Author: Cornish, Rick

Mr. Skunk and Mr. Time

Good morning from Whiskey Creek, where late last week we were formally introduced to our neighbor, Mr. Skunk. It was actually Willie who spotted her, chased and cornered her, and was about to crush her neck with his massive jaws or get sprayed by his would-be victim, whichever came first, but it was lumbering old Ed who arrived just in time to experience one of God’s/evolution’s, (and/or, your choice), most innovative and non-violent strategies for self-defense. (Try telling Eddy it was non-violent.) In any event, the poor guy got it full on in the face and since then has learned the true meaning of the word ‘pariah’. The spray, a cocktail of sulfur-containing chemicals blended to perfectly replicate the smells of rotten eggs, garlic, and burnt rubber, is, after five days, still very much in evidence. We all miss Ed, but not enough to let him come near us.

But that’s not what I’d like to talk about today. Aging, in all of its facets and variations and inevitabilities, has been sneaking into my thoughts several times each day since I turned sixty-five last month. My gosh, has it been a month already since we celebrated my formal induction into Medicare? Yes, it has, and that’s one of the natural phenomena about the aging process that I’ve been thinking about lately, and that I’d like to discuss this morning.

That time speeds up as we grow older is so universally experienced that there’s really not even any debate about it. But, of course, the speed of time doesn’t really change…isn’t really different from one person to the next depending on their age. If it were, many of us…in fact an entire generation, the ‘baby-boomers’…would appear as nothing more than streaks of light to our kids and grand kids. No, time doesn’t change, but our perception of it certainly does. It’s how and why that happens that’s been tumbling around in my brain the past couple of weeks. (My, has it been that long?) Anyways, I think I may have stumbled upon a possible explanation and I’d like to share it with you.

But first, let me share one theory that I think I’ve rejected. (I say “think” because I’m not 100% sure I fully understand it.) The older we get…that is, the higher percentage of our total life we’ve lived, the faster time seems to pass. For instance, when you are 10 years of age, a year represents 10% of your life, and seems like a very long time. However, when you are 50 years old, one year has reduced to only 2% of your life, and hence seems only one-fifth as long. I’ll leave you to ponder this explanation on your how.

Here’s the one I’m tending to buy into—As we get older we spend more of our cognitive cycles thinking in terms of abstractions rather than using our senses to process direct experience. This would explain why vacation makes time slow down, yet go fast at the same time. The slow down for the new experiences, environment. The fast - for the lookahead-cache driven feeling of sometimes anxiety/dread of going back to the daily routine. Said another way, as we age we tend to immediately place things we experience into categories and then move onto processing these abstractions rather than continuously observing reality directly and unfiltered. Now, let me hasten to acknowledge I didn’t come up with this notion. I found it, as well as the “changing percent of total life lived” theory by asking my old friend, Mr. Google, a simple question—why does time speed up as we get older?

Although I’m not smart enough to have hatched either of these theories on my own, I am encouraged by the fact that, almost from the moment I read it, the “memory storage” premise had strong resonance for me, so much so that I instantly hatched a corollary principle, one that might explain why, when we’re driving to a new place, or even a place we’ve driven but only infrequently, it always seems like it takes longer to get there than it does on the return drive. It’s because as we’re traveling down the new un relatively unfamiliar road, we’re recording everything we see and experience. On the way back, however, our minds decide, quite on their own, that there’s no real need to stow all this stuff a second time; hence the drive seems shorter because we’re ‘documenting’ it with few saved memories. Kind of the ‘been there, down that’ effect.

I’ve give you a concrete example of the BTDT Effect. Thirty-six years ago last June I drove to Grass Valley for the thirty-sixth time. I have vivid memories of my first road trip up to the CBA’s Fathers Day Festival. I was with a friend, John Bunch, and he and I left San Jose mid-morning. Four hours later we arrived at the fairgrounds. John had talked me into going to the event, (I had no idea of what bluegrass was), and I remember complaining the whole drive up there that the drive was ridiculously long. It felt like days to get there. I don’t recall exactly when, but over time the annual drive to Grass Valley felt like it was getting shorter. It wasn’t getting shorter, of course, but it felt like it because I’d driven over the Carquinez Bridge, past the big brewery in Fairfield, around Sacramento, up the grade into Auburn, etc., etc. so many times. Last June, my thirty-six trip, I doubt I shot many picture with the camera in my head at all…the drive to the festival has become a breeze. I listen to a book on my IPhone, stop for gas once, gobble down a quarter-pounder and I’m there.

And if the drive to Grass Valley seems shorter to me, boy oh boy oh boy does the time between one Fathers Day and the next seem shorter. In the days and weeks and months immediately after my first Fathers Day Fest in 1976 the experience was all I could think of. The camaraderie with strangers I met there, the beautiful setting with it’s tall pine trees and perfectly blue skies and, most of all, the strange but oddly familiar music I’d heard for their for first time beckoned to me and the three hundred and fifty some days before I could go back again seemed like a lifetime. And it continued to see like a lifetime for many, many years. That week in June became the central point of each year for me; I couldn’t wait for it to come, when it finally came I made a conscious effort to make it go as slowly as possible, and when it was over I started over right away counting off the days until next year. Now, close to four decades later, the Fathers Day Festivals whir by, almost in a continuous loop. Of course having spent the past ten-plus years pretty intensely involved in the conduct of the event has compressed the time even more. Even before the festival begins, weeks before, we hired most of our big acts for the following year, then, the last act comes off stage Sunday afternoon, we begin the breakdown, we await the analysis of profit-loss numbers, we do our August festival debrief and learn whatever lessons there are to learn, we appoint festival coordinators in October, select our showcase bands the next month and by December we settle into increasingly detailed planning for the coming festival at each monthly board meeting right up until the last one in May. And believe me, doing this over and over and over, taking fewer and fewer and fewer cerebral snap shots since, after all, been there, done that, has made the festivals fly by.

So, no friends, this ramble isn’t meant to be simply an academic exercise…or a bitch session…or a call for help as I careen into this, my older-than-dirt, chapter of life. I want to discover a way to slow my perception of time down. We read and hear so much about ways to extend our lives, add years by eating right, exercising, reducing stress. All very fine goals, but how about making years LONGER instead of, or in addition to, increasing their number? Seems like one way would be to find some alternate route each time we venture out from Point A to Point B. Another strategy might lie in identifying some new, different ways of accomplishing routine tasks. And on a grander scale, giving up as many routine tasks as possible in favor of some brand new ones. Or grander still, adopting some entirely new goals and dreams. Just imagine all of the new memories generated by that, each one requiring immediate storage and, hence, lengthening, not increasing, each day we have left on this planet. I have a sudden urge to take up skeet shooting. (Yes, we’ll get snap shots.)
Posted:  2/11/2013

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