Fyodor Dostoevsky was sanctioned to die on the 23rd of December, 1849. He was found guilty of breaking censor laws, distributing books on Western Philosophy and was one of the members of the Petrashevsky Circle- a group of well read Russians with varying backgrounds and political beliefs who were united in one thing; their distaste for the Tsar and Russian Serfdom.
The circle was arrested and sentenced to die by firing squad on a cold Sunday morning, two days before Christmas. Death was certain, or at least it was until a letter from the Tsar arrived commuting the sentence. He’d spend the next four years exiled to Siberia, where he was imprisoned and then forced to serve in the military.
The near death experience would both haunt and fascinate him for the rest of his life. Recalling his experience as he was placed against the wall, time slowed down. Every second, no matter how morbidly terrifying it was, he would relish as his life was about to be over. He wrote about it partly in the Idiot, one of his better novels.
After this experience, Dostoevsky swore to relish every second of every day of his life. Not a moment would be dull, not a moment would be wasted. But these private little resolutions always die. Like silver, the sheer abundance of days inflated its value. Dostoevsky lived to be 59, that’s 21,535 days. Half of that was asleep, half of that was spent in agony as his chronic haemorrhoids got worse- a good chunk of those days were wasted, because he could afford to waste them.
But what Dostoevsky experienced that day was very real. For a while he operated in a state I like to call “thinking in seconds.”
The way we process time is pretty strange and a bit complicated. In fact I already wrote an article on it. We know how to measure a second, how many seconds we need to make up a minute, how many minutes we need to make up an hour- how many hours make a day, how many days make a month, how many months make a year, how many years it takes for us to make up new words to describe a long ass time like a decade or a century or a millennium.
And that’s the thing, all of this stuff outside of that one observation we can see in nature- is horse shit. Time is a social construct. You can’t observe a Monday in nature. The atoms in the air don’t vibrate a certain way when the clock hits twenty past four in the afternoon. There’s no way in hell you could prove that the big bang had a Friday feel to it. All this stuff we made up just to wrap our minds around existence. In turn we think of life and our history in units of time we invented.
At some point in your life you’ll be forced to think in seconds, like Dostoevsky. But until then the way you think about time is almost entirely dependant on your social standing and where you are in life.
I, like many people, think in minutes for the most part. Every minute of labour is worth twelve pence. I know exactly how long it takes me to walk from my flat to University, or to work or to the shop. When I lie awake at night I calculate how many hours I could rest if I fell asleep at that very moment. I think about how many minutes a certain task will get done, how many minutes it will take for someone to arrive.
In turn I can think in hours, days- sometimes weeks. Any longer I struggle thinking about it. When I do it’s in vague detail. I have ideas about what I’d like to do in five months, but nothing concrete. In the same sense I have no idea what I’ll be doing in five years- whether I’ll be working, still writing this shitty blog, suffering from a cocaine addiction or dead in some piss ridden back alley. I don’t know.
What I do know is that when you get more responsibilities, you’re forced to think in broader terms. You go from thinking about weeks and months to years. You’re thinking about how many hours a week you’ll need to work to pay off the mortgage or how many days of the year you could spend with your family or friends- stress free.
People like me will probably only ever to think in minutes or years. But there are people out there who think in decades. Who think in how long it would take to carve up the earth and drain it’s blood. Plunge their fangs into the dirt, no wind or rain or tremor of pain could move them. Their thirst is unquenching, eternal. In their manic grip to power they’re able to think in ways few people do, they think in centuries. How although their meat and bone will sag and turn to dust their name will live on in people who are weaker, lazier and somehow worse than they ever were. There’s an evil in that type of thinking.
It’s Midwinter now. After an unusually mild December and January, February has brought forth the cold winds. The heavy rains fall and the snow topples the mountainside. It’s a miserable time of year.
I’ve been thinking about time recently. Thinking about planning days and weeks out in my head, how and why I do that. I think how long it’d take after the rent comes in for me to regain all the money I lost. I think about all the stuff I should do in detail but never end up doing it, even though at most you only have 29,200 days left.
You got a plan for the future but it’s all so vague and so much effort that you start to think; What’s the point? I’m never going to think in centuries.