The Autistic Writer: Passage of Time
It’s human nature to feel nostalgic on occasion. Just about everyone misses a certain era in their lives. A whimsical longing to return to a former time, place and situation works falls upon every person from time to time.
To well-adjusted people, the desire is temporary; they know we can exist only in the present, and do what we can with same.
Others, though, have an unhealthy obsession with the past. They seek to extend, or recreate, or deny the conclusion of an era, to the detriment of living a productive life in the present day. Think of the “peaked in high school” stereotype, who wears their athletic letter jacket into their 40s.
Thankfully, this isn’t me. I do however have a relationship with the past unlike most people I know, and I believe my Autism accounts for it.
There have been studies suggesting that neurodiverse people can experience “time blindness” in the short term. One misjudges time, estimates it poorly, fails to notice its passage in a day, and so on. Fewer studies have been done on “long distance time blindness” as I call it. Yet I’m willing to suggest it springs from my Autism.
I tend not to perceive a “distant” past within my lifetime. If I reach as far back as I can into my acute memory, some moments may be obscured by the proverbial fog. By and large though, my mind floats or slogs through a nebulous “present” that incorporates everything from the moment I am literally typing these words, to the day I moved into my freshman dorm room in college. Not a photographic memory. More like improper photo storage, I suppose.
Unlike most people I know or hear about, there is nothing intrinsic to the idea of, say, the passage of 15 years. I know what 15 years means. How many circuits around the sun, and what we call those circuits in the Western world. This is 2023 as I write this, and 15 years ago was 2008. I recognize events that have taken place in my life and in the world during that time frame. There are many neurodivergent types that do not perceive these things, I just happen to not be one of them.
Yet I do need to dig deep to firmly establish the baked in significance of 15 years on its face. 15 years is not incidental. It’s 15 years, and that amount of time has inevitable characteristics.
Inevitable to others, that is. But the very passage of 15, 20 or more years is not of automatic significance to me. I don’t begin by taking it into account, as most would. No more than I would take into account what you had for lunch today vs yesterday. Who cares?
Plenty care, as it turns out. Most neurotypical people not only acknowledge 15 years, but they feel 15 years. I don’t feel it anywhere near as much as others do, and as a result, relationships, conversations, situations that I read as “in progress” are in fact no more. Over. No longer reachable or alterable.
The best fiction involves characters that learn and change, for the good or bad. The dents and badges a person gains, and the heroes and villains they become due to the unassailable pounding of time upon them is the heart of story. If I do not at least remain aware of a flux that I all too easily miss in my daily life, I run the risk of writing fiction that might thrill Chekov and his slices, but make for poor, stagnant novels.
Today is in fact a boat at dock for most people, that when untethered from the now floats off into the ocean, and recedes into the distance a little more all the time. On the other hand, a sliver of me stands on the bows of a multitude of docked ghost ships simultaneously as I await a captain and crew that is no longer there.
The most at home I ever felt with time in my fiction is perhaps my most recent novel, There Is Pain Here, a fantasy that takes place outside of the standard human perception of time. In fact, almost all of the plot unfolds in the afterlife.
See how far I have to go to match my relationship with time?
That, however, is an exception to the rule; and I remind myself of the passage of time, both in my fiction and in life.
- Posted in: Writing
- Tagged: autistic writer, fiction, writing
This was a fantastic piece! Love all the imagery!
Thank you. A challenging concept to describe in words.
I’ve always been curious about this, and I’ve heard that some people experience it to a greater degree than others. Does anyone have any experience with this?
Thanks for the comment, and I too would be interested in any one else’s experience.