Brackish Notebook, Spring 2021
/ Brackish Notebook / Spring 2021
🌒 Saturday, April 17th
I had a weird thought that came to me half in sleep and half throughout the day about a way to relate to calendars and maps in a more mythic way. Because calendars and maps are… as some are wont to say… not the territory. Time and space are constructs, in that there’s nothing about them that isn’t a fictional (but useful) artifact that has been created to help us achieve certain goals. Like coordinating. And agreeing on boundaries. They are tools for making contracts within groups and between groups of people. Anyway.
The idea is to make the contract aspect of calendars more explicit, and to allow more wiggle room and specifics into that contract making. And to give myself, and others, ways of talking about how we’d might improve the contracts we make about space and time.
One example is daylight savings time. That silly convention that was started during WWII to save electricity during the war efforts. Lots of people think it’s too confusing to switch clocks twice a year. But we also have no way of editing this contract on our own… we just go with whatever the law is. What if there was a way of saying that I prefer a clock that is in daylight savings time year round, or that is sans daylight savings time year round? We already have ways of adjusting for time zones, but they’re all determined geographically.
I think it would be cool if I could declare, somehow, whether I wanted to observe daylight savings, or if I wanted to conduct myself entirely via , or some other system. Once we open up the ability to declare our own preferences about spacetime, we might find that there are in fact many more useful ways to orient ourselves to space and time than the systems we’ve inherited through our nations and religious organizations.
🌒 Friday, April 16th • The Sumerian calendar
I’m currently in a deep rabbit hole about Sumeria, the Sumerian/Babylonian calendar, cuneiform, and the Epic of Gilgamesh. I love when a rabbit hole keeps going and getting more interesting, and this one is really one of the best I’ve dug in a while.
It started as I was perusing this on Wikipedia (side note: do all of my weird interests begin on a Wikipedia list page? Last time it was the ). This led me to the page, where I read:
- Archeologists have reconstructed methods of that go back to prehistoric times at least as old as the . The natural units for timekeeping used by most historical societies are the , the and the . are explicit schemes used for timekeeping. The first historically attested and formulized calendars date to the , dependent on the development of in the . The was the earliest, followed by the , and calendars.
- A larger number of calendar systems of the ancient Near East appear in the archaeological record, based on the Assyrian and . This includes the calendar of the , which in turn gave rise to the as well as the .
So many links to follow. But I clicked on where I learned that this is essentially the first complete calendar created by the (4500–1900 BC) who many believe is one of a few contenders for being the earliest known civilization.
Anyway. All this to say that clicking these links and reading up on Sumerian culture, mythology, and history has been really exciting this week. The Sumerian calendar is the first, I think, that identified the 19-year lunisolar cycle. Every 19 years, the solar calendar (essentially what we currently use) and the lunar calendar (that tracks months as moon cycles) repeat. So, for example, December 22nd, 2014 (which is the December Solstice that marks the shortest day in the northern hemisphere and the longest day in the southern hemisphere) is also a new moon. The occurrence of the December solstice and the new moon happens exactly once every 19 years, and it doesn’t occur any other time. It’s not perfectly aligned, actually, and will get out of sync in 553 years or so. Because planets, satellites, and stars are all shifting slightly in their orbits all of the time.
It’s all wobbly. Which is what makes it so fascinating to me. We like things to get locked in. And when they don’t we add corrections (like the leap year, leap second, etc) to fix the wobbliness and then to lock in those fixes. But the assumption underneath is that there is a reliable order to things that can be fixed in place… when in reality all of these objects and forces are pulling and interacting with one another in a chaotic way that never stays fixed. Calendars are things that constantly need to be re-fixed as reality moves beneath them. And since it only needs to happen every couple hundred years, we’ve decided that that’s okay and we’ll just deal with it when we need to deal with it, and pretend it’s all perfectly fixed in between those times.
What if a calendar was designed to embrace the wobble instead of ignore it? How would a calendar work if it not only acknowledged but celebrated the fact that all of these planets, satellites, and stars are constantly shifting, very slowly? How would one create a calendar that was as wobbly as the objects it’s trying to map?
🌑 Monday, April 12th • Sleeping vs Waking
I’m keeping a running list of brackish things (things that have a 2-way quality to them: that shape other things and are shaped by the things they are shaping, and exist in this always shifting push-pull state) at . The more I think about brackishness, the more I see it everywhere, which is exactly what I was hoping would happen when I started this weird notebook.
Sleep is my current brackish struggle. I’ve always been a night owl type of person, that is until having children. The last 10 years have been a constant fight between staying up late and waking up early. And I’ve not really allowed my night owl identity take a hit. But recently I’ve been tracking my sleep with the suspicion that it’s related to the quality of my wakeful hours… and what’s the point of extending wakeful hours and staying up late if I am grumpy and my brain is not running at its normal capacity? Also how am I 44 years old and still learning this lesson? So… sorry night owl identity, your wings are being clipped.
Anyway, the brackish nature of this is that if I try to protect wakefulness, then wakefulness suffers. But if I try to protect the quality of wakefulness, then it means having less wakefulness (ie sleeping more). I’ve been tracking my sleep with an Apple Watch since October of last year and over that time have been averaging about 5 hours of sleep a night. In the last few weeks I’ve been making a more concerted effort to go to sleep earlier, and not eating/drinking/exercising a few hours before bed, and my average sleep from the last week just peaked over 6 hours this morning. And I feel pretty great.
I’ve always liked tracking things in order to learn about them, and I feel like this experiment in tracking is leading me to an actual insight that I didn’t really believe before, even though it’s common knowledge and obvious to almost everyone else in the world. Part of being an amateur is admitting when you’re the last person in the world to learn something, right? That’s me, right now.
🌘 Friday, April 6th • A loopy calendar
Here’s a weird personal calendar that I’ve been keeping this year. It’s a drawing on my iPad’s Concepts app that I add a leaf to for every day. Each loop of leaves starts on the new moon, and sometimes I make note of things that happened on certain days, either in my personal life or in the broader world. The point of it is to mark my own time in a way that feels truer to how time feels to me.
On a normal calendar, days are boxes, and they are structured by rows that represent weeks. The 7 day week is a concept that it seems many different cultures invented independently. Maybe because it almost fits into a 29.5 day lunar cycle. The 10 day week almost fits too, and some cultures used that. 5 days and 8 days also show up. At some point, it became useful for people to all track days with the same concept, and 7 happened to win out. But there’s nothing in nature that mirrors a week.
The history of calendars is fascinating to me. Because it’s an attempt to systematize the cycles of the sun, moon, and stars. But unfortunately, the cycle of the moon at 29.5 days doesn’t fit neatly into the cycle of the sun 365.25 days, and the cycle of the day doesn’t fit perfectly into either of the moon or sun cycles. Even weeks don’t fit squarely into months (except for February) or years (52.14 weeks).
It’s tough to internalize this because we are really trained to think that a year is 365 days (with the occasional leap year) and that the moon cycle is also regular and occurs every month or so.