I love this very short story by my friend Sue Allison. It was published in some literary magazine that I can't find the name of (whoops!). She just had another published here in the Hawai'i Pacific Review about the weather—seems an appropriate place for the story. But this one is my favorite. It makes me laugh. PS I can't do anything about the leading except by retyping the whole thing, which I refuse to do at this present.

Additional Tenses You Should Know

Sue Allison

            After learning the simple tenses of the past, the present, and the future, you are ready to address the complex tenses, which can be thought of as the sub-tenses of the simple tenses.  We will begin with the tenses of the past, not because the past comes first, in the traditional view, but because the past is the most popular of the three simple tenses since it is the only one we think we know anything about. The past tense includes the following: the recent past, the middle past, the distant past, the past we forgot about completely, the past we are always bringing up even though people are tired of hearing about it, the past we remember but which never happened, the past our significant others remember differently but wait for social occasions to add their versions, and the Kodak past, which is constructed entirely of memories of photographs and not of the events themselves; the past we’d just as soon no one knew about; and the past we find out later wasn’t even true.

            The past perfect is not to be confused with the past imperfect which in the present we recast as the past perfect but which is really a false past perfect. This is part of the group of wishful-thinking tenses. The past is a place that is basically full of people we used to be but don’t know anymore and often don’t even like very much but who never go away. This is the past other people call our baggage, and is ours to keep whether we claim it or not. Why it is precisely our baggage that seems to interest people most about us, rather than our current fetching figure after three weeks of dieting, is not a part of this lesson. It is not even a part of grammar. Grammar is not about the whys of life at all, which is why we are so persnickety about it.

            The past in which we did not take part is called the historical past. This is the past described in the present the way that people who are in the present choose to describe it, making it a sort of present past and since it thereby requires a new version to be made by every generation, it cannot, much as we believe it to be indelible, be trusted. It also means that it is never over; it just goes on and on, a past without end, which seems a contradiction in terms, but there you have it.

            Another past that needs to be considered is the super past, otherwise known as the cosmological past, which was so long ago it seems like it was in the future and is often feared what the present will become. There is probably a tense for what happens when the future reverses itself but no one has come up with it yet because it is way too out there for anyone to think about whose everyday lexicon does not include the word quark. What we do like to think about, and what we think about ad infinitum, as it were, are our historical and cosmological futures mostly because it is upon them our presents and pasts depend for meaning. These futures are full of people we don’t know but they are all wonderful, happy, attractive, and brilliant people who would not be considered baggage at all. This tense is sometimes called the imaginary future. There are some schools of thought which hold that all future tenses are imaginary, the future being so, but that is a debate grammarians deftly defer to philosophers, who can’t answer it, either. The future tenses include the imaginary future and the perfect future and the perfect imaginary future, as well as the future which will come no matter what we do; the future we’re putting off as long as possible; the future we prefer remains in the future rather than actually become the present because when it becomes the present we are going to have to do something about it; and the future which we think if we plan for will come true. This is the delusional future, a tense that, although it is a future tense, is only used in and for the present.

            The present is a surprisingly tricky tense. We can reinterpret the past in a kind of recursive loop but unlike the present, which seems to have a mind of its own, the past doesn’t actually refuse to be pinned down at any particular point or time. The present tense includes the time during which you are actually noticing what is going on; the present in which you are thinking of something other than what is going on and so have no idea that your spouse just asked you a question or the car in front of you just stopped; and the sudden present. The sudden present happens when you have a brilliant idea which vanishes if you don’t write it down immediately. You think you will remember it later, when it is past and you are the future, but you don’t. It’s also called the disappearing present, or the inspiration present, which is why writers and scientists and artists and inventors and such always carrying little pieces of paper around and scribble on them at inconvenient and seemingly uninteresting moments.

            There is the present during which we are doing something we like so much we would like the moment to last forever; this present is short. But the present we wish would please be over soon is not; it is interminable. What our feelings have to do with time, which is intricately related to tense, being the thing tense describes, is a question it’s sometimes better not to think about for the simple reason that thinking about it is counter-productive. The moment we think that this is a great thing we’re doing and would like the moment to last forever, it’s gone. It’s in the past, no longer in the enjoyable present. Likewise, thinking about the painful situation we’re in merely adds excruciating to interminable.  But there IS a present that does seem to go on forever, a present that has nothing to do with us personally and so which we cannot control or affect with our thoughts, and that is the eternal present, the present that is always there, that we believe has always been there, and that we believe always will be there. This is such a strange and beautiful present that it perseveres in our imaginations despite being constantly disproved. We first experience the eternal present in experiencing our parents; later, when we have children of our own, what we think of them when they are in their cute stage. The eternal present is most vividly and experienced in regard to mountain ranges and seascapes and summer and almost any sunny day; basically the visible world at the time we are in it. Eternity, which may be another word for the eternal present, may or may not exist, but thinking it exists in the present appears to be a survival mechanism of perpetual and stubborn naivete.

            One of the most interesting of the present tenses is that experienced when time appears to be suspended. This is like the eternal present except that it actually is. It is the tense from which the present got its name because it is truly a gift, that long forever Sunday-Afternoon-present in which there is nothing that needs to be done and one can, without anxiety, sleep late, stroll in a museum or in the woods or cook complicated recipes from the newspaper. This is contrasted with the Monday-morning-present, about which enough said.

            In the next section we will uncover more of the complications of tense, including the past subjective and the present relative, but the ever-popular and enigmatic simultaneous future tense, the tense in which multiple futures co-exist at the same time, will not be covered. Also called a relationship, it will be dealt with in another course entirely.

1 comment :

William Hill said...

A relative present would be tense.