and there is no promise of tomorrow (although a Taoist monk said the same thing many centuries before and additionally that by such calculation, “today is a good day”).  While the idea is central to the peacefulness offered in many poems, songs and other writings (including The Sermon on the Mount), few live by it.

I liked the version by Fleetwood Mac.  They sang “yesterday’s gone”, and it is.  But they transcended the peacefulness in the now by insisting that we “don’t stop thinking about tomorrow”.  What a way to condemn an entire generation to a dependency on Pepto Bismol!

The stress and tensions of our daily lives seem so tied to things already past, or to things that have not yet happened.  Some people deal with it better than others.  Normally, I prefer the amiable peacefulness in the now, but like the rest of us, I can get all wrapped up in the past just as easily as I can feel the future pressing down on me.

If you enjoy stress and worry, the past and the future will offer wonderful playgrounds for you.  I play there myself now and then, but generally the list of things I didn’t do yesterday as well as my list that won’t get done tomorrow, is more or less endless.  Sometimes my happiness with that arrangement is almost immeasurable in spite of the discomfort others might feel if faced with such lists.

As mentioned, I do share with you the guilt of often forgetting that the past is only a memory, and tomorrow is only a concept.  They are not real…unless they are put up for  sale.  Many folks would like a piece of tomorrow if the price is right, and a good many think they might want to repurchase some of yesterday.  But they cannot.

The illusion of getting back to the future made for a fun movie (with sequels), but so far nobody has really figured out how to physically travel in time.  If they ever do, I’m sure some brokers will appear to assess for us the discrepancies between the values of yesterday vs. tomorrow.  For the price to be up or down will probably depend entirely on whether you’re selling or buying, just like everything else.

In the meantime, yesterday is a memory: it isn’t real anymore.  Tomorrow is a concept: it isn’t real yet.  By that measure, the only reality is now.  While we may think of things past and future, we do so in the present because that is where reality is (at least on this plane and in this universe, best I can tell).

Well, there you have it: the present time, and I’m not using it wisely.  Nor do I intend to.  Putting this in writing may serve to confirm and validate some of the opinions and beliefs of those who love me.

Even in the now that you read this, keep in mind that I wrote it awhile ago.  I’m not sitting here watching you read it: I’ve moved on.  I’m now onto messing up other things.  I would be (or will have been) at a place in time with a different reality by now.

We all have our own internal clocks, and to some degree, measure time and space in our own way.  My perceptions of whatever is going on in that continuum may vary from yours no matter how similar; parallel or congruent your universe is to mine.  I’ve got to cut down on coffee.


10 responses to this post.

  1. Reality is for people who can’t face drugs.


  2. Posted by Wayne Casasanta on April 11, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    Van, as usual, your commentary is a welcome distraction from clocks, time, reality and old age. As I read your perceptive comments, my senility causes my mind to wander on bits of information that you share. Yes, I am guilty of wondering what photos are on your calendar. Initially, as a male, I thought of beautiful young ladies; however, know that your wife would not want that, at least not in public view, so my next guess is a “custom” calendar, with photos of your beloved dogs.

    As males, who have awoke and found ourselves, being classified as “senior citizens,” we wonder where those seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, and yes decades have gone so quickly. Clocks that are wound or have batteries that are charged still tick and tock, or move sliently. Even for the clocks that have not been wound, or have “dead” batteries, they do not cause time to slow down or stop. As I climb stairs, I find myself looking for an oxygen tank, instead of the nearest fire extinguisher.

    I have always been a people watcher. Now, in my “senior” years, I have the luxury of spending more time doing that. As you mentioned, most people are concerned with time, appointments and schedules. I am reminded of the scripture, where God tells us that we do not need to worry about tomorrow.

    Learning the difference between needs and wants can be a challenge for most people. I want to be handsome, but that will never happen, so I have learned to accept that I need to be less offensive to others, which seems to mean having to shave and shower more than once each month.

    Thank you for sharing your time, talents and mind with us. I will end this response, as it seems to be time to change my Depends.


  3. Posted by betty on April 11, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    Time just eludes me!
    Never enough, and sometimes, too much!
    I luv u , no matter what time it is!


