The Sedartis Effect

Sedartis is full of little insights which are borderline annoying. They are annoying, because they are obvious, and it’s possible only to be borderline annoyed with them, because they are obviously true. They are the kind of insights that make you wonder: why has nobody pointed this out to me in, say, year ten or eleven.

Since joining me, unbidden, uninvited, and taking up quasi-permanent residence by my side, he has sprung them on me at irregular intervals, which, on account of their irregularity, at least retain a mild but welcome element of surprise.

‘The reason time passes faster as you get older, relentlessly, is very simple,’ he informs me. I did not ask him about this, I was just looking out of the window of yet another moving train, this time to Dorset.

‘I imagine it is,’ I say, having for some time felt I had my own plausible theory about this.

‘At the age of one, one year is a hundred percent of your lifetime. That makes it really long. So long that you can’t fathom the sheer vastness of its duration: it is all of your life so far.’

I’m not sure that I can fathom it now, but for different reasons…

‘By the age of ten, that same year is now only a tenth of your lifetime. In absolute terms, it may be as long as any other year, but you don’t experience life in absolute terms, you experience life in relative terms, always: relative entirely to you. Your year is now just ten percent of your body of experience. By the age of fifty, one year has shrunk to a fiftieth of your lifetime: if somebody offered you a fiftieth part of a pie you’d barely think it worth eating. But it’s still a year, and it’s still a slice of your life. And aged a hundred, your year now hardly registers at all. You may well lose track and forget how old you are: was it a hundred and two or a hundred and three years ago now that you were born? Does it matter?’

‘This all makes perfect sense to me,’ I say to Sedartis, which it does, but: ‘why are you telling me? Now?’

‘Because you’re obviously at that point in your life when your perception of time reaches a tipping point: your life expectancy nowadays isn’t quite, but may soon be, about one hundred years, so around now, as you’re halfway through that more-or-less century of yours, your feeling of losing your grip on time will accelerate, and because you’re now no longer moving away from your birth, but towards your death, you will find this more and more disconcerting.’

‘What, more disconcerting than I find it already?’

‘Of course. But think not for one moment that you’d be happier if you lived longer.’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Because: if you were to get to the point, say, where you habitually had an active conscious lifespan of ten thousand years, it would not feel that much longer than it does now: as you’d get towards the last millennium, each year would only be between one nine and one ten thousandth of our lifetime. That is about the same as three days for you are today. You would not experience a hundred times more than you do today, you would simply stretch your living out over a period a hundred times longer. And nor should that surprise you: when your life expectancy was thirty years or so, people did not generally think, our lives are so short; they simply did all their living inside those thirty years. No-one would argue that Alexander the Great, for example, or Mozart, didn’t really get that much living done in the thirty-odd years of their lives.’

‘No,’ I say, thinking, a tad wistfully, of Tom Lehrer, ‘that, I’m sure, no-one could argue.’

‘It is, in a not entirely obvious way, not unlike the Doppler Effect: the sound waves coming towards you are compressed so they appear to your ears higher than they do once the source of the sound has passed: now the waves are getting stretched, and so the pitch seems to drop. Of course, time is no wave, and the comparison is clumsy at best and misleading at worst, but if nothing else it’s another example of how your reality is shaped entirely by your experience of it. You may, if you like, refer to the phenomenon of a relative experience of time as the Sedartis Effect, I shan’t hold it against you if you do.’


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Entreatment

I see my Science Communicator Friend next at a party I drag him along to, where we have a long and involved conversation, and where I introduce him to the hosts and to some other people.

It is so easy to talk to him and so comfortable, and he’s so easy and comfortable with talking to other people, while I’m distracted talking to other people still, that I begin to formulate in my mind a fantasy that features him and me together. This, I think, is what I would want in a ‘boyfriend’: somebody I could be so comfortable, so perfectly at ease with, who could hold his own, but, when he didn’t need to, would find me interesting enough to converse with me, and who would be interesting enough in his own right to be conversed with, and who had enough going on in his life and thoughts to think and friendships to maintain to be effectively self-sufficient, most of the time, while affectionate and appreciative enough to enjoy some time with me, sometimes.

In retrospect this fantasy grows stronger, not weaker. For a good long while I forget about it, not least because Christmas comes around, and I go to Switzerland, while he has his brother staying over from Greece. Then we see each other once or twice briefly and then not again because he’s off to Greece himself. This may or may not have been Easter.

By the time he comes back he has brought me a tea that he has made himself. It’s a jar of leaves, and it’s my favourite infusion straight away, not just because it’s from him, but because it has sage in it, and I love sage. It has one or two other ingredients, maybe three, but I don’t now remember what they were. I am touched that he thought of me while away, not least because we’re not actually ‘together’ in any way, we don’t even really have sex. One of the first things he’d said, after a bit of what could easily have turned into sex, was: ‘let’s not get onto sex, it just ruins everything.’ And that was all right with me: I found it interesting, but also perhaps true.

