Archive for time

When am I?

Posted in ramblings with tags , on June 1, 2011 by bridbeast

I tried to go to see a friend’s band the other week but failed. I got lost. Not in space, as I found the venue easily, but in time. I was a week early.

Even for someone as bad with dates as myself that was quite an achievement.

Why it happened is a bit of a mystery to me. Obviously I’d read the date and had even managed to plan ahead to go there, but just got it completely wrong. My offhand explanation is “I’ve got a bad memory for dates.” But that’s not quite right.

It doesn’t feel like a failure of memory. I’d remembered the gig perfectly well, just remembered completely the wrong thing. Instead if feels like a kind of blind spot. For some reason I can’t conceptualise time and map it in my head.

Spatially I can do this. I can look at a map and create a rough copy in my head, and match where I am now to the map. Give me a map, or a route description or topo, and I’m a happy man. But I can’t do any dates without a calendar in front of me, and remove the calendar and – poof! Any sense of time goes with it.

Memory, after all, comes in many forms. We often find ourselves being able to perfectly visualise someone but have forgotten their name; normally we feel this as a failure of memory. Instead it’s a massive success – of all the hundreds of thousands of unique faces we see, we’ve managed to remember one, perhaps from years ago. What about a musician who can remember Bach cantatas perfectly but struggles to remember the time of her concerts? Or a mathematician who can remember acres of theorems but gets lost on the way to his mother’s house? Would such people be suffering from a failure of memory, or be exemplars of memory? Common sense says the former, but on a moment’s reflection we should say the later.

I see my problem with times and dates as an inability to navigate, rather than simply forgetting – after all, I hadn’t forgotten about the gig. Just put it in the wrong “place”. Is getting lost a lack of memory? You might be able to remember exactly what a street in a rarely-visited city might look like, or what you did there, but connecting it to your current location might be simply impossible. Getting lost – in time or space – is really an inability to make maps in one’s head.

Sometimes the times ahead of me just disappears into a fog, or there’s a blank on the map marked “here be dragons”. The nearest thing I can equate it to is a feeling from when I was a small boy, and the way the unknown world beyond home was misty and indistinct.
A couple of years ago at work we all did a Briggs-Myers personality test. One element of your psychological type relates to planning. I’m a P for Perceiving which means I’m poor at planning ahead, or to put a positive spin on it, spontaneous and open to new plans.

Once I had to go to a conference in The Hague, on the Monday and Tuesday. On the first afternoon my boss called to ask what I was doing on Wednesday. Just back in the office I replied, nothing serious lined up. Oh well in that case would I mind going to Thailand for a week or two, leaving Wednesday morning?

How fabulous! What a release from routine! I walked out of Heathrow on Tuesday evening and was walking in again less than twelve hours later. At the Briggs-Myers session my colleague Katie shuddered at this story. She’s a J for Judging, and her type like to plan ahead. No, they need to plan ahead. My thrill at going to Bangkok with two days notice was as inexplicable to her as her horror was to me.

Is it possible to mix Katie’s skill at planning ahead with my more relaxed approach? If I learn to map dates in my head will I become a slave to the map rather than enjoying whatever comes up? Perhaps just referring to my diary a a lot and muddling through as well as I can is the best it gets.

Even then, if I’m a week early, try to understand it wasn’t deliberate. I just got lost.