“At Random” column for Dec. 28, 2012

by danny Heitman

A year weighs 7.8 ounces, which I learned the other day when, indulging curiosity, I put my 2012 wall calendar on the office postage scale and read the result.

The calendar will soon descend, like a dying moon, from the wall near my desk where it’s presided over the past 12 months, charting the progress of one January to the next. The older I get, the more deeply I’m struck by the elusiveness of time — how it tends to evaporate, as quickly as dew, from each day’s supply of allotted hours. Calendars give me the feeling, however illusory, that time has substance, solidity, weight.

I continue to use paper calendars even though my cellphone or computer can tell me at a glance what day it is. I like the sense of possibility from hanging a new wall calendar in my office cubicle. Suspended by a plastic tack that keeps January in place as solemnly as a butterfly pinned to velvet, the rest of the months hang hidden and heavy at the bottom of the calendar, like low-hanging fruit. They’re mine to savor, or so I tell myself when the year is still young.

By June, the wall calendar will achieve its perfect annual equilibrium, the year reaching a halfway mark in which there are six months above and six months below the calendar’s fold. The crease through the center of the calendar is the equator through which the future travels northward into the present, each new month announcing itself with another turn of the hand, another 30 days or so pinned upright to face the world.

As summer ripens, the weight of the year reverses, with more months atop the calendar fold than below it. By autumn, the calendar grows top-heavy, and the small calendar tack begins to strain under the weight of its accumulated past. On some days, when the leaves outside are brown and the mornings hint at frost, I’ll be startled, while typing at my keyboard, by the wall calendar as it slips from its mooring on the wall and crashes on my desk.

I refasten the calendar as best I can, but I’ve gotten my first dramatic sign that the year is now mostly a matter of history. The second omen arrives when our office manager sends out her October email directing us to order new calendars for the coming year. In addition to each year’s wall calendar, usually a gift from a friend, I requisition a desk calendar, bound in black, that unfolds like a book, easily carried in a satchel as I trek from engagement to engagement.

The desk calendar packages the year like the pages of a novel, so that time becomes not just a series of inert, white blocks waiting for the randomly penciled dental appointment or work deadline, but a story in which I play a role. I like this narrative quality of calendars, the way they offer time as a text to be read, with past chapters informing the plot. All of this has come to mind as I unwrap new calendars for the new year, wondering what new twists the pages hold for me.

Danny Heitman can be reached at dheitman@theadvocate.com or (225) 388-0295.