It might have started with my mother’s stories. At night before bed, I would ask her to tell me a story about when she was little. She would tell me about ‘pumpernickle beach’, a sandy lot where the neighbourhood kids used to play and build forts. She would tell me about tipping backwards over the couch with her sister and pretending they were going ‘upstairs’. And she would tell me about ‘how things were’ when she was little…which seemed then like an unimaginable time in the past.
Maybe it started then, my interest in ‘how things were back then’. But until recently this interest in the past was always rooted in the belief that, back then things were different than they are now. Or rather, more importantly, back then PEOPLE were different than they are now.
We are fed this myth. It is the myth of progress. The myth that technology and factual knowledge moves us along some straight and narrow road of time, improving us, making life better. We believe this myth because it’s comforting to think that we are going SOMEWHERE. Walking down a road towards a destination feels much more satisfying that simply…walking.
I still love history. I still love learning about ‘how things were’, but somehow my perspective has changed and instead of looking for clues of DIFFERENCE, or signs of PROGRESS, I find myself digging beneath the plummage of each age in search of what is still the SAME. Then and Now.
It’s typical to think that famous philosophers of the past were contemplating different questions than we do when we drive to work or find ourselves staring out to sea on summer vacation. What is a good life? Where can we find happiness? What are we doing? What is the point?
Dressed up in slightly different language and phrasing, humans throughout time have asked these questions. And throughout time they have found these questions to be both the most important AND the most difficult to answer.
This is why, when I write stories, they often come to me without Time. Or set apart from time. It’s my way of exploring the great human questions, and I often feel that this perception of progress, the belief that we are distinctly better than generations past gets in the way of this exploration. It creates the illusion of our exceptionalism, that we are somehow different and BETTER than all those that came before us.
Technology is the mask we wear when we tell ourselves this story…that because we have cars and airplanes and computers, that somehow our human experience is fundamentally different. That we must think differently, love differently, understand More.
Autumn is upon us. Another autumn. We may think of this as a different year, or we may perceive that in many ways we are simply returning to a stage in the spiral that we have experienced before. Another season of changing colours and crunching leaves and chilly mornings.
What would it be like to imagine time as a spiral rather than a ‘timeline’? Would it help us to accept change without creating some unnatural hierarchy? To simply say, “Yes we are different than previous generations in some ways. We have gadgets and gizmos and whatsits which have all changed the way we experience our external world. But our internal world looks similar to every other generation of humans that have walked this planet.”
What would it be like to imagine time as a spiral rather than a ‘timeline’? Would to help us to recognise the beauty of our lives as we transform from maiden to mother to crone, or from boy to father to elder, just as every other man and woman has done throughout time? Would it help us to value wisdom born of experience rather than factual knowledge gained during the first few decades of life?
Would it release us from our own expectations
that we must ‘progress’, or ‘improve’ ourselves
and allow us to simply accept who we are
at any point on the spiral…