Catching Up

Breathing Space: ruminations on veiling and unveiling the rent –

The fact is you can’t escape the past by moving on,
it just moves with you.

– Fabian Black

Behind Door #1 – She’s one of the “cool kids.” Sleek and polished in ways I am not, wrapped in a tan linen shift and peeking out from behind a chin-length asymmetrical bob, she carries herself with an aloof grace and serene beauty that I will emulate (but not master) until I am well into my thirties. Confident and poised, she seems a far likelier candidate than me (a nerdy brainiac) for a retail management training position. Nonetheless, we’ve been mentored by the same executive, and despite the fact that I totally blow the interview, we both secure a spot in the same class of management trainees.

Multi-valent Pasts – though accurate, this account is deceptive, as it is written in present tense, in that it describes not what is, but what was. It presents my immediate impressions of someone I know as I first encountered her 32 years ago. However, as the account is just reaching you now, I think it offers an effective illustration of the ideas Adam Frank presents in Where Is Now? The Paradox of the Present, which posits that each one of us is “trapped in our own now,” and that paradoxically, the conclusion we must draw, given the evidence of our senses, is that “the reality that light travels at a finite speed forces us to confront the strange fact that, at best, the present exists at the fractured center of many overlapping pasts.” I think this poses some interesting implications for writers, who struggle constantly with time (should I write it in past tense? Or present?) and the crafting of a readable piece of work. It’s easy to get bogged down in the past. Frank’s ultimate question: “So where, then, are we in time? Where is our ‘now’ and how does it live in the midst of a universe comprised of so many ‘thens’?”

Door #2 – my kitchen counter and pantry are graced with a collection of clear glass canning jars in various sizes, (some embossed with a floral design, some not) instead of the usual kitsch-y canisters that were so popular with homemakers everywhere back in the ’60’s. My rooms have brass bowls filled with handmade potpourri. Through the kitchen window (for which I made my own curtains) I watch the backyard for hummingbirds. She is much more “Martha Stewart” than me, and my ideas about homemaking have benefited from her influence, my experience made richer with my life intersecting hers.

First colleagues, then friends, we became roommates for a while after that management training program, until she moved to Phoenix. My husband and I followed her to Phoenix shortly after. Not long after that, she married the man of her dreams. Exchanging being single gals in the big city for our new role as pioneer wives and homemakers, we entered the “and they all lived happily ever after” stage of our lives at the same time.

Quantum Mechanics in the Elevator – in a captivating TED talk on creating the first visible quantum object, Aaron O’Connell, a particle physicist, proposes a spectacularly useful analogy to help lay people make sense of quantum mechanics, one that I also find particularly applicable to the question of “now.” He says that alone in an elevator, quantum objects behave one way, but when there are other things in the elevator (such as light, heat, wind, etc.) the object behaves differently. The implications for larger objects, (i.e. us, our bodies) he says, is that “all the objects in the elevator, are really just quantum objects, just crammed into a tiny space. You hear a lot of talk about how quantum mechanics says that everything is interconnected, well, that’s not quite right. It’s actually, it’s more than that, it’s deeper, it’s that those connections, your connections to all the things around you literally define who you are, and that’s the profound weirdness of quantum mechanics.”

Other Doors — the only change I’d make to this assertion, however, is instead of the “things” around you defining who you are at that time, I’d say it’s the people. In this way, each new job, city, or role in life that brings you into contact with a new group of people can be considered a different “elevator.” My friend, Kathryn, and I shared the ride in two of them, as management trainees at Woodies in Washington, D.C., and then as newlyweds in Phoenix. We lost touch for a long time after that, however, as our lives diverged and we took other elevators.

Convergence of Spheres — in a bona fide “Facebook moment,” we just had an opportunity to catch up with one another over breakfast last week. We don’t revisit our first two elevators. Old history. Instead, we “Readers Digest” the intervening years, focusing on the really important details: what’s happened with family members, relationships, work. Turns out, time (or at least the perception of time) is relative after all. We cram twenty years into a conversation of two hours’ duration. Who else can you possibly do this with, except an old friend? There’s kind of an “instant recognition” factor, where you don’t have to waste time re-hashing the pre-established, free-standing “elevators,” and can just fill in the blanks from where you last left off.

After we’ve parted ways again, it hits me: no matter who is in our elevator and regardless of the many elevators we’ve each been influenced or defined by, or which of the many pasts we bring with us into this moment, this “now,” each one of us possesses a stable, undying, indestructible core (much like Dylan Thomas’ green fuse) that operates consistently (like O’Connell’s quantum object cooled to “just above absolute zero”) throughout. Not only that, but it occurs to me that what she and I have in common (and what probably made us friends to begin with) is that we share an artist’s heart/soul. She articulates in clay what I endeavor to render in words: an aesthetic that projects a sense of whimsy, a creative impulse that says “try not to take life too seriously,” and an energy that carves out some measure of serenity in the midst of our crazy lives.

Now, we’re back where we first started, it seems. It’s good to see her again.

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