My experience of aging serves as a poignant example of varied experiences in time. Although my physical body continues to “decline”, my perception of myself in time is hardly uniform, nor is experienced in a linear manner. Not looking ones age is cosmetic and appreciated, but not feeling one’s age is immediate and bizarre.
I’m at the gym and lifting weights; all of a sudden I notice the tide like character of the wrinkles on my arms; tide like because they appear as ascending waves. There is actually a reaction, “this can’t be my arm”. There is a startling quality that comes with it; a refusal to recognize that one’s body is actually deteriorating as appropriate with its calendar age. Although this may be unconsciously connected with issues of mortality, mainly it resonates as a brutal break in an awareness of actual time.
The psychological clock of mine is often not consonant with the “real” time. Perhaps that is part of the offense that occurs for me when someone jumps up to offer me a seat on the bus; I feel they don’t know who I am, that they mistake my looks for someone older. Aging puts you into categories, categories that are elastic in one’s own mind, but are fixed to onlookers.
Starting graduate school I have always been somewhat uncomfortable the first day of classes, anticipating my classmate’s and professors reaction to me. What do they imagine about this old lady in their midst. Speaking of categories, I don’t belong in the classroom; I don’t fit the profile of student because of differences in time. As a prescription and regulatory practice, college is the time for youth. Times apparently have their own assumptions; they enforce stereotypes of who belongs and who doesn’t. In this way I have jumped out of categories, and in doing so have entered into a space where my belonging is at question.
All these assumptions and categories are haunting when one assumes the present can still be about the past. Memories are different as I grow older. They are less connected to interpersonal events and more related to what Yannis Hamilakis calls multi-sense traces of events. For example, the tiny images of leaves forming again on the trees in the spring evokes for me a particular experience of standing in my living room while I still lived in Chicago, some 40 years ago, and looking out the window at the sight of the new unfolding leaves on the trees forming a spider web of light and shadow as I was waiting for the committee I was chairing to arrive. The image is fresh in my mind although particularly clear recently.
Shanks writes, “the footprint or vestige is not like a trace….it will haunt when it is found in the future and then witness the passing over of what is no more”. I think the haunting is responsible for my breaks in the present; the compilation of my experiences over a life time still exist and remain alive until shaken by the reality of the present. As the past interrupts my present, my present also interrupts my past and perhaps threatens to cancel that past in the constant move towards the future. In such a way I waver between my present, and the footprints of my past.
Shank continues in a later passage, “Setting the present in opposition to the past, as times or tenses invokes the corresponding contradictory temporal states: the past that still has an effect on the present.” This, then, is a way of keeping the remains of one’s life alive.