Comparing time

Timely writers …

Here’s a nice quote from Marco Malvaldi about our perception of the passage of time:

La durata di una settimana dipende in modo sostanziale da quello che succede in quella settimana.
=The length of a week depends substantially on what is happening in that week. [my translation]
From: Il telefona senza fili.

Malvadi captures the idea that sometimes time seems to fly by, while other times it just drags on. A lot of the last year has been in the dragging on category, I’d say.

Now here’s a longer quote on the same theme from Ken Kesey‘s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest:

The Big Nurse is able to set the wall clock at whatever speed she wants by just turning one of those dials in the steel door; she takes a notion to hurry things up, she turns the speed up, and those hands whip around that disk like spokes in a wheel. The scene in the picture-screen window goes through rapid changes of light to show morning, noon, and night—throb off and on furiously with day and dark, and everybody is driving like mad to keep with that passing of fake time; awful scramble of shaves and breakfasts and appointments and lunches and medications and ten minutes of night so you barely get your eyes closed before the dorm light’s screaming at you to get up and start the scramble again, go like a sonofabitch this way, going through the full schedule of a day maybe twenty times and hour, till the Big Nurse sees everybody is right up to the breaking point, and she slacks off on her throttle, eases off the pace on that clock-dial, like some kid fooling with the moving-picture projection machine and finally got tired watching the film run at ten times its natural speed, got bored with all that silly scampering and insect squeak of talk and turned it back to normal.

She’s given to turning up the speed this way on days like, say, when you got somebody to visit you or when the VFW brings down a smoker show from Portland—times like that, times you’d like to hold and have stretch out. That’s when she speeds things up.

But generally it’s the other way, the slow way. She’ll turn that dial to a dead stop and freeze the sun there on the screen so it don’t move a scant hair for weeks, so not a leaf on a tree or a blade of grass in the pasture shimmers. The clock hands hang at two minutes to three and she’s liable to let them hang there till we rust. You sit solid and you can’t budge, you can’t walk or move to relieve the strain of sitting, you can’t swallow and you can’t breathe. The only thing can move is your eyes and there’s nothing to see but petrified Acutes across the room waiting on one another to decide whose play it is…

While I like Malvadi’s detached observation, I find Kesey’s passionate personal perspective much more powerful. It is so powerful that I remembered the gist of it, though not the specific details, over 40 years after I read it. Not very much of what I read has that kind of staying power. Maybe I should change my reading habits…