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The Folded Clock & Ongoingness

The Folded Clock & Ongoingness

I started keeping a diary twenty-five years ago. It’s eight hundred thousand words long.

I didn’t want to lose anything. That was my main problem. I couldn’t face the end of the day without a record of everything that had ever happened. Ongoingness by Sarah Manguso

Ongoingness & The Folded Clock

Today I wondered What is the worth of a day? Once, a day was long. It was bright and then it wasn’t, meals happened and school happened, and sports practice, maybe, happened and two days from this day there would be a test, or an English paper would be due, or there would be a party for which I’d been waiting, it would seem, for years. Days were ages. […] Not anymore. The “day” no longer exists. The smallest unit of time I experience is the week. But in recent years the week, like the penny, has also become a uselessly small currency. The month is, more typically, the smallest unit of time I experience. But truthfully months are not so noticeable either. […] Since I am suddenly ten years older than I was, it seems, one year ago, I decided to keep a diary.
The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits

The Folded Clock & Ongoingness: diary & meta-diary, both playing with time, questioning its relentlessness and our ability to preserve, to record, to prevent its losses. Ongoingness, is a slim, spare essay, which includes nothing from the eight hundred thousand words Sarah Manguso has written in twenty-five years of compulsive diary keeping. The Folded Clock is a diary whose pages have been jumbled, disrupting time, and leaving only their repeated first line — ‘Today I…’ — to open up a different door of memories each day. Heidi Julavits is like a witty, brave and self-searching big sister, not afraid to pursue her thoughts to their comical, offbeat and often startling conclusions.

I read them at pretty much the same time, enjoying the contrast, the way that one subject — time and our inability to hold it — can lead to such different objects. When they were over, it was the Julavits that I missed, but the Manguso that I wanted to read again. And they made me think of my own ‘diary’ — at present the six Clairefontaine notebooks that begin just over three years ago and in which, since January last year, I have written my ‘something small’ every single day. They reminded me of this post & the urge to preserve, which at one point seems to have dominated Manguso’s life.

Interestingly, for Manguso, it was motherhood that loosened the compulsion to record everything, both because she found her memory affected by pregnancy and the post-partum period, and because of her changed understanding of time and her own mortality. She writes, ‘when I am with my son I feel the bracing speed of the one-way journey that guides human experience.’ Her response is bleak, yet bracing,

The best thing about time passing is the privilege of running out of it, of watching the wave of mortality wash over me and everyone I know. No more time, no more potential. The privilege of ruling things out. Finishing. Knowing I’m finished. And knowing time will go on without me.

Look at me, dancing my little dance for a few moments against the background of eternity.

My favourite part of this short book, which sang to me in so many ways, was this beautiful passage about the way in which time changes when you have a small child:

In my experience, nursing is waiting. The mother becomes the background against which the baby lives, becomes time.

I used to exist against the continuity of time. Then I became the baby’s continuity, a background of ongoing time for him to live against. I was the warmth and milk that was always there for him, the agent of comfort that was always there for him.

My body, my life, became the landscape of my son’s life. I am no longer merely a thing living in the world; I am a world.

See also my thoughts eight years ago, when I was just seven weeks into this mothering thing.



//Heidi Julavits on the Lit Up Show podcast;

//Sarah Manguso interviewed by Eryn Loeb in Vela Magazine: “I think some of my best work comes from looking at something so small in size or duration or emotional registry you can barely see it. ”



  1. Re time and postpartum: this is when I read Tom’s Midnight Garden and identified so much with when it rang 13 o clock. I was living outside of conventional time indeed. PS Have you read Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald? You should.

    • I haven’t, but I want to now I’ve re-read what you wrote about it — sounds just my thing.

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