(fragments) on timing
reflections for august 2022
hello, friends, and blessed lammas.
i’ve been dealing with some increasingly difficult health issues over the last few months, issues that have been gobbling up my time, my energy, my sense of inspiration. i have so much that i want to do, classes i’ve been working on and things i want to relaunch, new formats for client readings, new e-books and collections, new columns. but my body has been saying no, rest, we cannot do anything but exist right now.
not easy, this demand to pause. not as simple as it seems.
on the plus side, i’ve spent even more time than usual reading. i’ve gotten to sink into some wonderful works lately, from this truly brilliant and insightful essay on writing by carmen maria manchado to my partner’s exceptional memoir (preorder here!) to several delightful queer romance novels to an anthology from childfree people to a small book about hip checks to a lovely guide to spiritual creativity by two talented friends (preorder here!).
writing has felt both wildly necessary and entirely out of reach, which means that the following fragments on our archetype for this month aren’t really an essay, aren’t a clean and tidy piece with a natural conclusion. instead think of these as vignettes, episodes, breaths. ten moments of time, ten moments of thought, ten moments of awareness. the wheel keeps turning, and we make new discoveries every time the horizon emerges, every time we feel the pull of gravity, every time we have to trust in a force beyond our control.
this all feels rough, raw, unknown. but sometimes that’s where we live. sometimes our strange jewels stay unrefined, unpolished, unfinished.
i hope you find some magic here anyway.
(fragments) on timing
1. i used to be a stage manager, another lifetime ago. the meg that thought she was a good straight christian girl also loved running productions and shows, being in charge of actors, serving as the logistical glue that held all of that creativity together.
one of the few tasks that non-theatre people know about stage managers, the responsibilities that most easily translate when so much of the job is paperwork and organization, is being the stern-looking person, dressed in black, wearing a headset or walkie, having five conversations at once. an endlessly spinning yet fixed point, the axle of the wheel that helps the rest of the crew find their gravity. being a stage manager is being the timekeeper, among other things. places in ninety. places in twenty. places in two.
i would quietly dip into rehearsal rooms, green rooms, dressing rooms, storage rooms, calling out the time: an evangelical white rabbit, obsessively checking her watch. it was never as simple as updating people, as telling them of where we sat in the day’s schedule - there were always problems to discover, last minute fixes to offer, quick solutions to distribute in the forms of cough drops or bandaids or nail glue, compliments and pep talks, reminders of good notes from rehearsals past.
i liked the feeling of control, of composure. i still do: being the person who can appear seemingly by magic, solve a problem quickly and efficiently, offer a truth or an encouraging word before bounding off again, never losing track of where i am. i hate being late, whether the timing is important or arbitrary, whether i’m responsible for something or can slip into a space unbothered, unnoticed.
i craved the ritual, the call and response, the knowledge that i was helping someone find themselves in space. thank you, five. from the right voice, with the requisite relief, it sounds like a prayer.
there can be magic in being the timekeeper, even if it’s just a quiet whisper in the dark: a metronome to steady a shaky heart; something to give shape, definition, to an otherwise uncharted moment.
2. the wheel is a force, not a figure. until now the fool has been meeting different archetypes along their journey, larger-than-life presences that bring light and cast shadow over the fool’s explorations and expansions. but the wheel, assigned number ten, lives in a different space, beginning a new season of experience, wonder, awareness. it’s a leveling up, and a grounding down, so to speak.
the wheel turns at its own pace, its own speed, under its own power. we cannot alter its revolutions, cannot shift or change its position. we have no control over our location on the wheel, no say in how we rise and fall.
this is an archetype of destiny, fate, luck, transition, connections. it’s that sense of the inevitable tangled with an awareness of change, being caught in a web without necessarily being restricted by it. every action has an equal and opposite reaction, a consequence, and impact. everything we do matters, in one way or another, whether we realize it in the moment or not.
that particular burden of knowledge, the awareness of how everything is connected, lies solely with the wheel. we do not have to carry it, do not have to fear it, do not have to struggle under its impossible weight.
and as a former calvinist, i say this from the bottom of my heart: thank the fucking goddess for that.
