this past year, in a world prior to 34°C days hiking (or in my case hobbling?) in the athen’s sun, i lived through boston’s snowiest winter with these four humans. we built forts and snowmen when sidewalks were too dangerous and lacking in clear curb cuts for me to commute anywhere. time moved slowly for a while as snow day after snow day placed us outside of our usual timeline: class and work and transportation were inaccessible.
then, spring found us (though it took until mid-july for all of the snow to melt). and with spring came the graduation of the three theater education members i lived with. their biological families filled our apartment with taco salad, greek salad, tzatziki, cookies, and hopes for their children. it was a day of ceremony. of moving on. of ushering in new phases in life. and time moved impossibly fast.
in queer studies, there is a notion of queer temporality: an idea or many ideas about how perceptions of time/history as they exist now in our culture are not absolute, but affected by conventional notions of family structures and biological reproduction and how people outside of those structures may have different relationships with time.
think about an assignment to trace your family tree in school: the way we’re taught to perceive the passage of time through generations of biological family and those added to a family by marriage. consider how time might work if we perceived kinship as possible in the absence of genetic ties and across generational boundaries. kind of like the way time moved for my former housemates and i in boston, the way my partner michael and i could function as alternately (and sometimes both) parents and peers for our housemates, the way we stepped outside of adult responsibilities and into forts, the way we remolded what growing up meant for us.
jack halberstam’s explanation of what queer time means to him in this roundtable discussion more articulately captures what I’m attempting to describe:
queer time for me is the dark nightclub, the perverse turn away from the narrative coherence of adolescence– early adulthood –marriage – reproduction – child rearing– retirement–death, the embrace of late childhood in place of early adulthood or immaturity in place of responsibility. it is a theory of queerness as a way of being in the world and a critique of the careful social scripts that usher even the most queer among us through major markers of individual development and into normativity.
outside of a linear understanding of time how else might we think of time as moving? fans of doctor who might agree with my partner’s shirt; time, according to the 10th doctor, is not “a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually…it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.” silliness aside, our perception/description of time often involves words regarding movement, movement that is not necessarily “straight” ahead.
for instance, tom boellstorff describes how time sometimes “falls rather than passes.” the notion that “‘may 23 /falls/ on a tuesday’…allows two cycles of time to be running simultaneously but not perfectly parallel, creating circular movements of coincidence…”
disability theorist, alison kafer, is quite interested in the notion of “falling time,” a phrasing that reminds her less of coincidence and more of movement “akin to stumbling, tripping, and impaired bodies.” she describes how time might be disrupted during the act of falling. she articulates how “falling ill” can also change the way time is perceived, how a cancer diagnosis and prognosis can “interrupt ‘the idea of a timeline and all the usual ways one orients oneself in time–one’s age generation and stage in the assumed lifespan.'”
after my partner and i boarded the ferry to the island of syros, we spent hours trying to consume time. sure, the ride was beautiful, but the motion of boats makes me a bit sick and we had stayed out until 2am with new humans in athens and had risen at 5am to shower and catch the ferry. time smudged. things from the night before, the taste of souvlaki and the waves of conversation, merged with the salt taste of sea air and the rocking of the back deck of the boat.
suddenly we were far away from greece’s largest city, where we ate tiropita from the baker a few steps down the street, where we were constantly surrounded by people who could speak our language and six others, where witnessed a small rally for syriza in monastiraki square the night before the election. abruptly we were on syros, totaling only 32 sq mi. jerkily, we were rocking side to side in the backseat of a taxi on an island with a population that’s about 0.7% of the urban population of athens. and then, we were in the town of abela with a population of appx. 50 humans: our home for the next month.
michael was beaming. he saw the bougainvillea that would color all our memories. he saw the aegean we’d walk to, just a hill away. he saw the twin beds we’d push together. he saw the balcony we’d read and write on. i didn’t see much. i felt the uneven road threatening to turn my ankle. i feared the bus stop, a fifteen minute walk down those hilly uneven roads (with a bus coming every few hours). i missed the students we’d eaten and laughed with in athens. being isolated was scarier for me because of the number of times i’ve needed an ambulance in my life.
mike proposed a swim.
he knows water is where i feel safe: where i can dance without joint pain and somersault without headaches.
when we reached the sea, i fell.
here’s the reenactment:
normally when i fall, time falls with me. my body enacts the muscles of previous and future falls, engages times that link me to every other response i’ve had to stumbles in hopes one of them will show me how to fall this time without injury. mostly, it works. i fall weekly with little more than stubbed toes.
but even though my body fell smoothly into the aegean, using falls into ann arbor rivers and michigan’s great lakes to avoid a single scrape, i did not avoid branding. my body advertised itself to the greek families bathing and swimming beside us as dis (apart, asunder, away). and then there was the jellyfish:
aching, unsure of what was happening to my arm, i stood up and pleaded for michael’s hand. he provided the balancing point while we walked back up the rocky path to the apartment. i provided the sobbing. unfortunately in our dismay, the only thing we could remember as treatment in case of jellyfish was piss. so we got inside and tested our relationship with a golden shower we both consented to but neither of us was excited about. after michael peed on me, we learned that this is not a scientifically proven method. in fact, we now know peeing on a jellyfish sting can make things worse.
when i was still sobbing and our treatment had failed, michael ran back to the beach where a small taverna (the only shop of any kind in abela) was serving late lunch to it’s customers. thassanis, a server with a summer contract on the island, calmed michael down, sold him water, and sent him away with what was left of the restaurant’s supply of after-nip (a soft gell to relieve pain from jellyfish stings) after a busy summer season of swimming injuries.
covered in after-nip, michael and i walked arm and arm (though not the wounded arm) back to the taverna. thasanis reminded me that my jellyfish wound was not so distancing. instead, it connected me with swimmers from may and june and july who had sought respite and assistance in the tavern, who had squeezed from the same bottle of sting relief. michael and i got drunk and ate zucchini and feta grown on the island and felt disproportionately bonded with a new place considering how little linear time we had spent there.