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How I Became Obsessed With Accidental Time Travel

I found a global community of believers building an archive of temporal dislocations from the present.

As with a spell of déjà vu, the experience was short-lived, and time was regained. According to the blogger’s detective-like report, Cripps “was later determined” to have been a business in the 1950s. In response to Frank’s slip, posters have told their own or related accounts they’ve heard from others: “This happened to my ex-boss, Glyn Jackson in London, England,” one begins. “Glyn’s story is Highly believable as Glyn is person who lacks imagination on such a scale that he could not put together a grade one story for English to save his life.” And on it goes.

I have never appreciated stories about the passage of time. I resent that I won’t ever get back the hours of my life that Richard Linklater stole with “Boyhood” — his two-and-three-quarter-hour film, shot over a 12-year period in which time is the force that overwhelms everything, not least the idea that our own actions drive our life stories. There’s a whole lot of unwelcome profundity there.

Time-slip anecdotes, though fashioned out of the ambient dread of living with the ticking clock, are childlike in their sense of wonder. They are light, playful and irrational, as frivolous and folky as a ghost story if it were narrated by the confused ghost instead of the people it haunts. One poster, as a girl, used to see a woman in a blue bathrobe in her room: “Her hair was long and messy, a reddish brown. I didn’t see her face because she was usually turned away. I used to mistake her for my mom.” Years later, grown up, the poster’s daughter slept in her former bedroom. “One day I realized … I was wearing the same blue bathrobe,” the mother writes. Paranormal trappings aside, this story speaks to the feeling of whiplash brought on by time’s passing.

Slipping can be significant, as any Freudian will tell you, and these narratives are riddles whose answers might tell us about our relationship to time. I have begun considering the message boards on which they are exchanged to be narrow but important release valves, allowing posters to talk about the feelings that arise from being time-bound: depression, midlife crises, the dysmorphia of living in a human body. What ailed Miss Smith, whose car slid into a ditch after a cocktail party, and who witnessed “groups of Pictish warriors of the late seventh century, ca. 685 AD,” if not an understanding of her smallness in history’s vast expanse? Why did two academics, famous in the time-slip community for writing a book about spotting Marie Antoinette in the Versailles grounds, encounter trees that looked lifeless, “like wood worked in tapestry”? Perhaps in that instant, like the last queen of France’s Ancien Régime, they felt radically out of joint with their present moment.

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