Reimagining the Days of Our Lives

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.

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.