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On time

The pssage of time

Time passes. Time changes everything -- both the things in our lives that we're grateful to move on from and the things that we try to clutch tightly and must, inevitably, someday, let go of. "We all lose everything," says the poet Marge Piercy:

Thinking about timeWe lose
ourselves. We are lost.
Only what we manage to do
lasts, what love sculpts from us...

Recently my friend Yoann Lossel, the French painter, asked me why I'm so fascinated by time, which he sees as a theme running throughout my work...most obviously in The Wood Wife, but also in other fiction and essays. Perhaps it's living a life shadowed by a serious illness that makes one hyper-aware of time and mortality; or perhaps it's simply one aspect of living as a mythic writer & artist: I am always looking both backwards and forwards, living in the rich past and shimmering future as well as the sensual present, in order to make art out of the experiences of my life, and to make life out of the experiences of my art.

In The Wood Wife, the sly Trickster character, Crow, explains time as it's viewed in his spirit world to the novel's protagonist, Maggie Black. Time is not a line, he tells her, it's a spiral, and we all stand at its center. From that place we can move through time in any direction we chose: forwards, backwards, sideways. But he warns her that if she's to travel through time, she must always be anchored firmly to the present; otherwise, she might lose herself in the past and be unable to return.

Indeed, for me, too, it sometimes requires strong effort to remain anchored to the physical world when I'm caught up in the giddy time-travel of writing or painting. That's why, for me, a dog, a footpath, and a stout pair of walking boots are as necessary to my creative process as paper and ink and paint. Among trees and stone and weather and wind, I am rooted in the present once again.

Albert Einstein has stated: "The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once." But for the writer or artist, it does all happen at once. Time is not linear in art-making; we constantly walk backwards and forwards as we draw upon all of our experiences, all of our past and future selves, to create each day's work in the here and now.

"Time does not change us," the Swiss playwright Max Frisch once wrote. "It just unfolds us. "

I like this image. Perhaps as we travel the road of time we're not so much aging or changing but unfurling like leaves; unfolding like flowers, petal by petal.

Lizbeth ZergerThumbelina by Lisbeth Zwerger