2020 felt like a time warp. Quarantine days melded together, the months flew by, the hours felt like they lasted days; reality didn’t seem real. Now that vaccines are rolling out to the majority of the population, and COVID-19 cases are decreasing, it feels like there’s light at the end of the winding tunnel. Maybe time will feel linear again.

We’ve all had monotonous days, but the pandemic has made the monotony numbing and infinite. Pre-COVID, I could end my boredom by calling my friends to go see a movie or wandering through local thrift stores. There were ways to escape too much alone time. Once all of those escapes were taken away, time seemed to stop indefinitely, along with any sort of natural, comfortable social contact or future-planning. Therefore, every day started to feel like a reflection of the day before, until, suddenly, it became another year.

After talking with peers, friends, and family, I was comforted by the fact that everyone felt this weird, rapid and creeping pandemic time warp. I remember the last week before everything changed so vividly. My partner drove to Pratt to pick me up, and we then spent my spring break traveling to Maine, visiting various lighthouses and adventuring at Acadia National Park. Once our nature getaway ended, we headed back to Brooklyn where he was supposed to drop me off and drive back home himself.

But as we neared the end of the trip, we realized he wasn’t just dropping me off at my dorm—the end of spring break became the start of Tetris-ing all of my belongings into his Honda Civic and driving 10 hours back to my hometown after the dorms were shut down. Shortly after arriving home, we were confined in a lockdown and plunged into uncertainty of “when” things would go back to “normal.”

In my head, that vacation now seems like two different experiences. There was one trip where we had an amazing week-long adventure, and another that included the panic-filled moments leading up to packing my education and Brooklyn-life into a suitcase and relocating it to my childhood bedroom. Despite this, both experiences feel like they were month-long endeavors from an eternity ago.

This phenomenon relates to the “holiday paradox,” which is an idea coined by journalist, author and psychology lecturer, Claudia Hammond. The holiday paradox states that, when you are on vacation, time seems to go fast as you experience new things and create new memories; when you’re home and looking back on those memories, it seems like you’ve been away way longer, as those memories create timestamps in your brain to gauge time. Since I had such memorable moments leading up to being confined in my home, my brain holds onto those memories and makes them appear longer than they actually were.

Kevin LaBar, head of the Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience Program at Duke University, explains, “When you’re in a constrained environment, your brain is not getting as many squirts of dopamine that keep it engaged and excited, and the brain ends up in this idling mode.” Essentially, being confined to our homes during the pandemic has left us drowning in monotony. Our brains don’t have enough stimulation to create new memory-markers; therefore the days blend together in one chunk of never-ending time.

Emotions also have a large impact on the way we experience time. We have neurons in our brain that act like a metronome, keeping time in a steady beat. Heightened emotions, such as anxiety or fear, can disrupt its rhythm, making the metronome beat quicker. In a study conducted by Sylvie Droit-Volet, a French professor of cognitive and developmental psychology, Droit-Volet and her colleagues presented three types of videos to their students and gauged their reactions. One video induced fear by showing clips from various horror movies, another evoked sadness by showing clips from dramatic, heartfelt movies, and the third showed neutral videos, like the weather forecast or stock market updates. When the students estimated how long each video lasted, it was evident the one that evoked fear seemed to last longer.

The brain uses more of its resources to process negative emotions, so the memory sticks with us longer. The pandemic has filled us with such feelings. Stressful events unfolded socially and politically all while we handled work or school from home, sending us into a pit of self-reflection. We looked inwardly to handle the uncertainty of being in a pandemic while searching for a sense of normalcy. During a time of forever-churning reflection, LaBar explains, it can seem like you’ve invested longer because you just re-engage the same thought processes.

While anxiety and stress can make time feel slower, the lack of memory-markers adds to that sense of endlessness. Although, I’ve heard many people say that each day may seem like it flies by. Ever since my trip to Acadia, I’ve spent most of my time focusing on homework, working, cleaning my room, going on walks; all of these daily tasks give my brain something to complete. Then, achieving each task rewards my brain with a sense of accomplishment until suddenly it's the next day and the cycle repeats. While we are stuck in familiarity, routine is propelling our day. Repeating cycles can make it seem like time is going quicker, which muddles time even more in our brains as the feeling of slow time contradicts quick time. For example, quests in video games often feel like they’re going quick because you’re constantly motivated by the next step, even if each step involves the same process of walking and collecting to advance. Similarly, we live every day with small victories that help speed up time: getting up and brushing our teeth, feeding our dog, making a cup of coffee. These little moments help speed up the day, but since they’re repeated in pandemic-time, the lack of truly exciting moments slows that time back down when we look at it on a month to month basis.

