The sweep of my [clock’s] hands

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Even though my first-year writing classes meet in a computer lab, and students do all of their writing electronically, I sometimes need to write notes for them on the white board.

This is problematic. Some of the students cannot read cursive script—because they can’t write cursive script. Their elementary schools did not teach them.

I spent hours in third grade honing the art of penmanship. My writing has devolved somewhat in the past few years. My control over some micro-movements of my hands has stiffened. But everyone my age can make at least an educated stab at writing a thank-you note by hand.``printing 009

Every semester I give my classes a quiz over the syllabus for several reasons. It makes the students responsible for knowing the class goals and guidelines (they can’t say to me, “But I didn’t know. . .”).  It gives me a snapshot of the students’ study habits. And it allows me to see who uses (and therefore can read) cursive writing. Almost none of them uses cursive writing on these quizzes. I ask about that, and it is—to me—shocking that more and more students say they have never been taught.

Like cursive writing, clocks with hands are becoming anomalies. Don’t let the Rolex commercials on PBS fool you. The only reason to wear a Rolex is to show you can afford a $15,000 watch. People who wear them certainly have all the electronic gizmos.

I don’t own an analog clock—except my watch (which is about as far from a Rolex as it’s possible to be). I wear a watch because I like to see the now time in relation to other times. I intensely dislike “digital” clocks.

People in twelve-step programs, and Buddhist gurus, and followers of Rumi, and all manner of well-meaning inspirational speakers advise us to learn to “live in the moment.” Well-meaning friends remind me often.

???????????????????????????????Everyone knows George Santayana’s famous adage (most often misquoted and always quoted out of context) from his Life of Reason, that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Of much more interest to me is his assertion that “A man’s memory may almost become the art of continually varying and misrepresenting his past, according to his interests in the present.”

I think living “in the present” is impossible. The past is always one step back—and is always influencing the present moment. Santayana elaborates on our inability to live in the present because whatever we are doing at the moment, we have our memory, both short and long term, and

Even what we still think we remember will be remembered differently; so that a man’s memory may almost become the art of continually varying and misrepresenting his past, according to his interests in the present. . . .  Things truly wear those aspects to one another. A point of view and a special lighting are not distortions. They are conditions of vision, and spirit can see nothing not focused in some living age. (Santayana, George. Reasons and Places, Vol I., “The Background of My Life.” New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1944.)

Writing by hand. Hands on clocks. Memory. “Conditions of vision.”

It seems to me that one of the results of the immanent loss of the ability to write by hand or to see and understand the movement of the hands of a clock is that we will lose the art of varying and misrepresenting our past according to our interests in the present. If we can no longer visualize the passage of time but are always trapped in a digital moment, we have no ability to absorb the past—even the immediate past—and make of it what we need in order to move to the future.

I don’t need to live in the past. But if I forget that standing on the toilet seat to put up a shower curtain is likely to end in a fall onto the bathtub, the next time I will most likely break my hip instead of simply crushing a few ligaments.

If all I know Is that it’s 7:57 instead of,
hand time 0
then all I can remember is three groups of seven LED bars, not that my arm is in process of writing or that those spots on my hand were not there ten years ago or that I can use my hands to communicate. I’ve lost something I love more than “living in the moment.” My “spirit can see nothing not focused in some living age.” The age spots on my hands and the imperfections in my script and the sweep of the dial of my watch help me remember that “Things truly wear [ ] aspects to one another.”

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