  4. Posted by little d on April 12, 2010 at 11:23 am

    And as time will record, I had just finished winding up
    my ole Timex when off in the distance, I heard the stroke
    of luck run completely off the road across the ditch and
    into a Van. Luckily for me, I knew what time it was, for I
    had been forewarned in advance. I’m not sure about
    what tomorrow will bring, but you can call ahead into
    that day from here by dialing one, then the area code.

    Hey Casey, watch out for that VanTwain, it’s about time….
    ( steel not excluded )

    advantagevan: time zoning, warp speeds and tick silencers
    ( the early bird gets the worms, but in time will return unto them )

    ( gravitationally depressed )


  5. Posted by Bonnie Stewart on April 12, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    I’m glad I took the “time” to read this. Your writing is worth every second. Love you brother!!


  6. Posted by JL on April 12, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    (From e-mail) Thanks for sharing the link to your blog. I’ve never really read blogs before but I really love your creativity and writing style!…I will share your blog site with (my)Face Book group.


  7. Posted by Diane on April 13, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    (From e-mail) Just wanted to let you know that I am enjoying your nonsense. AND I am finding that lots of it makes GOOD sense!!


  8. Posted by Marlene Humberd on January 9, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Ah, time … quite a subject , Van. I don’t wear a watch anymore ( can’t even tell you when I stopped doing that), because.. I don’t have to . Gone are the years of schedules , deadlines , clock-ins , clock-outs, carpools, pickups , and drop -offs. Now , it’s nice to be on my own whenever , whatever, however time.Not that I’m totally schedule free …my husband hasn’t retired completely yet ,and I do have some things I have to be on time for. I just schedule those things for a certain day and get them all over and done with .The past .. well.. it is over . I don’t have any would haves , could haves , should haves .I lived it , did the best I could, enjoyed most of it , and moved on .The future … who knows .. we’ll find out…maybe another great adventure(s) . Today is all I have….to make it what I want it to be . And it has been a lovely day !! Thank you , Van ; )


  9. Posted by Chris Aristides Pappas on August 29, 2012 at 2:34 am

    Time. What is it good for? It is not even a dimension or a fundamental entity/identity of Reality. The true dimensionality of time lays in its inverse, frequency. Planck pinned down the energy related to 1 Hz. But that is a cycle per second and although we may calculate the dimensions of a cycle, just what exactly does a second equal in the true measurements of Reality?

    Let us accept Einstein’s consideration that Co is the maximum speed of electromagnetic radiation through the “vacuum” of space. Now consider that the speed of EMR is reduced when it passes through any interface between mediums of differential density. While both Co and wavelength are reduced, frequency remains invariant. Again frequency is the inverse of time.

    Time is not a dimension as is length, width and depth or separation. It’s only relevance is, indeed, in the moment. As you have suggested, we only experience time now. Memory is but a record and prediction is only an estimate of the future. Once we are in the “future” we are only in a newer now. Time travel ranges from an authors device to a silly human conceit. The only time is now. The past is only an archive which we carry with us and the future is blank. We may only travel ahead through consecutive “nows”.

    Omar Khayyám:

    The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
    Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
    Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

    And, far more recently, from Kansas’s “Dust in the Wind”

    I close my eyes
    Only for a moment and the moment’s gone

    All my dreams
    Pass before my eyes with curiosity
    Dust in the wind
    All they are is dust in the wind

    Same old song
    Just a drop of water in an endless sea
    All we do
    Crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see

    Dust in the wind
    All we are is dust in the wind

    Now don’t hang on
    Nothin’ last forever but the earth and sky
    It slips away
    And all your money won’t another minute buy”

    And of course from Joni Mitchell’s lyrics and their “immortal” presentation at Woodstock by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young,

    “We are stardust, we are golden,
    We are billion year old carbon,
    And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.”

    Time is an illusion. However, some theoretical and applied physicists fully comprehend that it is time intervals that are dimensional, measurable.

    The most fundamental observers are particles in collision, where we may ignore “fields”. Observation only arises upon collision. Time and acceleration are only “measured” by the particles relative to the time interval for the more rapid centre of mass to transit from the centre of the one particle to the other. Then recoil begins. This acceleration (deceleration) changes momentum to an almost instantaneous force or an impulse. These determine the exchange of momentum of the particles and suggest a route to a determination of a fundamental time interval unit. Here we may truly consider “quantum” time (intervals).

    Best regards,


  10. Van, I’m reading this long after you wrote it. If only more people could embrace the present with as much gusto as you have. Thank you, I needed to be reminded!


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