All of this is to say that you’re not going crazy for thinking this last year has been a time-warp. This unexplainable phenomena is actually explainable. Though it will be a bit different for everyone, given different circumstances or the ways someone processes emotions, all of our brains have never experienced something as stressful as a pandemic. While I’m tired of taking things “a day at a time,” we can’t stress over the things we can’t control, or else time will go even slower.


Art by Noelani Fishman

There is a kind of pasture. It is a delicate, inviting place. The scene is bucolic, crepuscular, and…humid. Perhaps we are in the South, somewhere near Baton Rouge. Fireflies emit their flickering signals with poignant delicacy. They are of one mind. Perhaps there is some August plantation home, foregrounding a purpling sky and the silhouettes of magnolia trees. The sound of whippoorwills. On the wraparound veranda, there is a man with little to say. This is how John Fahey’s instrumental guitar opus, “Sunflower River Blues,” begins.

The vaguely plaintive, lackadaisical strumming of suspended chords inaugurates “Sunflower River Blues,” and so begins a representative excursion into Mr. Fahey’s style, the first of its kind in a genre named, by Fahey himself, “American Primitive Guitar.” American Primitive Guitar is, as its name suggests, a kind of guitar playing which eschews the harmonic complexities and requisite education of classical guitar. While performed in a similar way, American Primitive is more rooted in the “untrained” tradition of blues and folk music (that is, outside the purview of European conservatories). It makes use of the repetition, propulsive rhythms, melodies, and precise fingerpicking of the Mississippi Delta, and often melds those qualities with the reserved, wistful moods of certain European folk and classical pieces.

But this is selling Fahey short. Fahey was a true synthesist, pulling from whatever genre appealed to him. Despite his ostensibly untrained background, the possibilities of the acoustic guitar are on full display in Fahey’s idiosyncratic recordings. He borrowed from the blues, Indian ragas, flamenco, Celtic folk, and even recorded some Christmas albums. Fahey was a musicologist in the most proper sense of the word, and the product of his curiosity was a truly timeless art form.

What does it mean for art to be “timeless?” Is it a piece’s expression of some universal feeling? A feeling which belongs not to some particular ethnos, nation, spatial/temporal locality, specialization, or tribe, but to humanity as a whole? If so, it’s easy to see why Fahey’s work might be labeled as such. Setting aside the music itself, something about the “primitive” aspect of American Primitive Guitar is associated, for me, with timelessness, some antediluvian state of harmony with Nature which transcends modern notions of in-group and out-group.

Such an association is problematic, and no doubt the result of an internalized “noble savage” mythos. However, Fahey himself was quick to dismiss any such lofty interpretations of his coinage. In a 1980s interview, Fahey says, “All I meant was, one, that I don’t have a name for it, and two, the closest you could come would be to call it primitive, in the painting sense. A primitive painter is one whose untutored. That’s all I meant. But other people got hold of it and gave it other connotations.”

Here. Fahey seems to have understood that his utilization of traditional forms was not dialectically opposed to musical innovation and progress. He was not attempting to go backwards in time to some pastoral age, to some recondite Truth lost in the cumulation of technology. Rather, Fahey was looking ahead, and not just as a pioneering artist, but as a thinker.

“Timelessness” can be thought of, literally, as the lack of time, or being outside of time. That which is truly “timeless” is eternal, and Fahey’s recognition of eternity is unmistakable. His penetrating religious sense seems to have bolstered his understanding of the Great Beyond. In a letter to writer Jeff Broome, Fahey explained, “The life of faith is not something we do in cute little catch words, biblical references, bumper-stickers, clubs, cheap publicity, biblical literalism, etc. Christianity is something you do in your closet, ie., unobserved, unadvertised. It is not just one more thing advertised cheaply among other things & of, consequently the same nature & same class as those other things.”

Fahey’s religion is noncommercial, individual, nonsectarian. In true Christian fashion, the joy of certain Fahey pieces, such as “Sunflower River Blues,” is offset by a fair bit of apocalypticism elsewhere. In “Wine and Roses,” the opening track from the album The Dance of Death and Other Plantation Favorites, Fahey evokes a plague-ridden funeral dirge, sounding at times like a 17th century John Dowland piece, albeit whittled into the blues. It comes as no surprise, then, that Fahey would say, in an interview, “I think we're in an apocalypse and it's pretty bad and getting worse.”


Image via Getty Images

The year is 1999. In a dark screening room, somewhere deep within the walled compound that was Lucasfilm Ltd’s campus, five men were in deep trouble. They were watching the new “Star Wars'' movie—the first in 16 years since 1983’s “Return of the Jedi”—and something wasn’t working. In a documentary released alongside the film, you can see George Lucas, writer and director, slump into his seat. His producer, Rick McCallum, tries to cheer him up to no avail. His editor, Ben Burtt, says the film is “too fast...that we get thrown around.” Lucas’ eyes scan towards production designer Doug Chiang, who, excitedly, says: “We almost got Jar Jar to work.” The camera pans back to Lucas, his hand on his chin.

