Time Paradox: NaPoWriMo


The portal door opens, and I am here. Before. I look out at this beautiful sun-splashed world. What did they do to it, this planet they called Earth? There is magic here in this moment. I feel it in the sun-steamed breeze. I taste it in the flower-blossomed air. I close my eyes and make a wish. Hoping it works better this time, I spread my wings, pause for one more second to watch the iridescent feathers gleam in the sunlight. Then, I take flight to make first contact—again.

paradox of time,

space bending, moments flowing,

slip-rippling along

ends become beginning points

with magic, wishes, and hope


Today is Day 19 of NaPoWriMo. The prompt was to write a creation myth. I suppose this haibun is a sort of re-creation myth, based on some microfiction I wrote a while ago. It’s also possible that I had time paradoxes on my mind from watching an episode of Star Trek: Voyager a few nights ago.

This haibun is also for Colleen Chesebro’s weekly poetry challenge. The prompt words for her birthday week are wish and magic, and I wish her heaps of birthday magic.







What If?

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”

Readers of my blog may have noticed that several of my blog posts focus on time. That’s because I am fascinated by time–and by the past. (Probably good things for a historian.) I’ve always enjoyed stories about the past–and time travel—and as I grow older I’ve become more interested in my family’s past.

Recently I came across someone who disparaged what he termed “hypotheticals,” as if people don’t think about hypothetical situations all the time. “What if I had done this instead of that?”  “What if this happens? What will I do then?” Don’t most people carry on these soul-searching internal monologues?

 Or how about the middle-of-the-night wondering? “What if that shadow really is a monster?” Yep, been there, done that. 

We speculate how our lives might be altered if we had taken the other road. I wonder how my life might be different if my parents had not decided to divorce when they did, and my mother, sisters, and I moved to Havertown—where I met my future husband in our 9th grade English class. Would he and I have met later? Would we have met at all? Perhaps I am the only one who thinks these types of thoughts, but I doubt it. The popularity of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra’s classic 1946 film (and its many imitations), indicate that people enjoy speculating about how life would be if a person they know—or if they themselves—had never existed.

When a loved one dies, we experience a world that continues to exists, but with that person no longer in it. Yesterday I watched the Frontline documentary Never Forget to Lie, by Marian Marzynski,  about his experiences as child survivor of the Holocaust, and the experiences of other child survivors. It was incredibly moving, horrible, and thought provoking. I think it is common for Jews who did not experience the Holocaust to wonder how they would have survived. I know I have. Would any of my friends have helped my family and me? Yes, totally hypothetical, but don’t most people wonder about these type of things? After reading Anne Frank’s diary how can anyone not wonder what this talented young woman might have done or become if she hadn’t died in a concentration camp? We will never know.

I love reading historical novels, which are based on reality, but totally hypothetical. Robert Harris’s alternative history, Fatherland, takes place in a world in which Germany won World War II. In contrast, his novel Pompeii takes a historical event—the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius–and uses it as the basis for a mystery. We know that Vesuvius will erupt, but how will the hero escape? Or will he? Could anyone have done so? Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book has Oxford historians time-traveling back to the fourteenth-century–with disastrous results. In the brilliant and compelling City of Women, David R. Gillham tells the story of ordinary people who live in an extraordinary time and place, World War II Berlin. In reading about them–ordinary people with normal weaknesses and characters that are only truly tested as the war continues–I found it impossible not to wonder what I would have done in their situations. Yes, I do wonder what I would do if put in a fictional character’s situation. Because that’s what good fiction does. It transports us to other realms and makes us think about how we would react in various situations.

But hypothetical thinking—and dreaming—is important in real life, too. It is the human capacity to dream and speculate that make scientific discoveries—as well as great art—possible.  So I will continue to ponder the past. I will look back at roads taken and roads not traveled, and I will continue to wonder “what if?”


“If I could have convinced more slaves that they were slaves, I could have freed thousands more.”

Harriet Tubman


I Wish Time’s Winged Chariot Made Pit Stops

“But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near”

-Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”

I’ve been thinking a lot about time and task lately. Partly it’s because for the past few weeks I’ve been having trouble managing my time to get my tasks done. I suspect this is a common problem for people who work from home, especially writers, artists, and musicians. We spend our days (or nights) trying to fit our assignments, or tasks, around appointments, classes, and events that are scheduled at a particular time. The spigot of creativity and word flow gets turned off, and when it is turned back on, the gush has been reduced to a trickle.  There are times when I hear “Time’s winged chariot,” and I want to be seduced like Marvell’s mistress and surrender to the moment. Forget work. I want to read a novel.

Since ancient times, humans have been fascinated by time. We have tried to measure it through calendars (Go Mayas!), massive structures, such as Stonehenge, and small objects, such as hourglasses.

We try to capture time in photographs, videos, or words written in a blog post. But time cannot be captured; it is fleeting. It cannot be saved in a bottle, as singer-songwriter Jim Croce wished it could be. Time is like the bubbles produced by the child’s wand. We glimpse them for a moment as they hover and glimmer in the air, but they break and disappear when we try to catch them. They cannot be pinned down.

Sometimes time floats by like those bubbles. At other times it rushes by propelled by unseen currents. We see it pass. We see it in the aging faces of our parents, in the accomplishments of our children, in the physical changes in our own bodies, and we long to go back to revisit, to understand what happened.

Writers from H.G. Wells to Audrey Niffenegger have imagined worlds in which people could travel through time to see the past, or the future.  The novelist Connie Willis has written stories and novels that center around the time traveling adventures of historians and their students at Oxford University. As a historian, I have often wished I could go back in time to see if what I thought happened actually did.  However, my own time machine would have to be equipped with indoor plumbing, coffee, and chocolate, among other things.  I think it’s important to be upfront about my demands, even with the gods of time.

In the preindustrial world, daily life was not so tied to clocks.  Before factories and railroads, there was no need for time to be measured so precisely. Still, there was a seasonal and daily rhythm to life, and there were tasks to be done. Crops had to be planted and harvested according to the season. People and animals had to be fed, cows had to be milked, and children had to be cared for. There were court days and feast days and market days.  All of this, I imagine, made it just as difficult then, if not more so, for creative minds to find the time to produce works of art, literature, and music. And yet, they did.

I’ve been thinking about time, too, because I’m reading a novel called The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (no review yet, since I haven’t finished the book). The premise is intriguing: the rotation of the Earth has slowed down. As a result the length of a day is no longer twenty-four hours. Daylight and darkness no longer fit “clock time.” Some people choose to live in “real time,” but most people attempt to remain on clock time, sleeping while it is light, going to school or work when it is dark, and watching the sunrise at noon.

None of this knowledge and reflection helps me to manage my own schedule.  Time’s winged chariot still whooshes by, and I still have deadlines.  Yes, it’s true. We can’t stop time, but we can pause to think about it.