Time Zones, Time Travel

Time itself will end if this clock ever stops–evil and black magic lurk in the shadows of The Astronomical Clock on the Old Town Square of Prague. (photo by Joseph O’Neill, 2016)

Time is a mysterious, ever-flowing stream that seems to pool and eddy and tumble forward more quickly some days than others. Some days, we wish that it would flow backwards–even if only a few moments so that we can get on the subway train that is pulling out of the station as we come down the stairs onto the platform.

Folk tales and fairy tales and science fiction take the manipulation of time for granted. A princess can sleep for 100 years. Rip van Winkle can snooze for a 20 year nap. A hero can walk until seven pairs of iron boots wear out. But Aladdin can travel across Asia in the blink of an eye and Beauty can return to the side of her beast before she has drawn a breath. Once Mr. Spock discovered how to whip the star ship Enterprise around the sun to travel through time, it became a trick to use on multiple occasions–sometimes even with whales swimming in the ship’s hull. And the TARDIS of Dr. Who or the Way-Back machine of Peabody and Sherman are on everyone’s Christmas list at some point!

We also want to look further down the stream of time by dealing out cards or examining the lines on our palms. The position of the stars when we are born might effect something that happens more than 30 years later.

We want to control time and it remains forever elusive and just beyond our reach.

But on November 18, 1883 a Connecticut school teacher, Charles F. Dowd, was able to impose a method of human control over Time. He proposed a uniform time zone plan for the U.S. consisting of four zones. We take these time zones for granted now; television stations indicate what time in which time zones their programs will air and we know without being told that planes from the East Coast are in the air for three hours longer than their landing time on the West Coast indicate. We are actually able to land before we take off, sometimes!

Dreams and Visions of the Night

“Piers Plowman,” considered by many to be one of the greatest works of medieval English literature, tells the story of a series of dreams experienced by Piers (Peter) the Plowman. This image is the only known depiction of Piers and shows him dreaming; the manuscript comes from the late 1300s and belongs to Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

Dreams and visions while sleeping have long fascinated us. Modern psychologists use dreams to help us unlock the mysteries of our inner emotional life: what frightens us, what do we yearn for, how do we see ourselves in relation to those around us, who is important to us and why. To ancient and medieval people, dreams were glimpses into the future and ways to travel far without leaving the comfort of our beds.

In Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights, Marina Warner tells us that “Oneiromancy, or divination through dreams, was a practice throughout the ancient world and cultivated in Egypt: Joseph interprets dreams in both the Old Testament (Genesis 40-41) and the Koran (Sura 12).” Many features of dreams–suddenness and vividness, fragmentation, episodic structures, displacements in time and space, instability of bodies–are common throughout fairy tales and legends of all people.

In stories such as the Arabian Nights, fairy tales, or Piers Plowman, dreams can reveal something true that is happening now or is about to happen. Dream experiences can actually take place and dreamers can awake with a new ring or some token that convinces them that the dream experience actually happened.

The interaction and interrelationship of reality and dreams is explored in modern films as well as legends or tales. Marina Warner suggests that both The Matrix (1999) and Inception (2010) depict one dream world inside another “until the notion of verifiable reality disappears into an abyss of multiple reflections.”

We sing with children, “Row, row, row your boat… life is but a dream,” but dreams can illuminate aspects of our lives that would remain otherwise dark, unexplored, unacknowledged–and therefore all the more powerful over us. I know that if I focus on the emotional content of my dreams — rather than the surface elements that are not always recognizable — that I can appreciate and come to grips with something my sleeping mind is struggling to grapple with. By dreaming and by acknowledging our dreams we can be free of those dark forces and choose our own paths forward.

NOTE: I just had a great conversation about writing with Rachel Hardcastle on her podcast. See it here.