In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candlelight.
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.
from Bed in Summer, Robert Louis Stevenson
As my day is winding down, a new one is beginning for our family in India, as they carry out the morning rituals of teeth-cleaning, tea-drinking, poha, and private prayers at the kitchen shrine. As I get ready for bed, too late as usual, my California friends still have their evening ahead of them and are ready for long phone chats. Of a morning I wake in anticipation of news from England, since by the time I am sitting up in bed with my first cup of tea my English family and friends are well into their workdays and their fourth or fifth cuppas. With childhood friends in Australia and New Zealand and dear Alysha in South Africa this year, as I brace for a February nor’easter I am aware that the Antipodeans in my life are enjoying fresh garden vegetables and harvesting early summer fruit (all the more tormenting because they will keep posting photographs of them on Facebook). The diurnal and seasonal rhythms of yesteryear, each in its own time gradually and gracefully giving way to the next, are now overlaid with the contrapuntal motions of multiple time zones, all competing simultaneously for space in my crowded consciousness.
This is my constant condition, now delightful, now dizzying. How much more so when my loved ones are on the move; waiting for the email or text message announcing their safe arrival, I am keenly aware, in every moment, of what time it is there. I read nineteenth, even twentieth-century novels in which travelers or family members working or studying abroad must of necessity remain incommunicado for months, sometimes unable to make a visit home for years on end. Those left behind at home, most of them women, sit down at their writing desks and immerse their whole selves in long, beautifully handwritten, artfully composed letters, pausing periodically to dip their pens into the inkwell and gaze into the middle distance. In their position, I turn to my laptop, and Tell Me Another.