The Shape of Time

People don’t understand time. … People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.”

It’s sort of true, isn’t it? Calendars come in a book format, but in essence they are an ouroboros. December 31st rolls into January 1st without fail, without change. The best methods I’ve seen displaying the Mayan Calendar utilized multiple interlocking wheels, like gears in a clock–our own round time displays. Maybe we’re just obsessed with a need for time to be cyclical. I need to explain where the concept of this post began: an update on my Facebook page for an anniversary.

On May 23, 1994, the very last episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation aired. Being raise by a Trekkie, I remember watching it. That plot line broke ground and laid the foundation of all that was science fiction in my mind. Days away from seven years old, I discovered timelines could cross over and weave between each other. Past, present, and future could simultaneously move toward the same moment, a moment before all of these times linearly.

Twenty years have passed since that day. I can clearly spot the choices I’ve made in my life, the things I enjoy, and facets of the person I’ve become that stem from the impact of that episode. Time’s such a funny thing. I first bonded with my best friend forever nearly two decades ago over Animorphs which was about aliens and occasionally time travel and dinosaurs. In my Astronomy class, I studied black holes whose mass could bend light, space, and time. I’ve watched a series about a time traveling alien, and I’ve had dreams with plots hinging on temporal causality loops. I didn’t just know what they were to plot of my dream while I slept, but I could feel the flow of those loops, of time, as I watched it gyre in never-ending whirlpools.

When researching for my thesis paper on Star Wars in college, I spent a good deal of time on the role of “Supernatural Aid”, specifically in the form of Merlin, a man believed to be living backwards through time. Part of me wonders if this myth is the reason that science theorized the tachyon particle that looks like it’s moving backwards simply because it can move faster than the speed of light.

Making tracks in the wrong direction.

Time bends which means it cannot itself exist as a line, but as something fluid. As light acts both as a wave and a particle, time also might be two things at once. Humans cling to a cyclical nature for time even though we know it exists as one with space and alters with perception. Time exists almost like a tapestry woven of water.

Back in May, I had a serious plotting session to explore Father Time as a character:  who he was as a man, what he looked like, his personality and quirks. To me, he wasn’t that old, graying figure with a long beard, a scythe, and an hour glass. He was a man, just a moment past his prime with nothing to denote his status save a pocket watch. He needed nothing else. Why carry a scythe when one can slow, speed, and stop the flow of time around an object at a simple thought? Time walked gracefully, with sure steps.

I wrote out a scene to work out his personality a bit. During that time, he not only managed to change my simple story into a multifaceted work of many time lines woven into one, but showed off his abilities by stopping another person’s pocket watch (as well as freezing that person’s aging) by the end of that small scene I used to get a feel for him. I saved my progress at the end of my brain storming session, collected my things for work, and noticed that all the clocks in my house had been reset back to “12:00”. Time, apparently, likes to dance. I don’t know if he chose that moment to dance with me because he was flattered I had spent my moments engaging him or because he was angry that I shed light on him.

“…awful things have happen when wizards have meddled with time…”

A few days after this incident, twenty years after the original airing of “All Good Things…,” I sat down to watch Patrick Stewart once again participate in an act of time bending in a science fiction setting. A part of me feels like I’ve some how come full circle and landed on that same spot I once sat in twenty years past. Everything changes, even as it all stays the same. Time, I like to think, has taken to looking at me because I’ve taken looking at time. But time, I know, is time, and it won’t sit still, and I will follow along.

I’ll take notes in my phone about how time travel works, sure, and I’ll explain it to friends over dinner who think I look more like I’m pulling the knowledge directly from my brain and producing it on the screen of my phone. I’ll write all the twisted, drunken short stories with woven fragments of time lines that like to heal themselves. I’ll watch every documentary on astrophysics. I’ll spend hours talking about how it might be possible for supernatural aids to traverse backwards in time. I find such delight in overlapping time lines. Time wants to weave and so do I. Watching time weave made me a writer. Much of what I love hinges on themes of bending time. Even Harry Potter opened at the close. I think I’ll keep my addiction, despite the warnings.

This year, I started the count down to my birthday on Mr. B’s watch at 30 seconds to midnight.

“Five, four, three, two, one.”

“Happy Birthday!” Mr. B shouted.

At that moment, while we stared blankly, his watch stopped working. It only displayed the the hour and minutes, no longer the seconds or the date. Mr. B gave me the “why did you break my watch?” look. I just giggled.

So what is time? Is it a line? A cycle? A ball of stuff? I lean toward the ball. Starlight isn’t just light from a star–it’s memory. It travels fast across the universe, but even so, it takes time. In 1987 there was a supernova, SN1987A, and while it became visible here in 1987, the light from the original explosion took some 160,00 lightyears to get here. That means the actual explosion witnessed in 1987 happened about 160,000 years ago.

So if there were aliens on the other side of the universe just the right distance away looking at us in a telescope right now, they might see dinosaurs, and if we had a telescope that could look at those same aliens right now, we might see their own origins. To them, dinosaurs currently exist and are observable, though linearly for us, that time has long been over. Time, our conception of it and record of it, doesn’t fit neatly into any one little shape or form we give it. It’s too liquid of a concept for that.

Let me end on this note. A few days before my birthday when I began drafting this, I wasn’t entirely sure where it would lead me, so I put it aside and began focusing on how I would celebrate. I wanted to continue the tradition of buying a new book and reading it for my birthday, but I wasn’t sure exactly what I would buy. When I was in middle school, I read Anne McCaffery’s short story about “The Smallest Dragonboy”. I’ve wanted to read all her works since that moment, and I mark that reading as the moment I fell in love with dragons, despite not understanding how that short story fit into the larger series.

While debating about purchasing this title, I recalled a wind chime I own which I had left behind in a lifetime of multiple moves. Said wind chime happened to be returned to me the next day. The chime is of a wizard and a dragon, with smaller dragons in the process of hatching dangling down to strike the metal tubes. I had not seen it in years and was overjoyed by its return to my life. The happiness from this chime lingered and pushed me to buy and read the first of McCaffery’s series, Dragonflight. To my amusement I found that dragons could not only teleport but time travel. Of course they could. In my own sense of time, this particular thread keeps coming full circle.

It’s been six months since I first began this post. During that time I’ve taken it out, looked at it, edited a word or two, and moved paragraphs around. In my down time, I started watching an anime, Fairy Tale, which also features dragons and time travel. Because it’s always about reptiles and time and coming full circle. So before the clocks all reach “12:00” once more, I’d like to wish you all a wonderful, whimsical, and awe-inspiring New Year filled to the brim with timey wimey brilliance.

We end where we begin. We begin where we end.

Suggested listening:


Note about this song: I first heard it while at Starbucks, where the hand off counter was an oval table with a sort of poem written around the edge that had no beginning and no end, because it began where it ended. (10 points to your Hogwarts House if you can get me a copy of that poem. I can’t find it on the internet anywhere and my Starbucks has since remodeled.)


1 Comment

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One response to “The Shape of Time

  1. Pingback: Wanderings in Wonderland | M. L. Trumbull

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