Time is an ocean, but it ends at the shore
Bob Dylan, “O, Sister”
There’s an old tale about two hipsters in a small rowboat, bobbing on the ocean, dawdling away the day and absorbing the splendor of the watery world around them. One says to the other, “Man, look at all the water.” And the other says, “Yeah, man, and that’s just the top.”
I recall the tale this morning as I reflect on the year that has passed, and the year to come. It’s a truism, perhaps a cliché, to say that the units of time we impose on the flow of life as it washes over us are artificial. Of course, we need those units to organize what we do – how else might we arrange to do things together? “Meet me this afternoon at 4", or “My baby’s leaving for Tanzania at the end of the month,” or the always-curious “Daylight Savings Time begins next Sunday” are essential constructs of social organization. If you want a trippy thought-exercise, try sometime to imagine how early humans managed their affairs without any shared sense of how to measure and talk about time, and seasons, uncertain of the Sun God’s plans for the future.
But we know, if we think about it at all, that these measures segment and reduce time in a way that doesn’t accord with how we feel it pass around and through us. Time is an ocean, and it flows around us in all directions, rising now to meet and pull us along, then falling away to leave us standing nearly still, its surface all around us, unplumbed depths reaching far below. In “Landlocked Blues,” the songwriter Conor Oberst offered his comment on this paradoxical truth: “You’ll be free, child, once you have died/From the shackles of language and measurable time.”
But who wants that freedom? We use our constructs of measurable time to organize the otherwise-unfathomable prospect of two eternities, spreading in both directions from our time here on earth: as another songwriter said, “After death, and before our miracle birth.” And in an analogous way, we use “the shackles of language” to bring our own order to the carnival-ride tilts and whirls of our experiences, and to give our own voice to how they feel and what they mean. Struggling to get the rock to the top of the hill gave Sisyphus’s life all the meaning one could hope for. And struggling within the bonds of words to say what we mean, to part the curtains between and among us, is more than enough to engage our full souls, at least as I see it.
So, yes, as the year ends, let’s indulge the fiction that something is ending and another thing about to begin. The psychologists tell us that we care about life in concentric circles moving outward from ourselves. When the bomb drops, we will think first: Am I okay? My loved ones? My neighbors? It will be a while, in that outward rippling, before we wonder about our fellow humans spread around the planet we share. On the other hand, a friend told me the other evening that the only thing in the last 25 years that really matters is our collective failure to care enough about world hunger.
If you’re a certain age, you may remember News on the March shorts that ran in movie houses before the featured show.
(There’s that paradox of time again: for all their maddening cul-de-sacs, rampaging commercialism, and empty promises, the Internet, the Cloud, and all the associated technological baubles make reminiscence like this so readily searchable as to collapse history into a permanent verifiable presence. The use of the most advanced technology to deepen our appreciation of the receding past is thrilling to see, especially to us at Vintage Aerial, since it’s the core of what we do.)
So, let’s do a quick News on the March for 2011. And let’s begin at the outer rings of the concentric circle: a ricocheting and resounding global cry for authentic democracy; the so-called Arab spring (a metaphor at once timeless and innately tied to time); real revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia; a looming redeux of worldwide financial upheaval (collapse in Greece, the demise of the Eurozone); riots in London, Rome, and Athens (Olympic cities, all), and raucous rallies in Israel, Chile, Greece, and Spain). Gaddafi went down, and the human spirit soared, even if for some it feels unseemly ever to celebrate a violent death.
Closer to home, cities around the country were rocked by the rock-‘n-roll of the Occupy movement. If you close your eyes, and are in the right coffee house with the right soundtrack, you might swear it’s the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, but, at least to my nostrils, with less weed in the air.
Here in northwest Ohio, we are as manic as anyone anywhere in our obeisance to globalization, forging arcs to far Asia, outsourcing our old industrial rigors, along with most of our jobs, teaching the right foreign languages to the young, and imagining that when we in the Great Lakes rise again, it will be on the strength of our abundant water and enduring shoulder-to-the-wheel spirit. And like everyone everywhere, we feel that spirit hum in our pasts every bit as much as in our futures.
We all know that history has happened to each of us, in its most intimate and particular way. This is, perhaps, the most elemental truth of time, and it is a truth we try to say in words, and in the images that underlie those words.
We at Vintage Aerial believe, as deeply as we believe anything, that the images of our lives, and those of all the lives to which we are connected across the ocean of time, are the essence of meaning, for each of us individually, and for the collective “we”. Those images preserve our pasts against time’s relentless passing, and they resonate in our lives as part of what we live for, and live to pass on.
Our company was formed to honor these truths, and we are grateful that all of you have shared with us this year and all that it has meant and will come to mean. Here’s to 2012 as it washes in.