3. time and timing, of course, are not the same thing.
one is the inherent structure that we have assigned to our days, a method of referencing and shaping the events that happen, giving definition to one aspect of our existence. the other is progress, judgement, a choice or lack thereof. time stands on its own, but timing is about how things overlap and intersect, how events relate to one another.
awareness of time itself can create a sense of pressure, of something imminent that will end or shift or occur. but timing can feel like magic, serendipitous, something that we find value and joy and wonder in. anticipation is often a blessing and a curse, a gift and a poison, a wonder and a disappointment, all wrapped up in bright red string. even if we know exactly what will happen when the countdown reaches the end, when our time runs out, we may not know exactly how it will feel, how it will affect us. we may not feel the truth of it until it is reality.
we don’t always know what something is until it has passed, until we have the benefit of hindsight, until we have a container to put it into or a safe way to examine it. without the pressure of something approaching, we can see the fullness of what it is, fully understand what it could’ve been. the future’s unwritten, the past is a corridor.
4. i’ve been a bad sleeper my entire life. really, that’s not quite fair - i’ve been an idiopathic insomniac my entire life. a child who was always awake, who got so overtired that she screamed at everything, who was so impossible to soothe or control that my parents thought i was literally possessed by a demon.
there are no relics of this, no photographs to offer proof of my exhausted, mercurial wrath. the only images i have from my early childhood are happy ones, where i am often smiling, clutching a book, looking terribly pleased with myself.
but it’s only part of a truth, my childhood through one particular lens. i was a curious kid who loved reading, who cried when singers were off-key, who self-soothed by watching at the ceiling fan spin for hours.
and i never, ever slept more than a few hours at a time.
i’m resigned to it now, at 36. every night the world goes to sleep and i do my best to quiet myself down, to find pockets of rest and comfort, to give my mind time to slow and still even if sleep itself is impossible.
there is time that is valuable, coveted timings for seeing friends or planning outings or putting together events: holidays, weekends, periods that we have collectively agreed to cherish. but there are other times that no one witnesses, times that are strange and sacred in a completely ordinary way, times that are personal even in their predictability.
most nights, 3am is mine. it’s just me and the other shadows, the quiet hunters, the night shifts. me and the ones who slink around unseen, who crave the moonlight, who grieve when the sun rises.
5. some cycles move more quickly than others. it’s a thing that many of us know in our bones, but it’s also a truth of physics: that on a rotating wheel, different points will move at different speeds. the farther that you are from center, the more distance you will have to cover in order to keep up with points closer to the axle. angular speed, linear velocity: even if the timing seems the same, some things happen more quickly than others. some journeys are longer, require more effort, cover more space.
different horses on the carousel feel faster or slower, depending on which you choose.
things take the time they take, mary oliver wrote. i whisper this to myself all the time, and while it’s usually a comfort, other times it’s more like a vague, formless threat. we cannot hurry time, cannot speed it up or slow it down. it simply is, or is not.
some part of our lives may be moving quickly, feel effortless, while others are a daily struggle, an hourly frustration. these things happen simultaneously, even as they require different amounts of time and effort and focus. no matter how tightly we grip them, we cannot rush growth, cannot force change. one cycle may be moving forward, while another feels like it’s stalled out completely.
6. in interviews, critical role’s revered game master and acclaimed voice actor matthew mercer talks frequently about the importance of consequences in role-playing games: not just as a reaction to what the players do, but also in creating meaning from what they choose not to do. every decision has an effect, a result - and while some may feel obvious, others can come as a shock.
as the DM, mercer serves as the master of his fictional universe, the singular person who tracks and understands all of the moving pieces. if the players opt to stay in one place and, for example, help a lost little girl reunite with her family, they might avert disastrous consequences for this child - but in not moving on, they will miss intercepting a group of soldiers heading to another village, with an intent to arrest someone on false charges. one can never really know what a particular decision will lead to, what might’ve happened if another choice had been made. all players do, all we can ever do, is make the best decision in the moment, with the information that we have.
and the wheel keeps turning, whether we realize it or not.
7. the red string of fate, or marriage, or destiny, is a symbol of something we are following, a destination that was written in the stars. it usually comes up in talk of soulmates: someone that we were meant to find, someone whose invisible string tethers us to them even when we don’t yet know who they are. time, curious time gave me no compasses, gave me no signs.
i used to find this kind of fated future comforting: an almighty god who knew every hair of my head, was attuned to every breath, had already determined the trajectory of my life. a person to cherish, a place to belong, a world to complete.
outside of the church, though, truth becomes more clear. a choice-less existence, where my desires and decisions hold no meaning, is the plot of a horror film, a reality that has been true for so many here in the united states already.
even the ability to make our own mistakes is a kind of power. even the decision to fuck up should be our own.
