There are two kinds of time, I guess. Time as a thing to count, and time as a thing to experience. And that second kind is unreliable. It feels fluid- it expands and contracts- despite the cold precision of clocks.

From hour to hour, day to day, year to year, it is how we mark intangible things. But we also know how time feels from the inside. And it plods during tragedy and quickens during fun. If you’ve been in a car accident, you know time can slow to an excruciating pace of terror. And If you’ve been with someone you love, 2am comes way too soon.

One of my favorite proverbs regarding time is “The days are long but the years are short.”

There’s some overlap here with the last newsletter I sent out, an exploration of the phrase "Festina Lente". Time has been on my mind, I guess. Time has been on everyone’s mind this year, as we wait. Wait for a cure, an election, wait to hear if we got that loan to keep our life afloat, wait for 2020 to end, wait to return to normal so we can usher in a new year, with less grief and more hope. And that got me thinking about how we arrived at new years.

Most people know the Julian and Gregorian calendars, but prior to them we had all kinds of options for marking days and years around the world, some laid out according to the movement of the sun and some to the moon. And there were different new years’ days, holidays, and remembrances scattered through this loose confederation of time as observable.

The Julian calendar was adopted in Rome by Caesar in 45BC. The previous Roman calendar had too few days, and required a “Mensis Intercalaris” or inter-calendar month between February and March to make adjustments and determine the time of a year as-needed. This system was kept in check by the Pontifex, or chief religious leaders. And it would have been fairly accurate if it hadn’t become widely abused. Pontifices were also often Senators- or friends of Senators- and would toss in some time when it was their reign, and shorten the year when it was their rival’s turn for power.

By the time of Caesar, bungling with the Roman calendar meant it was off from the solar year by about 3 months. Something had to be done to keep time relevant, so Caesar brought together mathematicians and astrologers and adopted a plan to adjust things following Egyptian and Persian models, which introduced the idea of the leap year. He broke from a tradition of March as the beginning of the year and instead declared January 1 as the start (January is named for Janus, God of beginnings) And the Julian calendar spread- like most things do- with conquest. As the empire of Rome grew, they forced their version of time on the world. And it stayed that way for a while.

But celebrations and holidays in the Julian calendar rose and fell with Rome. As christianity grew in the wake of the Roman empire, so did the call to return new years to spring- specifically March 25th. Called Annunciation day, 9 months before the perceived time of Jesus’ birth, and also closer again to the Spring Equinox. The Julian calendar also had not fully corrected the time slide, and so over the course of a couple centuries was off-rhythm from the natural world again. So in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII tackled the problem and proposed an adjustment to the system, shortening a year from 365.25 days to 365.2425, and bringing greater accuracy to the solar cycle (though not negating the need for a leap year.) The Catholic church urged countries through Papal Bull to adopt this calendar- and it's holidays- but had no authority to enforce it on other religions.

So for a few centuries, Europe “double dated” their records, marking each document with two dates. And there were two new year's to celebrate. England and its American colonies held on to two calendars- and both new year’s- until 1752. And as the world steadily grew smaller, other countries and ethnicities would retain their own calendars, time markers, observances, holidays and new years celebrations, but also adopt the Gregorian calendar for administration purposes, calling it the “civil calendar.”

Conquest isn’t always violent, I guess.

So marking the start of a new year has always been fluid. It can be determined by a solar or lunar calendar, by faith, by nature, and sometimes by clocks. In parts of Africa, new year’s has always been celebrated at the end of the rainy season, in mid September. In China, new year’s falls somewhere between mid January and February. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year is in September or October, and India’s new year often lands in March or April.

Like time, marking a new year isn’t solid. It’s not determined by a “civil” calendar. It can in fact, be deeply personal.

And looking back on the upheaval and change we’ve all been through in the last solar cycle- my new year wasn’t in January or even March. It was February 4th, the day my father died. Like the longest night of the year, like a season yielding to the next, things started and ended there.

So to mark that day’s return- the last time I was back to this spot in the rhythms of the world and the last time I was at this date in the Gregorian calendar (minus .0075 of a day)- here’s a look at my year…

And that’s about as far as I get. The words stop.

It’s almost like as long as I can talk around it, I can talk all day.

I've spent a year in his shop, and I can research ideas, and attach useless trivia to grief. I can teach, make art, doom scroll, brood and pace, tap the cursor back and forth inside this sentence while my thoughts buckle under the next line, all in this space where my dad used to be. He’s gone but I’m the ghost in his old office, above the bikes and the cars, and the tools. Jangling and shaking all the stuff that’s mine now. In truth, just a fraction of my inheritance.

I can’t give you a look at my year, because I can’t look at it myself. I can’t hold it in my hand, it passes through.

I’ve put this off, argued with myself over whether I even need to say anything at all about this new new-year’s of mine. There are accomplishments, big changes, things that might be worthy of recognition- I have indeed been busy as hell. But I’m not done, and there is no end in sight. I can see no retrospective, so I haunt this shop day in and day out. Some days it’s a mausoleum, some days I smash things with hammers. Some days I don’t answer the door. Some days my friends and family are here and some days I don’t want to go home. Upstairs I have a studio steadily filling up with paintings, and downstairs I have a machine shop and a private automotive museum. I’ve got the internet, a full fridge, and a bathroom. I understand now why he rarely ever left, and that scares me a bit.

But today before I leave here, I’m forcing myself to finish my thoughts about time and finish this new year, good or bad.

The door is up, and I’m sitting in the sun on a wooden Carnation Milk crate typing this with the hiss and whine of an oil refinery a block away and trucks going up and down the street. One of his tapes is playing on the stereo and there are all the familiar sights, sounds, and smells that accompany this industrial part of town that I’ve been coming to since I was a boy. Since my dad opened his first shop a few streets over and 40 years back.

It’s sometimes hard as hell, but I do love it here.

No big idea on art this time. Not even a picture, just this marker of the new year. I don’t know what else to say. It’s been quite a year. And here’s to another. And another.

We are here.
Thank you for listening. I will endeavor to be more useful in my next newsletter. It's just that social media and I are back to the off stage of our on-again-off-agains, and of all the bottles that I could imagine putting this message into this one seemed most seaworthy. I appreciate your indulgence, and I hope you're well. I hear there's been some stuff going on?

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