Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Time and the world

Time is anything but constant. Only the arbitrary measures of clocks make it seem so, and all our cyclical calendars plod on against the rising and falling of the sun--that alone seems constant. When I was very young it seemed to me the world was more than up to date. It seemed full of things which were perfected, being passed on to me, given into my care. I had to learn how to fit in with them, and that seemed natural. But when these things which filled the world into which I was born were no longer made, some of them, and other things in their place were invented, time began to speed up and the perfection of the world began to fray a little, and its imperfections began to show. Eras which then seem to have occurred eons and eons ago when I was little slowly came closer and closer to my own era. Now I think 'Why, Shakespeare lived almost yesterday!' And once when I was very small I was shocked to learn he had lived only four or five hundred years before the present time; I thought it was a thousand years. Experience warps time perception, and clocks and calendars try to keep it constant. Time, it turns out, is highly personal.

In the No Direction Home cd release, the liner notes Dylan (my age) remembers hearing about Elvis joining the army. It was a big deal, he is right remembering it. It was a huge media event. In 1958 or 59, whenever it was--maybe earlier?--I was a young teenager, fourteen or younger. Maybe Dylan was sixteen. There were fewer events in those days but they stirred much more excitement than anything the news can now. Now we hear of the three wars we are in regularly, climate change, diet, regulations, emotions, sports, from a million different sources through multiple devices--and none of it is as exciting as Elvis getting drafted was to everyone listening to radio or tv back then. Imagine--for Dylan and me back in 1958 or '59, yet to come was the Vietnam War, the assassination of the president, integration, plastic everywhere, the war on poverty, support groups, supervised children, rock concerts, gay rights, the decline of baseball, the rise of football, warmer weather in the winter. The world I lived in still sold Dr. Lyon's tooth powder, had no malls and no safety awareness or mission statements in schools. Women's rights were assumed synonymous with human rights only by the upper (meaning educated) classes. There was just the war with Communism (later they called it the cold war)--Russia and China were the enemy. The catching of the Spy Plane U2 over Russia made much bigger news than anything does today. Today the universe of news is like a bang, bang crash crash movie, filled up with constant violent drama which has little effect on the listener and beholder in its too constant bombardment: over time it dulls the senses and the sensibilities. The meaningful things in our lives are not the ones reported, but the ones we personally respond to.

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