There are also the quotidian rituals we all observe (hopefully) that also serve to mark the passage of time. We get up and brush our teeth, take a shower, and perform other necessary ablutions. We eat at regular intervals. We buy groceries, put fuel in our gas tanks and visit the toilet regularly. I don’t know about you, but I can get highly annoyed when pressure on my bladder forces me to stop what I’m doing to relieve myself. At other times, I resent the need to eat when my head starts to pound and I realize that I’ve got to stop and fill my stomach, even though I’m absorbed in a task that commands my full attention.
Which leads to the next paradox of time: the more we rush to fill our minutes and hours with productive, contributory, worthwhile activities, the faster the time goes by. Spike the adrenaline, please. There’s something to be said for taking it down a notch, stopping to smell the roses and not the coffee, and being mindful and present in our lives. Speed and busyness tend to take us out of the moment and catapult us into warp drive, as the minutes stream by like so many oncoming headlights in our windshield, blurring together to become a smear on the road.
When we slow down, so does time. When we do less and take more time to be and enjoy, time elongates, at least in my experience. When it is not filled to the brim, our time seems to expand. The occupation of every minute makes time contract. So does time passed in misery. What does any of this have to do with paranormal fantasy? Well, as I read my books it seems that so many of my favorite types of paranormal creatures don’t need to worry about human bodily functions like eating, sleeping, and eliminating. They don’t menstruate and they don’t need to worry about age-related wear and tear on the body. Without the normal milestones of life, it is impossible to mark the passage of time appropriately. Which may be a moot point, of course, given the whole immortality thing, but almost none of the characters in my beloved books are truly immortal. They can die, just not very easily.
With nothing anchoring them to the here and now and nothing driving a need to do much of anything, how do my precious paranormal characters distinguish their days? Do they pay attention to the seasons? What if they live in Florida or Southern California where there are no seasons? They don’t see doctors cause they don’t get sick. They don’t divide their day by mealtimes and bathroom runs and beauty rest. How do they organize their time? I have no idea. This is one of the reasons I prefer paranormal peeps who poop. No, really. I much prefer when characters eat, sleep and use the bathroom. It makes them much more “normal” and also more relatable. Dragos may be a dragon, but he eats and pees just like the rest of us. Also, it seems to me that if paranormal males can get erections, why wouldn’t they have the rest of the bodily functions that bind the rest of us to time? I like the way JR Ward does it (I like the way she does everything, pretty much). Her vampires eat, drink and make whoopee—and they also pee, vomit and need to sleep regularly too. Woo-hoo.
Far from being just annoying, the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly activities that tether us to this mortal coil are actually the activities that make us mortal. Mortality is the inescapable passage—and eventual ending—of time for us. I figure if it’s going to end, I’d like some billboards along the way, letting me know that I’m coming up toward the finish line. I was recently in Ireland where we did a great deal of driving all around that gorgeous, green island. They way they mark exits off the highway is smart and effective: when one is a fair distance from the exit, there is a sign with three diagonal lines. A little closer is a sign with two lines. And when you are almost upon the ramp off the main road, there is a sign with just one slash, to let you know that time is almost up.
It’s good to mark time. It’s good to be able to speed it up and slow it down, depending on how we manage the hours in our days. Steady, present, mindful and deliberate gets us more time. Rushing, cramming, projecting to our next event makes time pass more quickly, which may be what we want, and allows us to experience as much as possible at the cost of experiencing our lives at warp speed. My problem with the whole thing is that many of us do what we do without thought or planning. We notice the signposts of life slide by, or we don’t, and the seconds tick toward their inevitable stop. For me, I’m going to pay more attention to that which marks time in my life and simultaneously reminds me of my humanity. I will not begrudge my dentist his due, nor diss the demands of my stomach for food. I will be more respectful of the seasons, but also of my daily doses of hygiene and disease prevention. I will mark my time on this earth with all due respect and hope to make the most of my minutes. I‘m not immortal—vampire, fae or otherwise. Marking time reminds me of that every day.