8. the concept of a biological clock, of some specific but unspecified point in time when a person who can get pregnant’s body suddenly tells them it’s time, has always been upsetting to me.
you’ll change your mind, i’ve had women saying sagely to me for twenty years. just you wait - someday you’ll wake up and need to make a baby, will turn your life upside-down for the chance to have one.
i haven’t. i won’t.
it’s never happened. it never will.
yet this certainty that others know me better than i know myself, that i am somehow fated to want to procreate simply because of the anatomy i was born with, grates. and while it’s faded with time, this fear that an unknown timer will ding somewhere, that something inside of me might activate, that an unexpected hunger could suddenly change the trajectory of my life, is one based entirely on these thinly veiled threats from other people. your clock will start ticking, any minute.
but it won’t. i’ve been sick for months now as my body revolts, bleeding endlessly and purposelessly. my cycles are wrong, irregular, confused - not just sleep cycles now, but hormonal cycles, interior cycles. my uterus is broken, enlarged, “inactive.” it swells and screams in pain but it almost certainly can’t support life, can’t do what it was allegedly built to do.
is my uterus grieving? does it want something it will never have, that i will never allow it to have? did it grow a fibroid simply because it needed a project, because it knew that i would never give it anything else to tend?
what cycle is it disrupting, exactly?
9. invisible strings, ties that bind, ribbons of the collective. we are individuals and yet, our actions can have an impact that ripples beyond our view, that may take lifetimes or generations for their influence to be fully realized.
what is legacy, after all, but the fingerprints and footprints we leave behind? the choice to create art or explore science, to have or not have children, to put down roots or move from place to place - each decision shapes what will come next, closes some doors and opens others.
coming closer and farther away; coming to me and from my embrace
hoping good comes from good and that good comes from bad anyway
we long to make choices for ourselves, but the alternatives we consider are still shaped by other people, a timing of representation: the possibilities that we have access to, the pathways that are available to us, the futures we have witnessed in others. knowledge allows for discernment, carves a path for wisdom. and a lack of exposure means we don’t always know all that is within our reach.
when people in power are afraid, when they want to tear down specific kinds of people, they prioritize enforcing silence. they try to separate us, to prevent our stories from being told, to vilify gathering and speaking and community-building. they don’t want us to find each other, don’t want us to share our tools and methods of survival, don’t want us to offer each other hope.
who might i have been, if my world had been opened wider, earlier? if i’d known at thirteen, at seventeen, at twenty-one, that life was so much more expansive than i’d ever realized? that identities and genders and sexualities and experiences and dreams and longings and families and communities didn’t have to be just one thing, didn’t have to live on an artificial binary defined by people with limited imaginations?
in some ways, it matters tremendously. and in others, it doesn’t matter at all.
i am who i am, now, because of the limits that i experienced, then. time may be just a construct, but it marches on all the same. that version of me, desperate for control and afraid of her powerlessness, had to exist, in order for me to be who i am today.
in spite of pain, i wouldn’t change the past, wouldn’t risk what it might do to my present or my future. i’ve never really believed in regret. the coldest night of the coldest year comes right before the spring.
10. this could all be rather devastating, i suppose. the idea of temporal existence, of a lack of power, of being at the mercy of a force or deity or pattern that we cannot necessarily wrap our minds around. but the wheel isn’t meant to frighten us, doesn’t serve only as an ultimatum that we have but one chance to succeed, to be happy, to change the world.
look at me, sarah manguso writes, dancing my little dance for a few moments against the background of eternity. timings are photographs, snapshots of an instant, dreams that grow and change and decay. they represent one version of one moment, through one viewpoint, but they are only a piece of what exists, offering a souvenir for a particular breath.
so what do we do with all of this?
we express gratitude for the time we are given, the time we find, the time we claim. we honor the time that is ours alone, the time that we cling to, the time that is precious.
we acknowledge some timing, some clocks, some seasons, and let others fade away. we make space for the patterns we find comfort in, take chances where it feels right, release old versions of self.
we enjoy the swoop in our stomachs at the unexpected rises, the feeling of weightlessness at the rapid falls, the steady movement in the peaks and valleys. we find security in what we can control, surrender to what we cannot change.
and through it all, our cycles live and breathe on their own, taking the time they take.
be present this august, friends. and be safe.
lyrics by phoebe bridgers, taylor swift, lucy dacus, and anaïs mitchell. photographs by or of meg jones wall.