Happy Leap Day everybody! Because today is an unusual day, I thought it might be fun to tell you all an unusual story about time.
See, I have a clock that runs backwards. And it’s not a novelty clock. It’s a natural light alarm clock that I’m pretty sure I got from L.L. Bean. I bought it back in 2006, as a sophomore in college, because I was trying to find a gentler way to wake up. It didn’t work. But that was okay, because whatever… it’s still a clock.
Fast forward nine or so years, when, instead of flat-out breaking, it simply decided to switch directions.
The first time I noticed the second hand moving counter clockwise, it freaked me out. I Went straight to Facebook to ask my science-minded friends what was happening. None of the usual explanations panned out, and the next morning, everything was back to normal. The only reason I was sure I didn’t imagine it was because I got it on film.
Freaked out as I was when my clock developed a mind of its own, part of me was actually a bit sad when it started working again. I was sad because I–perhaps faster than I should admit publicly–I had found myself wondering if I was being taunted from beyond the grave. Far from being the kind of thing that keeps me up at night, the idea of an otherworldly interlocutor makes me feel safe, like somebody is looking out for me. Who can blame him/her/zi/them for having a little fun in the process? I’m not exactly the most exciting person to watch over. Seems like a fair exchange.
Maybe my otherworldly guardian sensed my disappointment, because about a month ago, the clock started running backwards again. And it hasn’t stopped. I keep the ghost clock next to my bed, and look at it almost every night before I go to sleep, ticking backwards like it was the most normal thing in the world.
I still like to think of my haunted clock as a sign that I’m not alone, but–perhaps because I now feel secure in my weird little relationship with a piece of broken machinery–backwards clock has developed deeper valances of significance.
Now, when I watch Donald Trump spew his racist, nationalist rhetoric (to the delight of David Duke), I share a knowing glance with ghost clock. In response, it keeps on tick, tick, ticking backwards.
When Mississippi declares April 2016 “Confederate History Month,” I feel the vibrations of ghost clock tick, tick, ticking backwards, shaking my bones and rattling my brain.
When the KKK stages a rally in Anaheim—less than half an hour from my home—and the cops do shockingly little to stop an eruption of violence, I hear the clock’s incessant tick, tick, ticking backwards deep between my ears.
Maybe ghost clock isn’t broken at all. Maybe we’re the ones who are broken.
When ghost clock first made its presence known in my life, I thought I was being taunted from beyond the grave. I don’t think so anymore. I think it’s the present that’s taunting me, that’s taunting everybody who yearns for a better world. Ghost clock is solemn reminder of what is.
Strange as it sounds, I wish everybody had a ghost clock. As sad as that is, when that tick, tick, ticking starts to gets loud, and I remember that all our clocks are running backwards, I get to look on my bedside table and remember: if a machine can choose to change its direction, so can we.
And the issue that hits closest to home… literally
“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.