Original illustration by Jason Novak
All of us have been thinking about this kind of thing for years, here at the Department of Ordinary Magic. We are very, very interested in supernatural phenomena that are entirely natural and that everyone ignores.
Take magnets. If they didn’t really exist, they would surely exist anyhow in the imagination. They are exactly the kind of thing some kid would make up. The magical force is strong, invisible, and it only works under certain circumstances. For example, you cannot use a magnet on wood. Superman can’t see through lead, and magnets don’t work on wood.
There are many things like this. Telepathy, for instance. That shit exists. Everyone knows this and uses it all day long. It’s just not like in the movies. I can’t simply close my eyes and know what any random person is thinking. But all day long, people know what I’m thinking, just by glancing at my face and posture. Half the time, they know my thinking better than I do myself! They can “see right through me.” However, they don’t have the last laugh, ’cuz I can see right through them just as well, if not better. It just doesn’t work on wood.
Magical spells. How do people not know this exists? You wanna be on somebody’s mind, you wanna wreck their day, you wanna make their life worth living, you want ’em to serve you—? You just say some magical words and it’s just exactly as if you sent Puck to sprinkle spacejuice on their eyes.
Language, radio, photographs, television … glass, buoyancy, the fact that wood can be carved … all these things are magic, if you just think about it for a second.
And finally: time warps. Everybody knows these exist; people just take the phenomenon for granted, like with everything else. Five minutes is not five minutes. An hour is not an hour, nor a day, a day. And years …? C’mon.
Look, every single person knows that a great deal depends on what’s happening during a given time period. There are activities that will make three hours seem like forty minutes, and vice versa. There are also things—notably sex—that can cause time to simply go away altogether. You can’t tell how much time has passed; you have to figure it out, from external evidence. “It can’t have been hours, because the light in the room would have changed”—that kind of thing. You’re basically trying to reckon how much time has passed for everybody else. For you, it was zero.
Again, it’s not like in the movies. There’s nothing you can do to make Monday not come at all—but you can delay it like crazy. This is one of the secret reasons for all our procrastination techniques. We gravitate toward practices that will “extend our deadline” simply by making the time between now and then pass more slowly.
For literary people, one of the most important uses for time warps relates to reading. What if you’re in a Ph.D. program and it’s your orals year. You have a year to read eighty to a hundred books, and you’re supposed to know ’em well by the time you’re sitting there with your examining druids on test day. So you’re gonna need to read eight hours a day, every day, all year. If you play your cards right, you can make that year go by in a month. You gotta eliminate all soporifics and all fatigue factors. Sit upright at desk, book in a bookholder so you don’t have to touch it except to turn the pages. Time how many pages you get through in an hour so you can calculate how many clock hours it’ll cost you to finish. It’s good to know; cuts down on fatigue. Then you can have the satisfaction of watching those clock hours seem like a joke. “I been reading eight hours? Seems like I been sitting here maybe ninety minutes … ”
The existence of time warps also helps explain why we’re so reluctant to do certain things, such as washing dishes. Washing dishes doesn’t take anywhere remotely as long as it seems. There’s gonna be that time warp, and it throws off our intuitions. The way around this is to pit two different time warps against each other. Put water on to boil, for some pasta, and then use the wait time to wash some dishes. Ha ha: lo and behold, you’re almost done with the dishes by the time the water’s churning. It’s like you’re taking the whole universe and flipping it on its back. Take that, space-time continuum.
In conclusion, I want to remind my fellow time travelers that life is not actually short, nor is it long. The trick is not to “become one” with clock time and inhabit every given moment equally but rather to milk the good stuff for all it’s worth, and zip through the evil parts. Just make sure you don’t zip so fast that you don’t learn anything.
Take care of yourselves.
Anthony Madrid lives in Victoria, Texas. His second book is Try Never. He is a correspondent for the Daily.
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