Time never appears directly, but rather presents itself in an array of costumes, some invisible. The sun rises and sets, signaling the passage of day into night back into day. Coastal fog chases summer heat inland, reminding San Franciscans to don their seasonal hoodies. The clock, tracking the sun and the moon, tells us it’s noon; the weather that it’s late-August. The baby you snuggled to your chest is now taller than you; you yourself are shorter than you were, your spine squished by gravity-assisted time.
We monitor the passage of time as marked by a rotation through a Roman calendar, following fossilized names for days and months that were created by a culture that no longer exists. August honors the first Roman emperor, Julius Caesar’s grandnephew, Augustus Caesar, himself named from the Latin augustus, meaning venerable, noble, majestic. The label has lost all significance; it may as well be translated as “speed bump,” a month to slow down before accelerating into the quickening changes of the impending fall.
Time’s arrow leaves the sprouting, flowering, death of plants and animals, including us, in its wake. It’s made visible through pulses of dogs, cats, hamsters, and turtles, who arrive, in different intervals over a lifetime, as delicious untrained puppies or kittens, in turn departing with grey beards and incontinence.
By the time we recognize the moment, this one, or that, it’s gone.
“We look at the night sky and are awed by how the light we’re seeing originated tens, thousands, millions of years ago, but the relationship between the age of the light you’re seeing and the distance of its source holds everywhere,” said Asa Stahl, author of The Big Bang Book. “When you look at a chair across the room, you do not see the chair as it is the moment you perceived it, but actually as it was slightly before that.”
We mark a year, the passage of another full rotation of the earth around the sun, with birthdays, anniversaries, holidays. Each is an attempt to stop time, or at least slow it down, celebrate it, catch it before it slips through our fingers, even as it does. Or did.
This month the View commemorates its fiftieth year of publication. More than 500 monthly issues printed, closely read or quickly scanned before being slid into a bird cage, crumpled into a fireplace, or tied into a bundle of recyclables, the ideas and events expressed already vapor. Joseph Alioto was San Francisco mayor with the paper first went to press. Nine others have followed, including George Moscone, assassinated in office; Dianne Feinstein, seemingly destined to die at her U.S. Senate desk; and our neighbor, Art Agnos. As each View edition was laid out, by hand or by Adobe, The Peoples Temple rose and committed collective suicide. San Francisco Pride burst into being and morphed from a daring middle finger to the establishment to becoming well-established. The Symbionese Liberation Army robbed a bank, Patty Hearst one of the triggermen. Rainbow Grocery Cooperative opened, as did Goat Hill Pizza, the Good Life Grocery, and Farley’s. The sun rose, the sun set.
If time has a taste, a mouthfeel, the period in which the View was founded may have featured a complexity of flavors, chunky, substantial. A bit of gristle to be spat out in one bite, energizing whiffs of spearmint, cinnamon, cardamom, and a spice that’s not yet been named, but is really good, in another. Fifty years ago, time tasted like the metal-blood bite-fight for civil, sexual, and ecological rights, a stubborn, joyous, crazy insistence that the contest be won, if house by house, field by field, dance by dance, love by love.
The tang of time in the current moment? Unpleasantly chewy, a gritty substance sticking to the teeth, with a foul smell not fully covered up by something more pleasant. Medicinal, like castor oil. A hard swallow that lingers in the stomach, leaden, waiting to be digestively harvested.
The View tastes like community. It’s one of the costumes in which time presents itself, appearing each month, apparently from thin air, in residential entryways, cafes and metal boxes. Online news comes in a constant stream, a never-ending flush of semi-solid waste, creating a now, now, now. Paper news, particularly a monthly, bends time differently.
“…the heart of special relativity is that there is an absolute limit to the speed at which you can travel through spacetime,” said Stahl. “The faster you travel through space, the slower you travel through time; the slower you travel through space, the faster you travel through time. You may be thinking: how can one travel through time itself slower or faster? Isn’t the concept of pace itself dependent on the flow of time? Yes. That’s why, locally, from one’s own perspective, time always flows at the same rate. The difference is only present when comparing two different observers’ experiences of time relative to one another; hence “relativity”. The same applies to speed through space. If you’re moving very fast relative to me, you will experience less time than me, from my perspective.”
Nothing within the View’s pages reflects the exact now, except each reader’s interaction with its physical nature, its content. Fresh off the press, it’s a historical document, calling attention to hard times and easy ones, the destruction of one structure, belief, or body, the building of the next. It is, in its monthly tempo, a kind of breathing in and out of a community, a paper prayer.
Fifty years is not such a long time. But then again it is. Happy birthday, readers. Find some candles, blow them out and make a wish for your neighbors. In time, it may come true.