“Well, if we can make Jar Jar work, we can make the movie work, because he’s funny in a way we haven’t... seen before.,” Lucas says. “Jar Jar is the key to all of this.”

“Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace” is considered by many to be the worst installment in the 11-film franchise. The first line of Peter Travers’ review for Rolling Stone put it bluntly: “The actors are wallpaper, the jokes are juvenile, there’s no romance, and the dialogue lands with the thud of a computer-instruction manual.” Words weren’t minced for Jar Jar either. In Frank Scheck’s review for the Hollywood Reporter, he was described as “…more suitable for Toys R Us than the big screen” and “ particularly egregious and far more irritating than endearing.”

When I pitched writing an “Entire Piece about Jar Jar Binks,” I didn’t expect it to go so well. Perhaps it’s a symptom of the monoculture, but it’s been instilled in me not to utter that name to just anyone. The tall, goofy, discomforting 3D alien continues to elicit strong reactions, from utter rage to ironic joy, in anyone who’s seen even a short glimpse of the “Star Wars” prequels (themselves hated and loved with the same ferocity.) As a “Star Wars” fan, accustomed since childhood to the numerous “cringe moments” of the franchise, I tried to keep the films’ associations with the Gungan to a bare minimum. I tried to forget he existed.

But secretly, deep down, I felt an odd fondness for Jar Jar. I was born in 2000, which makes 1999’s “The Phantom Menace” just a little older than I am. I remember being five or six, renting the DVD from Blockbuster, being entranced and terrified by the yellow-eyed visage of Darth Maul on the disc. Out of all the strange, monstrous beings on screen, Jar Jar was friendly, clumsy, naive, like myself. In a way, he offered a door for my tiny mind to enter the universe on screen. And I think he did the same for more of us than we’d all like to admit.

I’d like to clear the air a little: this isn’t just a Jar Jar fluff-piece. If it was, I would’ve said that in the title. In a lot of ways, the film’s detractors were correct regarding Jar Jar Binks: his character brings very little to the plot, save minor slapstick and a third act deus-ex-machina. His voice, a sort of faux-patois, was cartoonish at best and offensive at worst. The animation itself is nauseatingly unreal, especially in a film shot on 35mm celluloid. And, really, he wasn’t very funny at all.

Despite all of Jar Jar’s very off-putting traits, I think it’s important to consider just how remarkable the character is for even existing. In 1999, having a fully computer-generated character perform alongside humans in live action was thought to be impossible. But George Lucas insisted on it. The team at Industrial Light & Magic, Lucasfilm’s effects arm, first tried to put the actor, Ahmed Best, in a realistic rubber suit. Best was not a trained actor; he’d been cast by producer Rick McCallum after a viewing of “STOMP,” the music & dance revue, on Broadway. The plan was to only replace his head with the CGI head of Binks. Lucas was shown two versions of a camera test: one featuring the suit and head replacement, the other fully 3D animated. Somehow, the second way, the way that hadn’t been done before, was cheaper. Such is the spirit of the “Star Wars” prequels.

I don’t have to explain how impactful that decision was. Think about it: if not for Jar Jar Binks, the clumsy arbiter of the CGI Revolution, we wouldn’t have the countless animated beings appearing in the endless deluge of half-animated movies we watch today. Despite the awkwardness and ire, someone had to do it first. In the corporate “Major Motion Picture” sphere, these kinds of experimental, pioneering moves are often quashed. For better or worse, Lucasfilm absorbed the risk. In the age of billion dollar sci-fi epics like Marvel’s “Avengers” franchise, in which effects previsualization and set-building begin years before principal shooting begins, this kind of willful experimentation is almost anachronistic. One would be forgiven for thinking “The Phantom Menace} was a maverick indie film and not the biggest movie in the world.

You’d also be somewhat correct. Lucasfilm was still over a decade off from being bought by Disney, which, believe it or not, made it a fully independent studio. Depending on your definition, “The Phantom Menace” and its subsequent sequels was an “indie” movie. It’s the kind of thing that could never happen today, could never have happened at any time, before or after. Many attribute this as one of the fundamental failures of “The Phantom Menace”’s production, that Lucas having so much control meant he was surrounded by “yes men.” But in the modern world of filmmaking-by-committee (take a look at the “Justice League” fiasco for an example,) it’s incredibly admirable.

I started to see the sentiments around Jar Jar shift in the mid ‘2010s. People online were coming up with increasingly irrational justifications for liking the character—first, as clipped, repeatable images, then as increasingly dense conspiracy theories about Lucas’ original intention to make Jar Jar a Sith Lord—that those justifications themselves became memes. It seemed, in general, that a group of fans who’d grown up with the bumbling fool had grown to love him too.

