Just Another Arbitrary Moment In Time

“Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Space might be big, vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big but our orbit of the Sun scribes out such a small part of it that it takes only a year for us to come back to the same spot on it again. The Sun itself has moved on in its own orbit of the Milky Way so it’s not the exact same spot in space. For me, that just adds to the arbitrariness of the notion of a New Year.

The thing about time I really don’t understand is why it’s on such a strong ratchet. Our experience of time passing changes depends on how bored or tired we are but we don’t experience the future before the past. I really should insert a get me the lottery numbers joke here but while you can’t know what’s in the future, some tropes are predictable and therefore boring and good bloggers should avoid them like the pl…

I’m not going to mention transmissible diseases today.

I am going to mention general relativity. I’m probably going to mangle it and get dragged off by the Physics Police for some re-education but here goes. Time slows down when there’s a lot of gravity around the place, but only from the point of view of an observer where there is less gravity. That’s your actual time dilation, that is. I think. It also slows down the faster you’re moving but that’s special relativity and I’m just going to ignore that. It’s irrelevant to the point I’m almost certainly going to miss because I’ve forgotten what I was talking about at the start of the paragraph. For you, lovely reader, probably only ninety seconds or so have passed. For me, it’s been about an hour while I read up on Einstein and black holes and pointedly avoided looking up stuff about quantum physics.

Frames of reference are important in relativity and there are equally important frames of reference in reading, and in creating a narrative. I am aware that I’m letting you peek behind the curtain here and nobody really wants to see how political deals, sausages or blog posts are made. Nevertheless, an hour, that’s how long it took me to create what was supposed to be a brief linking paragraph and now you’ve wasted another minute on my excuses for its rambling nature. Onwards.

In spite of time slowing down in the presence of a strong gravitational field, it doesn’t ever start going backwards. The biggest, strongest, weirdest objects in nature can’t change the direction of time. That’s what I meant about time having a ratchet on it. One of those nice clicking screwdrivers that let you screw your things together but not unscrew them unless you slide the slidey mechanism over a couple of notches, a bit like that.

We can’t go back in time. We can only go forward in our frame of reference at the rate of one second per second, one minute per minute, one hour at a time, one day at a time, every week of every year. This particular spot we’re passing through now is not the same spot we were passing through this time last year. Everything is moving in relation to everything else, and it’s moving with what Douglas Adams would have called mind-boggling speed and we can barely tell. It’s only noticeable if you pay close attention to the sky on dark nights, months apart, and who has the time anyway? Who has the time to do that other than astronomers and dreamers?

To a certain extent it doesn’t really matter. Our days, this year just gone of all years, have all melded into one. Ironically, as far as this blog post is concerned, only the longer nights and shorter days give us much sense of change. The gentle, relentless, pulse of the seasons as the year proceeds is what gives our year a rhythm. Without that, we’d have no marker of change. That in turn is a result of another arbitrary thing, the tilt of our good Earth on its axis.

I’m going to try to wrap up some stuff here. Space might indeed be sphincter-wiltingly big. The passage of time is absolutely relentless. We can’t change that. All we can do really is find people with whom to share the experience as we complete another orbit of the Sun. If you feel the need for a start to things I’m just about human enough to wish you a Happy New Arbitrary Moment In Time. Happy 2021, people. Be nice to one another.

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Pinning Down “Now”

A responsible person would tell people that there is a picture of creepy-crawlies further down the page. I know one of them is a scorpion and that will completely freak at least one person who would otherwise want to read this out. 

I’m just about responsible enough to do this. 

It’s New Year. Another arbitrary moment in time is approaching. The planet is swinging past that spot in its orbit of the sun it occupied twelve months ago and you’re standing there wondering what the actual fuck you’ve done with yourself since the last time we were here.

I’ve been thinking a bit again about what makes this time of year such a point of change for people. It goes beyond spending the next few weeks getting the date wrong. I don’t have a cheque book any more. Who does? But I remember the hassle of having to score out the date in the top right corner of the cheque nearly every time I used one in January, February and the first half of March. Score, score. Swear. Initial. New date.

I think now that it has something to do with trying to freeze time. I want to pin a moment down, like a beetle in museum display case. A bit like Haldane’s God, I have an inordinate fondness for beetles. Unlike a Victorian naturalist though, I prefer my beetles out there disposing of shit, wood, discarded body parts or other beetles and not actually euthanised in a jar of something unpleasant then tagged and labelled in a cabinet of curiosities.

However, more poetically, I do want to be able to examine moments from my year and display them for their educational properties. I want to take a scuttling “now” from the landscape of the entire stream of “thens” and label it. I think most of my moments, like most beetles, would pass unremarked.

For most people, most of our our lives pass like beetles scurrying in the dark. Our lives are unremarkable. There is nothing about us which warrants outside attention and that’s absolutely fine. I’m almost comfortable with the notion of being nobody at all wandering around on an insignificant speck in a meaninglessly infinite universe. I think that’s why I want to pull out those specimens which have added a flash of iridescence to what would otherwise be a constant stream of the commonplace wee beetles.

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An Arbitrary Moment In Time

There is no real reason why we call the first day of January the first day of the New Year other than it has to be some day so it might as well be that one. January has been the first month of the year since Roman times and the first day of January has almost certainly been a source of angst and tension ever since then.

The first day of January follows fairly closely after the winter solstice which in turn is an obvious moment of renewal. Okay, it’s obvious if you happen to have a sodding great stone circle aligned just the right way. By the turn of the year, the increase in daylight hours should just about be becoming obvious.

For a time, 25th of March, Lady Day was the first day of the year. Lady Day is also known as the Feast of the Annunciation in more Catholic countries. Theologically, it makes sense to mark time from the moment of the Incarnation of Christ. It was the first day of the legal year in England for centuries, the day on which tenancies started. It’s still the start of the tax year if you take the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar into account which means that the 25th March is now 6th April.

I seem to have wandered off point again. I do have one and it’s this: the first day of the year is an arbitrary moment in time. It holds no special or magical significance. It’s no more meaningful than any other day of the year but it’s still the one that many people choose to Change Their Lives. There are countless articles in all the media about making changes to your lifestyle, your diet, your love life and many of them focus on this one day of the year.

The thing is, permanent change is hard. Stopping smoking is quite easy. The physical nicotine cravings only last two or three days and the rest is down to changing habits. That’s two or three months. Other lifestyle changes are similar. For people who are not lifetime athletes, think back to when you started running. You might have gone around the block twice a week with a longer jog at the weekend and it took some time for that to feel like a normal part of your life. Two or three months.

I suppose like everything, there has be a moment when you start and it might as well be this one as any other. As long as you know that the change isn’t instantaneous, that it’s a process and that it’s going to be a while before any change becomes the new normal then you’re going to be okay.

Oh, and Happy New Arbitrary Moment In Time.

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