top of page

Brian Woodcock Art Deco Clocks @WomansDay


4 January 2024

The Time Eater


I came across the phrase ‘non-stalgia’ recently in Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir The Dream House. She defines it as ‘the unsettling sensation that you are never able to fully access the past; that once you are departed from an event, some essential quality of it is lost forever’. ‘Non-stalgia’ encapsulates the understanding that time’s progression has eroded away what was once the laser-focus of embodied experience and muscle memory. Machado expresses how this sensation inhibited her ability to heal from her own experience of an emotional abusive relationship. Though not explicitly expressed as such, ‘non-stalgia’ appears to be a kind of secondary violence, one of which the self is complicit in the creation. In its violence it anaesthetises the body and once the individual ‘comes to’, they ask themself ‘was it really that bad?’


This excerpt from Machado’s work made me think about the slippery nature of hindsight. Everyone has heard how ‘hindsight is a wonderful thing’, which highlights the clarity we often have on our past mistakes. Hindsight’s cruelty is unmistakable in this sense. However, hindsight can also be duplicitous and fervently self-negating, a brain-washing authoritarian. It is an eye in the sky, not a man on the ground. It has no concept of the dread that marinates in your belly and calcifies in your joints.It deduces that you should have ‘snapped out of it’ and persevered, without caring to understand that you were tethered to this heavy weight of helplessness, hermetically sealed within. 


My gripe with hindsight essentially revolves around the final weeks of the Easter term leading up to my final exams. They were nothing short of a train-wreck. The whole academic year had run to a punctual timetable of weekly meltdowns over the phone with my dad. The issue was that I could never find the adequate words to articulate my thoughts, the crucial ideas I needed to write my essays were like sprites, momentarily appearing in my field of view before giggling away into the indeterminate folds of my mind. Those sceptical of English Literature typically refer to it as a subject of bullshit. Those studying the subject are adept in the art of waffling - the  door is painted blue to denote an oppressive atmosphere of sadness and the novel incontrovertibly states that we live in a society. 


Needless to say, an English student who struggles to eek out 2000 words for a weekly essay is an oxymoron. I was relieved at the beginning of my third and final year to have a name for my scatty and frenetic stream of thought. I was relieved when I was told after an assessment that I had the characteristics of an ADD brain. Having my everyday reality surmised by broadly-speaking test criteria was comfortingly humbling. This identification of the cause of my issues flew in the face of the existential narrative I had weaved out of previously inarticulable feelings. Yet, it did not ease my self-critique, in fact, it birthed a more grotesque form of self-narration. The ‘I’ became first and third person, the self and the antagonist. The ‘I’ is the time eater. ADHD tweets that often appear on my Instagram explore page typically point out how you always end up doing important tasks last minute in a manic frenzy, having wasted prior time or just used it ineffectively. Diagnosis: poor time-management. Wasting time is typically thought to be a passive activity, it is inactivity, the production of nothing. But when you view yourself as your own antagonist, your own time eater, you don’t sit with nothing but gorge yourself on it, like it were a gelatinous feast. 


Tiktok is a form of time-eating of which I am sure we have all been  victims. The moment after the enchantment is broken, you slam your phone down, peremptorily delete the app as it quivers on your home-screen, lament. You lament the loss of two hours of your precious time - time that can only be accounted for by the trending sound that now incessantly plays across your thoughts and threatens to be blurted out in a social interaction later down the line… and not ironically either. Tiktok, the app whose own name flaunts its time-wasting programming, leaves the user with a bloated feeling. We suffer a certain indigestion, struggling to absorb 20 videos on the power of styling versus ‘wearing’ your clothes, 8 videos imploring the viewer to interact so that the creator can afford to have a tumour removed from their beloved family dog, and 5 videos telling you to run not walk to Uniqlo for a bag so incredibly versatile and wearable it will change your life. It is a vertigo-inducing cacophony and in its wake we often feel a little depleted. Yet, the app is devious because it is so adept at feeding breadcrumbs to the viewer, presenting us with seconds long videos that have no bearing on our lives but to which we gleefully collect like digital magpies.


The ADD brain functions in much the same way, firing at us overlapping and dissonant thoughts, yet, alongside this, we don’t talk enough about the cruel ritual of hyperfixation. Often when I was preparing for my weekly essays, I would become obsessed with a minor idea or point of analysis. It was like infatuation, my brain refused to move past it nor would it attempt to connect it to a wider idea…you know…the work that you need to do in order to create an essay. I could imagine the inner workings of my brain in a moment of hyperfixation staged as a kind of Beckettian absurdist play in which a band of brain cells live their short-lived existence basking in the very limited glow of a deific entity known as a singular thought. Yet, as the play progresses, the ‘thought’ ages and degenerates but the brain cells, with no concept of any other deity, continue haplessly worshipping this great nothingness. The abundant promise of words that momentarily blossomed in the mind have withered away, leaving nothing to testify against the charge of laziness.


Despite my own frustrations with ADD, I don’t intend for this article to come across as a defeated commentary on how I feel it impedes me. Though I don’t see it as a ‘super-power’, as it is often optimistically described, I don’t wish to undermine people who claim this to be so for themselves. Furthermore, I don’t believe that ADD excuses me either, whatever that may mean, yet holding myself to account involves legitimising the difficulties I have faced with it thus far. Up until recently, I had weaponised ‘hindsight’ against me, buying into the fallacy that if I had somehow been more resilient I would have eventually metamorphosed into a competent and neuro-typical academic weapon. I can only dream. But I can say that to invalidate myself is a far more fearsome time-eating habit than the other kind I am often privy to.

bottom of page