With the Disney sequels on the horizon, the prequel movies began a quiet resurgence and reappraisal. While I’ll go to bat for the sequels, I’d felt a keen sense on the opening night of 2015’s “The Force Awakens” that not much new had been tried. I was oddly nostalgic for movies that weren’t very good at all, only because they looked and felt so different.

The prequels were, to quote James Hannaham, “just north of wrong.” Jar Jar, his idiocy, his uncanny pioneering, is the clearest example of this. For an artistic decision so wholly reviled at release to slowly become a prescient sign for the medium to come is an anomaly for the history books. But in a billion dollar industry, with many massive companies all competing for the next “Star Wars,” it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a blockbuster, nor a character, like this again.


Art by Noelani Fishman

I didn’t grow up religious, but it was a sin to waste a wish.

I remember countless times where I was at the store with my dad and would say, I wish I had some ice cream or I wish I had those shoes. As the years wore on, I began wishing I looked like Melinda Gordon from “Ghost Whisperer” or wishing I didn’t have straight hair. Whenever my dad heard me say, I wish, he would immediately turn to me and respond, Lauren, don’t waste a wish. He didn’t say it sternly; it was more of a knowing, singsong-tone. He would then follow that with something like, If you had a magic genie, would you really want that to be one of your wishes?

Over time, I was afraid some forest witch or magical spirit would hear me and grant one of my insignificant wishes, then evilly laugh at me for being a fool and wanting something so flippant. It sounds childish, but I am still afraid to wish for anything unless I have thoroughly thought it through.

There are many things that parents pass onto their children, such as genetics or family heirlooms. However, I inherited the superstitions and phrases my parents repeated throughout my childhood.

My parents grew up in Chicago in the ‘60s, where small homes were packed full of family members and children were to be seen, not heard (my mom ate dinner in silence because my grandfather declared dinnertime as his quiet time.) While we do inherit a lot from our parents, we also learn how to be different from them. I believe my mom purposely raised us in an environment that was opposite of her own. She encouraged my brother and I to laugh at the dinner table and never silence our voices. Playing outside was also a significant part of our childhood: being able to let my imagination take me wherever I pleased while roaming around the backyard was important to me.

When I write now, I often try to channel my childhood imagination, and most of the time it helps me clear my head and allow my mind to conjure entirely new storylines, characters and worlds. As a child, I was never confined to reality, which taught me to dream and imagine anything and everything, even if it seemed unrealistic.

My dad has worked in construction since he was 13, so I always loved the smell of sawdust after a day of him working outside. After work, he would sit in a lawn chair and enjoy the sound of the cool wind rustling the leaves and listen to the bugs and bullfrogs. When I joined him, we tried to spot UFOs. When we couldn’t find any, he pointed to different stars and pondered our place in the world and what lay beyond the stars in other galaxies. We talked about what alien creatures may look like on other planets and if our backyard had any portals we could use to travel in time.

My dad instilled in me that there is too much unknown for anything to be certain, and the universe is too strange for anything to be impossible. Now, one of my favorite times of the year is when it’s warm enough that I can sit outside and inhale fresh air after a long winter. That fresh air reminds me of my dad’s superstitions which taught me to stay curious about what may be in the air around me or in a universe nearby.

After playing outside as a child, I would sometimes come back in the house with excruciating headaches that brought me to uncontrollable tears. My mom inherited a booming voice from my grandfather’s deep Ukrainian accent and my great-grandmother’s rich Polish one, but she always knew to have a calm tone when I needed it. Between my sobs, my mom would quietly ask, Do you want me to find the beep? I would nod and lay my head on her lap. She guided her finger to my forehead and temples until she found the point in my head that was throbbing with the headache. There’s the beep! It’s going in my finger now. Then with some sort of “spell or magic,” she transferred the throbbing in my head into the tip of her finger.

As I got older, I asked her how she transferred the beep and she simply said mind over matter. It wasn’t until I grew into adulthood and had to deal with headaches on my own that I realized she meant that it would stop hurting once I stopped thinking about how badly it hurt.

That message has helped me through many more headaches and moments of pain. Nowadays, I often catch my mind dwelling too much on small daily stresses, like waking up too late or pondering the uncertainty of the future—all the what if’s and fear of regret. But every time I find myself falling down a rabbit hole of my own thoughts, her voice pops in my head saying mind over matter, and I am able to reassess what is fueling my fear rather than giving power to fearful emotions. That small phrase that I heard throughout my childhood is now like a refrain in my mind.

My parents never intended for these moments to stay with me into adulthood, but they have added up to create the person I am today. From my dad, I learned to have an open and curious mind; from my mom, I learned to be myself, allow my brain to create worlds and help ground me in this one. All of these passed-on thoughts are like puzzle pieces—and over time, as I add more pieces, I’m able to understand the portrait of myself more and more.


Photo by Lauren Jonaitis

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