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Feels of Time

Feels of time

  1. 1.  Time:  (Ir)rational

Caffeinated sleep

Every night I sober myself with a cup of coffee hoping to stay afloat in the watery nest of sleep. As consciousness partially washed away I hover near the surface, vulnerable at any second to the shattering sound of my alarm clock. Dreams, petrified, refuse to be concrete, whirling around in diaphanous strands, its density diluted into a pellucid reality. Sleep, its fingers touch me but lay no claim, tremulously and without confidence, self-conscious of being alternative, for it is listening eagerly to my heart, the heart that keeps pulsing toward the beat of the industrial world, denying its existence, declaring that I am not captured, that I am still marching to the daylight drum, that I am free from non-sense and do not indulge in distortions by desire. I’m domesticated by modernity. I wait to wake up. I thirst for the brilliance of cosmopolitan cities. This dark thickening poison, so holy for our contemporary time with conscious rational humans on its pedestal, I swallow it.



(              )

murmurs in the background

it’s an optional world

a past unoriginal, un-whole,

and a present unacknowledged

  1. 2.     Time: Compressed - Philippe ’s moment / Elongated - “Why did he do it?”



He is pure and innocent, A Little Prince incarnate, unadulterated by all institutional dreams. Sleeping with eyes wide open to the crushing infinity of space and the delicateness of human existence, he is at peace with himself and the world. One may be stricken by the recklessness of the act and trace it back the jaded adolescents searching for sensations. One may have an impression Philippe is playing around with his life without regard to consequences. He did not see the consequences indeed. He did not see anything beyond it, beyond the moment, which makes his exaltation of the joy of living, ironically, carries traces of suicide, of immediate destruction:

He whose life is fully contained in the moment when it looks like joke is in fact more deeply, wholly engaged in the consciousness of his being than ever. He who chisels out the narrowest space and time for a human being to exist, stretching it to all edges to find how much the two dimensions can hold, naturally finds happiness in its utmost vulnerability.  He marches towards the moment without a pause of wonder why it’s worth it, for, eureka, this is it. A moment with no need for a future. Ten years of life did not sediment for another solid ten to build upon, but climax to a suspension of time and breathe and thought that shatters, right at the moment the people burst out in relief, holding it in for too long, returning their eyes to the world of its manageable size.

“Why did he do it?” – they keep pestering him, presuming that a man who climbed so high must be gathering momentum for another jump: to fame perhaps. They scale it down to the comprehensible bounds of rational dreams that project one upon another to fill in the secure emptiness of space and time guaranteed by longevity and advanced technology. A moment is meaningfully conceived through blending into a slippery other, and together they coalesce into functional chunks of days and weeks and months. “Next year I’m going to college”. “Tomorrow I’m going to see her.” There is no point in dividing time further.  Life on a rational scale can only emerge in sight and become visible in a large duration of time, for it allows enough to happen for us to feel that it matters, to feel its gravity. The trivialities of daily life, we have to leave it some time to accumulate some mass. No one can behold the gravity of a fragment of a second except for Philippe Petit who made it bear the whole weight of his existence. We are called to marvel at, to cherish the smallest unit of time, space and life that is exposed to the constant risk of vanishing.

Perhaps that’s why the prince descends so triumphantly from the stage of infinity. He has absorbed the moment in its breathless fullness and expansiveness. Certainly he could weather all the years, and more.

  1. 3.     Time: Circular

“I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. “

(Salinger, 1951)

Rumour has it that time goes in a cycle, that we feel ourselves moving in time because we pass certain landmarks planted by hundreds of lives that pass around and before us, that from the resemblance we hold the materials to envision our future. We have a clue because our lives echo theirs. The moment we graduate fossilizes itself as presence, and we see our professional future ahead, while wistfully leaving behind our supposedly innocent, unsophisticated self behind. Rituals sanction our progress and situate us in the conventional narratives of life that have been mapped out, lived and rewritten for thousands of people. We recycle lives.

What happens to people who lie outside those narratives, whose lives are unscripted? Upper-middle class high school drop-outs like Holden Caulfield who neither likes violent street fights nor corporation jobs, wandering through the length of life not knowing what he is looking for, or looking for an impossible landmark – a sign of acceptable detour to childhood. And then there is Gatsby - unreasonably optimistic about his capability to rewrite a story, searching for a desired ending in vain. The rumour has it right. We are repetitive, if not echoing others then echoing ourselves. Unfailingly we succumb to the illusion of dwelling in another temporal and spatial location, and yet we can never outgrow our past. Holden hemmed in his childhood as a sufficient self-contained life-story, as his past, present and future. So did Gatsby with his love. On that land drifted somewhere in the passage of time we have planted our soul, so convinced of its promise that we marked the piece off as our only story, perpetrating the rules and faces that populate it as our eternity. The surrounding landscape, while moving, erodes and collapses to a zero, no, to a known.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

(Fitzerald, 1925)

  1. 4.  Time: Enveloping/ Unfolding

I wrote my personal statement by hand about my handwriting. “No one can bathe in a river twice”. No one can write an essay twice with the same handwriting. It was the soft, unheeded and yet persistent volatility in the shapes of words, the sneaky rebel of the hand that pulled me in, that reminded me so much of human beings, how we always look and act the same way day by day, yet looking back, we were no longer there.

To write by hand is to enact a happening history and carry it forward. Every character appears swiftly, effortlessly, but envelops within it hours and hours of training, in which your mother held your hand, tighten hers around yours, followed by years of schooling with teachers demanding you to be more and more legible so that your writing can open itself to others, to beautifully house your mind and invite others in.

My handwriting is jazzy and spacy, with letters shrinking and drifting from one another, unable to hold hands, unable to reach.  Little islands sprinkle over the white ocean of silence.

And yet it’s not a good enough reason to stop writing, to stop its quirkiness jazz on, to stop myself from unraveling into the future, in an orienting hope that one day they will come closer. 

  1. 5.  Time:  You (or I)

For a vanished snowflake

Winter, you were here

like a secret

between us.


Works Cited:

Lesnick, Alice. Breaking into Breaking, The Breaking Project

Cunningham, Michael. The Hours. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1998.

Salinger, J. D. (Jerome David). The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Little, Brown, 1979.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott (Francis Scott). The Great Gatsby. San Francisco, [Calif.]: Arion Press, 1984.

Breaking Project Author/Creator: 
Van Le