By Brianna Goldberg
Albert Einstein once said, “the only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” If you’re not a physicist, it might be easy enough to read something like that, let your brain fold in on itself, and resolve that quantum physics are not for you. But if ever there was an antidote to the headache that is the scientific, spatial, and emotional concept of chronology, it was IFOA’s roundtable entitled It’s Time, held on Sunday afternoon.
Moderator Christopher Dewdney is a celebrated poet and non-fiction author as well as a font of bon mots on time. Dewdney balanced the conversation between two cutting-edge novelists and a non-fiction author, whose works all refer to the human experience of time, and resulted in a discussion that was equal parts artistically enlightening and scientifically surprising:
Kjersti A. Skomsvold’s award-winning debut novel, The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am, creatively stretches time forward and bends it back on the life story of a woman who attempts to defy anonymity in old age; Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles depicts a world in which the slowing earth’s rotation is causing days and nights to grow longer—eventually lengthening into several days each of light and dark; and Claudia Hammond came to the table as a science writer and psychology lecturer with her book, Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception, resulting from extensive research into how we can warp time to our own advantage. (Which has some seriously useful tips!)
The novelists explained the concepts of time that inspired their works—Walker said her novel was a response to the 2005 tsunami, which affected the earth’s rotation to the point of decreasing the length of the day—as well as the challenges of writing about fictional worlds with alternate time structures.
For instance, Skomsvold said translators she met with in Indonesia, currently working on her novel, explained that in their language there is only one tense. “I almost wanted to cry!” she said, mourning all the time she spent working her protagonist’s story forwards and backwards with past and future tenses.
Hammond illuminated the novelists’ chronological concepts with anecdotes of real-life occurrences, tips on how to slow down time, and tales from the lab, such as an experiment where brain scans of patients told to think about “nothing” showed they can’t help but think about the future. An optimistic finding to think about, if you find you have the time…