Aphelion Issue 295, Volume 28
June 2024 --
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Steve Miller was right. Time does keep on slipping away- Rushing from the unknown future, through the ever-present now like a runaway freight train, and into the unreachable past. Constant, unchanging, and immutable- The flow of each second from the "what will be" to the "what was" as it dances without a care through that fleeting bit of our reality that we think of as the "what is" can be measured on a simple clock. But time does some strange things when it impinges upon human perceptions. We have even made up some truly telling sayings to express some of those concepts that we dimly grasp as we see the future turn into the past each day.

"My, how time flies when you're having fun" is one. "Time seems to be dragging along" is another. A "frozen moment in time" is yet a third. "Take time," "make time," waste time," "make up for lost time," "timeless moments..." Yes, I know that these merely express our views of different states of human consciousness. They're just words strung together to describe ways in which we perceive a few of the processes that make up the inner workings of the human mind. But in a way those trite phrases are clues to part of what makes us human. I want to take a moment - Ha! There's another one! - "Take a moment" to look at these sayings a little more closely. I apologize in advance for the inevitable mixing of tenses that I'm going to perpetrate for the purposes of this discussion. Some may be jarring, but in order to keep from re-wording those trite little phrases we use I'm afraid that you'll "just have to bear with me for a moment."

"Time flies when you're having fun" is probably the most common one. We all know what it means. We're focused on some activity rather than "watching the clock." We think only a few moments have passed, but yet when we do "stop for a second" and actually look at a clock we see that much more time has passed than we thought. Somehow, we are constantly surprised that our perceptions have not stayed in lockstep with our measuring devices. We've disengaged from our "biological clocks" and our observation of "the passage of time" while we devote our perceptual focus on whatever it was that we were doing. Why are we surprised? Isn't it always "later than you think" when we bring ourselves "back to the present moment"? In and of itself, this is a pretty good statement about human perceptions. We don't seem to be able to multi-task very well when it comes to "the passage of time." Our minds seem to be "only able to concentrate on one thing at a time." This seems to be one of the limits imposed by our biology. We don't focus on duration and perception "at the same time."

My, how those telling little word-constructs are piling up! But let us move on to the next, opposite state of being, shall we? After all, "we don't have all day."

There are lots of variations on statements we've made up to describe the opposing point of view; "time seemed to stand still," a watched pot never boils," "a frozen moment," and so forth. We recognize it in situations like waiting for the end of the work day, or waiting for school to end, or even when something traumatic occurs. Our minds race ahead, leaving the clock behind. Once again, we're focused on some activity, but in this case we're so hyper-aware of each passing second while we watch those events unfold that each of those seconds "seems to take forever." Once again, we are focusing our concentration, but "this time" the results are polar opposites to "time flies." Why is this? It isn't a simple case of fun equals fast and not-fun equals slow. No, these "frozen moments" can be either pleasant or umpleasant. So it isn't the content of the perception that determines which state our minds choose to operate within. Well, what is it then? What makes the difference? We all recognize both of these states of hyper-awareness and hypo-awareness of the clock "ticking away the moments that make up a dull day," or the "perfect moment that seems to last forever." Is there a difference between how our minds process the causes of this hyper-aware state? I don't think so. I think that the quality, fun or not-fun, has little to do with the shift to that hyper-awareness. I think it has more to do with anticipation. We're waiting for a highly desired result that should occur within a easily measured span of time. So we focus on the "now" so tightly that the hypo-awareness of "time flies" shifts to the hyper-awareness of "time standing still." Our minds are amazing things. Physically, they are electro-chemical reactions taking place between thousands of individual brain cells. But we're no more aware of each synapse firing to create a thought than we are of each muscle cell contracting to raise our hands in the air to ask the teacher a question. A beautiful and wonderful physical process that takes place automatically "every moment of every day."

"Like sands through the hourglass" the "passage of time" remains constant for all of us. But according to how we focus our perceptions "time stands still," or "time marches on." What is really amazing is that we can past through these states dozens of "times" a day, every day, throughout our entire lives. We don't usually stop to think about it when it happens to us. We just do it. And then we remark upon it with these little word-constructs that we've made up to describe these common experiences.

Why did I "take the time" to compose this little essay? Why, partly as a means to impart a lesson on the craft of writing, of course. See the way I've brought attention to some common phrases in the English language? By putting those trite phrases in quotation marks, I drew your attention to just how often they can occur in a written work. It was also fun to explore the way we perceive the "passage of time" and choose to express it to one another. It was a trick. One intended to cause you to think about the way we use words and phrases to describe common, ordinary concepts that we all share. Did it work? Are you going to be more aware of these phrases when you write from now on? Possibly so, I hope. Being aware of words and strings of words that tie together what might just be universal concepts could help you write tighter compositions. You might choose to edit some fluff or insert some passage that can help to turn an ordinary story into something better. If so, then my little trick worked. Think about the words you use, the way you use them, and why you use one word rather than another, different word to express the same idea. Think about the things we all share. Think about the ways we are all different even though we all have much in common.

"But for now," it is probably "high time" that I shut up and let you get on with reading the stories in this month's issue. After all, "time and tide wait for no man." "Time marches on," and so must I. Enjoy your reading!