Time It Was, And What a Time It Was, It Was …

Kage Baker was always fascinated with the nature of Time. Always. It began long before she started writing stories about time travel. Even in early childhood, she felt that Time was subjective: not due to innate mathematical ability – she was as anarithmic as someone with a normal complement of fingers can be – but based on her own experiences.

For children, of course, Time is normally subjective; you’re running on body-clock, interest-alarm, fatigue-time, long before you learn to read a clock face; long, short and interminable are the usual intervals. Kage, though,  learned to tell time as precociously as she learned to read (and that was in the analogue clock days, kids, long before digitals). The result was that she had a measure of the difference between the time she experienced and the time the clock said it was from an early age. She noticed it long before her own brain had settled into the accepted rhythm of hours, minutes and seconds. She believed the clock, all right; it just didn’t matter much to her.

There’s no universal version of time, at least not at the level that gets taught to kids. We are taught what time means to our society. Kage formed her own conclusions before the Received Version took hold. That’s my theory, anyway.

Certainly, by the time I had deciphered the mysteries of clock time, she had abandoned it as irrelevant. She never learned to read digital clocks very well, having to pause to translate the linear number display into clock hand position. She could never remember when AM and PM changed places. She had no innate sense of time passing – she was always surprised that wanting to be somewhere required time to get there, that time to accomplish a task had to be calculated into the desire to do it in the first place. If you advised her to hurry (which I often did. Loudly.) she was would reply “I am,” and honestly think that saying it aloud would speed things up. But her objective speed never changed, though I’m sure she was absolutely flying through the corridors of subjective Kage-time.

Consequently, Kage really was one of those people who would have been late to their own executions.  And it would have surprised her, too.

I habitually kept the clocks 10 minutes fast. This succeeded in altering her subjective observation, and we got to appointments on time. Her interior time was flexible, and I learned how to adjust it to run slightly ahead of the world in general. The weirdest part of this was that Kage knew I was doing it, and it made no difference –  she believed me and the clock face, and even if she didn’t agree with it, she courteously used it as baseline. The only reason she got to work on time for 30 years was that I told her what time it was. And I lied.

The older Kage got, the less importance time had for her. Working at home made it easier, of course, since it didn’t matter what time it is when your only working method is sit down and write until you’re too tired to see. It’s not 5 PM, it’s sunset: time to light a lamp. (Self-illuminated monitors were a Godsend.) It’s not 3 in the morning, it’s just time to go lie down before you fall down. Simple. Effective. Immediately relevant.

Anyway: the standard measurement of time didn’t matter much to Kage. Its nature did. She studied what other people said about it: geologists and astrophysicists, horologists and biochemists and candle dippers. Einstein. Hawking.  She especially liked the idea that Time only seems to runs forward because our brains are wired to experience current running in one direction and not the other. That amused her.

But the Arrow of Time was not firmly affixed to its post, not for Kage. It spun like a game pointer,  only … weird. Move three spaces forward, do a jig, and then leap over to a parallel. row. Sit out the next hour, or lifetime. Left hand on green, right foot on Wednesday.

Time is a nest of snakes, Kage once said, and all of ’em biting their tails.

Tomorrow: Sizing time warps. Really.