Although sex does not, in my experience, have to ruin everything, it certainly can be or become a complicating factor, and several people I’m still excellent friends with I don’t think I would still be excellent friends with if we were still having sex, even though I personally tend to think of sex as not much more than a particularly emphatic way of saying ‘hello’. I accept that this perception is perhaps not strictly conventional, and I allow for the possibility that I might change it quite drastically too, if I were to actually find myself in a relationship. 

We then don’t see each other again for a while, this time because I’m away from London for two months while my flat is being renovated, and he’s traipsing around Europe, I believe.

By the time we’re both back in London, he is enrolled for his MA, whilst I’m not, because I had failed to sufficiently toe the line or impress the course convenor at King’s College, London, or both. I am not unhappy about this, though I am of course a bit peeved; but I’ve since been told, by my Philosopher Friend, that this is not in the least bit surprising since what interests me in philosophy does not, apparently, interest philosophical academia, in fact ‘they resent it,’ she tells me. I feel reassured by this.

The branch of philosophy that interests me does not yet really exist as a field of academic study, and although I made that clear in my ‘submission’ to King’s (I don’t so much like the idea of ‘submitting’ my work or my thinking to start with, I would consider it more a ‘putting it forward’, or ‘out there’), they still did not think that either they could offer me anything, or I them. This jarred with me, just a tad, absolutely, not least because I believe that a university course should be open to anyone who wants to take it and fulfils some standard, agreed-upon entry requirements, not to a hand-picked group who already fit an existing institutional mould, but it did not really, in all seriousness, irk me. It would be frivolous to suggest that I had applied for an MA at King’s on a whim, but it’s also fair to say that I hadn’t thought through the implications of studying philosophy at master’s level thoroughly.

When I told a good friend from my school days in Switzerland about all this, he looked at me and said, without hesitation: ‘Academia is not for you. You’re much better off out of it.’ I reluctantly concurred, and told him I didn’t want to do an MA in philosophy to go into academia but to gain a better grounded understanding of where philosophy stands today. He counselled other avenues to obtain this. I heed his counsel, at least for the time-being…

The fact that my Greek Science Communicator Friend is now doing his MA is neither good news nor bad news as far as I am concerned, it just means he’s now back in London, and so am I. I am reminded of him, partly because he gets back in touch and proposes a catchup, and partly because of the book I am reading in the bath at the moment, which my first ex and still very good friend has given to me, Becoming a Londoner – a Diary. It’s written in an easy-going, relaxed, near conversational prose by a man who had come to London from the United States in his twenties during the early 1960s and quickly started a live-in relationship with a sophisticated Greek man of a similar age, whom he nevertheless appeared to rather revere, if nothing else intellectually.

The diary is rich in anecdotes about the London literary and art world of the day, and although I came to London nearly twenty years later, much of what he writes about, and much of the way he writes about it, resonates with me strongly. Also, he visits places that I have been to, in some cases frequently, such as Lucca, or Paris. But most enjoyable for me are the insights into the lives of people like Francis Bacon and, most particularly, Stephen Spender, with whom both he and his Greek partner had a close friendship. Each time I read in this book, I am a little reminded of my Greek Science Communicator Friend and of my fantasy of being together with him, which I know full well is all it ever was and ever will be, which is partly what makes it so enjoyable, so safe.

Today, I was hoping to see him for an event at Lights of Soho, which I’ve recently become a ‘member’ of. I’d suggested to him that we go there and he’d said, in his usual, non-committal way, that ‘this sounds interesting,’ but already flagged up the fact that he normally had a seminar at college on a Tuesday and didn’t know when this would end. I’d parked the idea, more or less assuming he wouldn’t come out with me Tuesday, and indeed, when I sent him a message earlier today, he declined, saying he couldn’t get away. I was a little deflated but also quite relieved, since by then I had decided that unless he were to come along, I myself wouldn’t go either and had started to hope, almost, that my assumption would prove correct and he wouldn’t come out, so I didn’t have to go.

Instead, I had a bath and read in my book, which reminded me of him, and then sat down in my white towelling dressing gown, which I hardly ever wear, and when I do then only ever after I’ve had a bath, and poured myself a glass of white wine and put on an old vinyl record with Eugen Bochum conducting Mozart, and realised that I am very content, almost happy.

I discover a message from him, in response to mine saying not to worry as I was getting too comfortable on my sofa and might not go out myself, in which he says: “Yeah, you should be one with the sofa.” And I agree. I am fairly much one with the sofa, right now.

The funniest line so far that I’ve read in David Plante’s book is about Auden, staying with the Spenders: “Stephen said that once, when Auden was staying at Loudon Road, Natasha rang him up to say she would be late, and would he put the chicken in the oven? Auden did – he simply put it in the oven, didn’t put it in a pan, didn’t put the heat on.” I so relate to Auden.


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The Sedartis Effect

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