Léna is also a Regional Manager for Writopia Lab whose mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in kids and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.

"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tense: Past, Present, Future

In every meaningful relationship, each person brings to the table some beautiful qualities, and some very annoying ones. Confession: I have a habit that drives my husband to distraction whenever I ask him to read something unedited (like a blog): My blatant disregard for tenses.

"Léna," he says slowly, then with rising exasperation, "You started in the present tense and then switched to the past tense, and then back again!"

Past tense, present tense, future, the pluperfect - how does a gal keep it all straight?

Lest you think I'm a ditz here, in my youth I was often up to my eyeballs in conjugating verbs in French, Latin, and in college, Italian. A sense of time is important in many languages. But recently I came across a language where these tenses don't even exist!

"How wonderful," was my immediate, visceral reaction. I love writing about the American Southwestern desert: much of EDGES is set there, and it also serves as the backdrop for my current Work In Progress. I am trying to learn as much about the Hopi Indians, (a people in Northeastern Arizona) as possible, and it is the Hopi language that eschews tense. What does that say about them as a people? Are they always in the present? I have so much more to find out!

This concept also reminds me of my grandmother, and the ways she would play with the concepts of time in her books. Is time linear? Is there really a past, a present, a future, a pluperfect? Her books and her over-riding philosophy of life started to teach me that maybe it's not, maybe all things happen together at once, and we are all an important part of the fabric of the universe.

So is this a lofty way of making excuses for myself and lazy writing? Probably, but it is definitely worth further exploration into the mindset of the Hopi Indians!


  1. Oh, I just wrote a first chapter and realized I was switching tenses from paragraph to paragraph. You make me feel less alone!

  2. i totally do that too!

  3. Oh I'm so glad that it's not only me! Thanks for fessin' up, oh seasoned writers you!

  4. Kairos, chronos, and the Hopi--I'm intrigued.

  5. I love the way Katherine in 'A Severed Wasp' has her past interrupted by her present. She'll be in the middle of a memory and a phone will ring, and she'll be swimming through time, trying to right herself in the moment.

    And then there's Beloved by Toni Morrison, where it is up to the reader to figure out if the chapter is in the past that she originally sets it (reconstruction era), or the collective past of the history of the Middle Passage, or if it is all just one large fabric of time, that is continually happening over and over.

    People say things like, "live in the moment," or "forget about the past" or "think about the future," but how can one be more important than the other?

  6. I love that thought . . . how can one be more important than another? There's so much more to explore! Thank you for diving in with me!

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