Recursion

“I want a fourteen-day week. A thirty-one-day week. A three-hundred-sixty-five-day week. I want every day to be something new.”

driver

Good morning. It’s Wednesday — Hump Day — and the coffee is average. It’s all downhill from here. I’ve never understood if downhill was a bad thing or a good thing. It sounds like a good thing. All downhill from here. That sounds nice. I want to be Atlas bearing the weight of the Earth.

I question the idea of weeks. Time is built from concentric circles. We’re living the same days over and over, spinning our wheels. Here comes Monday again. Here comes Tuesday. But what if every day was called something new, something different? Then we could live each day for the first time. I’ve lived 1,350 Wednesdays. Today will be my 1,351st.

I drive to work and listen to the new Vampire Weekend album and the sun is just coming up over the road. I am just coming awake. Sometimes I get to work and can’t remember driving there.

There is no scientific basis for the seven-day week. Days and years are based on the earth’s rotation. Months are based on the moon. The seven-day week, though, was pulled from thin air, nearly two millennia ago.

I was wrong about this coffee, by the way. This coffee is better than average. This coffee is fucking fantastic.

There would be no end to the names we could come up with. A sentence can go on forever. This is called recursion. Some linguists have called recursion “a discrete infinity,” which is, I think, an amazing thing to call it. Two mirrors facing one another. As a joke, in the reference section of some textbooks, editors will write: Recursion, See Recursion. Noam Chomsky says recursion is what separates human language from animal language, but not everyone agrees.

To step outside this for a second, though: what would a week feel like spinning against your shoulders? Time as motion. Time as pain (chaffing). Dante’s hell was built from concentric circles, and I was born June 24th, 1987: a Wednesday.

In Ghana, and maybe in other parts of the world, babies are named for the day of the week they’re born. Your chances of guessing a person’s name are one in seven. I lived in Ghana for three months and felt the weeks pass like a slow turning wheel. I sat in bars drinking nonalcoholic beer.

A fetus is considered viable somewhere between 22 and 25 weeks. An abortionist was recently convicted of murder for clipping the spinal cords of late-term infants. They had become, in the eyes of the state, alive. Point being: look what a difference a week can make!

Today is Hump Day and we’re all just getting through, getting by, getting over. At least that’s what I’m doing. I’m staying positive. In Ghana, time moved so slowly it ceased to exist. Now it moves so fast it’s gone transparent. Either way, I’m losing track. On my way to work, I listen to the new Vampire Weekend album, and I wipe the sleep out of my eyes. I listen to track seven, “Hannah Hunt,” and I listen to it over and over again. The sun is just coming up over the road.

In 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted, flash freezing Pompeii in a cloud of molten ash, killing 10,000 and preserving 1,150 in freak-out, horror-movie poses for the next 2,000 years. It was August 24th, a Tuesday. In 1954 the United States dropped incendiary bombs on Dresden, killing 20,204, and destroying, according to Kurt Vonnegut, “one of the most beautiful cities in all of Europe.” It was February 13, a Tuesday. The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945, a Tuesday. And four United States airliners were hijacked on Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, and flown into civilian and military targets, killing 2,996, and fundamentally changing the global political situation for the foreseeable future.

clock

The word for Tuesday comes from the Norse word Tiw, God of War.

I want to feel like we’re getting somewhere, like our days are leading to something, like we’re not just going round and round. I want a fourteen-day week. A thirty-one-day week. A three-hundred-sixty-five-day week. I want every day to be something new.

I want no more Tuesdays.

In “Hannah Hunt,” singer Ezra Koenig says, “You and me, we have our own sense of time,” and I think he’s onto something. For time to mean anything we have to make it our own.

The Institution for Creation Research: “…Almost none of these writers even considers the obvious explanation — namely, that the seven-day week was established by God Himself, at the beginning!”

Is questioning the seven-day week, then, questioning God? Christianity is not the source of the seven-day week, but is most likely the reason for its sticking around. Jayne Lutwyche of the BBC: “Rome may initially have acquired the seven-day week from the mystical beliefs of Babylon astrologers, but it was the biblical story of creation, God making the heavens and earth and resting on the seventh day that may have lead the first Christian emperor to make sure it endured to this day.”

On my way to work, I listen to the new Vampire Weekend album and rub my hands against my face.

I was in Ghana for three months, for twelve weeks, drinking nonalcoholic beer, losing my faith in just about everything. The bar, a concrete courtyard, was always empty. Drinking was frowned upon. The beer was called Malta and it was thick and warm and nearly impossible to get down. It cost 50 cents a bottle. I came back every day and sat in the same sliver of shade while the temperature climbed into the 90s and 100s and I got dizzy from the heat.

Brofono (white man),” a local man said after a few weeks, “what are you doing here? Every day you are here. What are you doing?”

It was late and my shirt was sticking to my skin.

“Nothing,” I said, “killing time,” and he laughed and shook his head and disappeared. So, questioning God is not exactly a major concern of mine, and wasting time is something of a hobby.

My uncle was born on a Friday and died on a Wednesday. My next-door neighbor was born on a Sunday and killed on a Tuesday. My friend was married on a Saturday and divorced on a Saturday. My dog was born on a Monday and put down on a Thursday. Is this all as strange as it seems? I’ve been listening to this Vampire Weekend album on repeat. It ends and I start it over again. 43.2 minutes. If I listened four times it would last 171 minutes exactly. 234 times: a week.

Thoreau: As if we could kill time without injuring eternity. I like the sound of that but I don’t know what it means. I’ve been killing time my whole life and I can’t imagine it’s had any effect on the infinite, on the Big Picture. Mostly, I think time has been killing itself, or at least it’s been killing me: round and round. I can’t be held responsible for its behavior. I want to be Atlas bearing the weight of the Earth. I want to be an astronaut on the moon.

car

Illustrations for The Bygone Bureau by Hallie Bateman

Michael Nagel is a writer and editor. He and his wife live in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter.