Have you noticed that the calendar seems to be losing its personality? Week by week, box by box, it has devolved from an eloquent representation of the year into nothing but a productivity tool, one big numbered to-do list. “The modern calendar is a powerful image of life as perpetual drudgery, with each day a large number invariably leading to the next,” says Chris Hardman, artistic director of Antenna, a Sausalito, California–based theater company. He’s determined to help us transform our mechanical conception of time by reinventing the calendar as both an object and an idea.
Hardman’s ECOlogical Calendar doesn’t look like a standard calendar: It’s long and uninterrupted, unfolding from left to right; and it begins not with January 1, but with the winter solstice, December 21. The months are given evocative names—“Ember” for December, “Celeste” for January, “Bluster” for March. (Hardman was inspired by the French revolutionists, whose radical departures from the ancien regime included the creation of the revolutionary calendar of 1793, on which months were renamed with terms that evoked heat, cold, and other natural forces.) Even the days have monikers in Hardman’s system: “ClearNight” for January 9, “WindChill” for the 10th, “BurrowNests” for the 13th. The day-names are keyed to a narrative that runs along the bottom of the calendar: ClearNight signals the coming of the WindChill factor; animals avoid the cold in BurrowNests. The point is to use lyrical stories to connect people with natural cycles and rhythms.
By starting on the winter solstice, Hardman returns the calendar to a more nature-centered approach to time. Hardman also plays down the week, that primary organizer on today’s daytimers. In nature there is no such thing. “We’re not interested in having days that have numbers following one after another in a lock-step march . . . from 1 to 30 and back again,” says Hardman, who works with a staff of 10 at Antenna, where so far they’ve developed two seasons of the calendar.
While it may seem odd for a theater company to be working on a calendar, the evolution was natural for Hardman, several of whose shows over the last few years have commemorated seasonal cycles and events. One of Antenna’s most celebrated productions is Hardman’s . : . sands . : . of . : . time . : ., a millennium show in which visitors trudge along 1,300 feet of raked sand on a beach, listening on headsets to a retelling of the history of the universe. At the end of the walk, each visitor picks up one grain of sand. That single grain represents the last 2,000 years. “This is the kind of time we perceive when we’re dealing with checkbooks and life and diaries,” Hardman says. “But the beach is really the amount of time we’ve taken to get from the beginning of time to now.”
The ECOlogical Calendar, a direct outgrowth of the . : . sands . : . of . : . time . : . event, is intended to put people in touch with a broader view of time. In addition to our current count of 2003, Hardman’s calendar adds 13.4 billion years to today’s date, the closest estimate scientists have for a Big Bang start to the universe. But like an Advent calendar, it also resacralizes time and, as Hardman puts it, “gets us to think about the days as events in themselves, sitting in the process of the movement of nature.”
Still, Hardman is a realist. The numbers of each date remain in small print on the calendar as a concession to the modern world—so you can use the ECOlogical Calendar to schedule get-togethers with friends as well as to ponder the vast reaches of cosmic time.
Karen Olson is senior editor of Utne.