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Wednesday, September 07, 2016
Why are calendars so great?
And by calendars, I of course (being a publisher) mean printed ones you put on your wall or desk, not digital ones you carry around in your pocket to keep track of your daily schedule.
"What's the difference?" you ask.
The difference, dear reader, is "yuuuuge!"
By printing a calendar and placing it your personal space, you are plunging a temporal stick in the ground – a reference point for your daily life. You are erecting a frame for your activities that connects today with all the other days in the month, and this month with the eleven others in our year.
Calendars are, simply put, maps for time. Which, if you think about it too long can kind of mess with your mind.
"But time is a false human construct," you toss out (strutting your high school physics cred).
Of course it is. But so are political parties, social networks and chocolate chip cookie recipes. That doesn't mean they aren't all also real in their own way and rather necessary (especially the cookies) for keeping life as we know it from spinning out of control.
For proof of the effect changing a calendar can have, try sorting out the confusion that was the 5-day and 6-day weeks introduced in early Soviet Russia, while the country was still recovering from the impact of finally shifting to the Gregorian Calendar (something historians still wrestle with; here's our answer).
Calendars are important and impactful, people! That's why, when it is the middle of September and you forget what day it is, it is somehow comforting to look at a wall calendar and see that square you are inhabiting today nestled in the middle row of five, leaning toward the weekend. Oh, and to just casually notice (because the calendar tells you this) that tomorrow is a new moon. Nice.
Just try to get that same sense of grounded-ness from the sterile readout of a mobile phone. Go ahead. Try.
CALENDARS CAN ALSO provide us with perspective. I note this every fall when we are putting the final touches on our own Wall Calendar. Because in addition to showing Russian and American holidays (and a few Canadian ones too), we highlight about 250-300 historical events that have round anniversaries (any multiple of five) on any particular day.
This has the effect of "telescoping" historical events, placing alongside one another events that happened hundreds of years apart. And often this can lead to some interesting juxtapositions. Here are three I discovered when proofreading our calendar for 2017:
1937: Valentina Tereshkova, the first female cosmonaut, was born.
1967: Svetlana Alliluyeva, Stalin's daughter, requested (and received) asylum at the US Embassy in New Delhi.
Tereshkova, born in that most difficult of Russian years, orbited the Earth and rose to the heights of Soviet fame, with all its attendant glories and indignities. Meanwhile, Alliluyeva was born in the highest of orbits and struggled much of her life with her identity and infamy.
1962: Soviet Union secretly agreed to send arms to Cuba (it will lead to Cuban Missile Crisis in just over a month).
1992: US and Russia agreed to jointly build a space station, which is now the ISS.
One year we are on the brink of nuclear war, threatening to sling missiles at one another, and exactly 30 years later we agree to jointly harness our missile and space technology toward a common goal. For a time at least.
1867: Russia transferred Russian America (aka Alaska) to the United States.
1967: Soviet Venera 4 spacecraft entered the atmosphere of Venus. It was the first successful probe to perform in-place analysis of the environment of another planet.
Exactly one hundred years separate two such signal events in human exploration. It is almost the stuff of sci-fi. It seems like there should be more than just one century spanning these two events.
OF COURSE, 2017 is also the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution, an event that shaped modern Russia more than any other in the twentieth century, save World War II. And so there are lots of anniversaries on next year's calendar with a 1917 before them. Yet on October 25, the same day as the outbreak of the revolution, there is also this notation:
1852: Dmitry Mamin-Sibiryak, writer, born.
The wonderful realist writer who wrote stories of his native Urals is not a bad counterpoint to Lenin's monumentally destructive coup. Nor is the fact that, in 1962, exactly three days and 45 years after the Bolshevik Thermidor was set in motion, the Cuban Missile Crisis ended.
These are the sorts of things calendars can give us: grounding, perspective, and a sense of our place in the larger world.
Just try that with an app.
Go ahead, try. I'll wait.