WriteSpa #77 – A Sense of Time

Remember that Twilight Zone episode when the annoying Patrick McNulty is fired for putting dopey suggestions in the office suggestion box? He goes to a bar, where people begin to leave, irritated by his personality. He buys a drink for a drunk, and in return the drunk gives him a stopwatch. It’s an odd gift, but even odder is the fact that that it actually stops time. Everything (except him) comes to a halt when he presses a certain part of the watch.

McNulty goes back to the office to try to show the boss who fired him the power of the stopwatch, thinking that if they could figure out how it works, they would be the biggest company on the planet. His boss isn’t interested – and doesn’t even let McNulty tell him his plan. McNulty departs in a snit. He goes off to rob a bank, but – uh-oh! He accidently drops the watch, breaking it and thereby freezing time permanently.

In the last scene we see him running off, alone in an utterly unmoving world, trying to figure out a way to fix the watch so time can start again.

Great story.

We tend to see time as a linear experience. We’re born, our lives move forward in time as we grow old. We move from point A to B to C.

But when we talk about primal religions, the concept of time emerges as very different.

For example, aboriginal tribes regard time as an eternal now. It’s causal rather than chronological. The past is the Source, and is constant. We are all part of that source.

It’s hard to wrap our Western minds around that.

Harder still is the idea that all time exists at the same time, as though all events are spread out on a table, but a flashlight only shines on one object and then moves to another.

I also like to imagine that we’re walking backward into time, rather than forward. We’re always seeing, with utmost clarity, what has happened; and the future is unseeable, as though behind a curtain.

Writing Practice – Shift Your Concept of Time

Write a story using an entirely different concept of time. Start from the end and conclude at the beginning.

Or have everything happen at the same time.

Or have two characters experience time differently.


6 thoughts on “WriteSpa #77 – A Sense of Time

  • Hey Winslow,
    I personally see time, not as something to look forward too, i.e the future, but as a means of understanding the past and its events in *able* to understand the future. The past is memory, whilst the future is fantasy and what might be. We learn from our experiences throughout life, and we also are to stop past mistakes happening in the distant future.

    Nostalgia is important, such as when we hear an old song on the radio that sparks some good memoires from our past, or reading or even seeing things that we witnessed a long time ago. You must learn from the past (as an historian I think this is vital), but also you must use it as a means to understand where you are in the present. The past influences the present so much, and to hold happy memories either of your childhood, or old friends and past events is so important to what we are in the present (and future). Complex question.

    Kev x

  • Yes, I agree with you. And yet when my mother lost her sense of time (or memory, rather) she became part of the moment. Watching her experience life as ‘present’ was an extraordinary experience for me. I think it’s almost impossible to be totally present and at the same time mulling the past or aware of the future – or maybe it happens at moments of enlightenment. Great hearing from you!

  • Glad you were sparked by the writing practice. I wrote a story a while back about a woman who met a man who was Time and they fell in love. He personified Time and could play all sorts of tricks … I am inspired to dig it out again! Thanks for writing – always a pleasure to hear from you.

  • Winslow,
    I was hooked by your reference to the TV character with the same last name as me. Too bad he was a tragic figure! I enjoyed your suggestion to not follow a conventional path concerning time in a story. I am reminded of the movie “Memento”, where two stories about the same characters unfold simultaneously. Only as you get into the movie do you realize it is the same story; one from the past moving forward, the other from the future moving backward. Because the lead character has amnesia, it keeps you guessing about what is about to happen. Some stories that don’t follow a chronological order in time can be confusing, but this movie pulled it off well in a unique way. Cheers,

  • Memento is a classic example of expressing a different way to experience time. Yes, it worked. It is fascinating how linearly we tend to think though, with regard to time,and how events are automatically confused and confusing if they aren’t put into chronological context. Time is much more pervasive than we are typically aware.
    No one would confuse you with Patrick McNulty, by the way! 🙂

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