In memoriam Vladimira Zhivkova

27/07/2015 by Christopher Buxton

Last month an extremely talented young writer with an  inestimable future died when the car in which she was traveling hit a wall of water, on the cruelly deceptive Sofia Burgas motorway.

Vladimira Zhivkova was one year into a degree course in Journalism at the University of Sofia but her writing talent had already been noted by prominent editors.  Her fluency in English and German her voracious reading and  her irrepressible curiosity led her into easy contact with the widest range of people and environments.

The following is my translation of an early piece published in Pod Mosta.

My Grannie’s cuckoo clock

by Vladimira Zhivkova

In my Granny’s village house, there always hung in the entrance hall an old cuckoo clock. This cuckoo clock was the noisiest, most tedious and irritating contraption imaginable. Because it was a genuine antique, passed down to my grandmother from her grandmother, who’d surely bought it in the middle of the last century but one, it either speeded time up or slowed it down. We’d sometimes hear the cuckoo sing three times in an hour or not sing at all for four hours. This clock was an extraordinary item, it had its own opinion about what constituted time and allowed no repair. Sometimes it ticked slowly, counting three seconds for its one, and sometimes – so fast that it was as if the day was passing two frames faster than it should.

One day I was waiting for Granny to come back from the shop and I was just lying on the sofa in the hall, reading the latest boring book from the school summer reading list. I was around seven or eight and I remember that it was about ribbons and sparrows.  It was odd, I suppose it still is quite odd, but I had one of those Grannies who insisted on their grandkids reading the whole school list.  Well anyway. So I was lying and “reading” – just listening to the ticking of the old wreck on the wall. Tick tock, tick tock, it ticked quickly, it ticked slowly, then three times quickly, four times slowly. Well what a botched job! But I took to thinking. This clock perhaps marks a person’s life time more accurately than the most expensive Cartier, Rolex or whatever other Swiss watch. Time is the most subjective concept in existence.  It’s divided between productive and unproductive, as we define unproductive as wasted or lost time.  We associate lost time with activities that do not answer to the productive stereotype.  For example if you’re going to work or school, you’re dashing round getting stuff done, running after buses or trains or even running to keep fit, this means you’re productive, in other words your time is not being wasted. So what that while you’re doing all these things, you’d rather shoot yourself than be pleased at how much you’re achieving. On the other hand if you spend the whole afternoon in carefree schlepping around the shopping mall, or slouching with a hot coffee or cold beer in front of the TV, or eating or sleeping, in other words with things that bring you the most pleasure, your time has been irretrievably wasted on trivia. So, if you and I have successfully followed my train of thought, we’ll arrive together at the conclusion, that things which we find tedious and boring, are things which require our attention and dedication, because they’re productive. But things that provide us with pleasure are a waste of time, because they are unproductive.

But hang on a minute… So does this mean that so as not to waste my time I have to be unhappy and bored to death? I’ll save time on this quandary and shamelessly proclaim. There is not (or at least there ought not to be) any such thing as “time to lose”. Time to lose, spent in pleasure is never lost time.

The world exists in such a speeded up turnover, that the measuring of time really resembles Granny’s clock. If I must be scientifically accurate: time is at once subjective and objective. Objective because it’s a linear progression of universal change.  Subjective because the speed of turnover depends on the awareness of the change, the sacred accumulation of everything.  The higher the awareness, the faster time flies by. The lower the awareness the slower time flows. When you are happy, time flies.  When you’re depressed it’s as though time drags by forever. Because higher levels of awareness bring a finer (lighter and quicker) energy to work on your experiences. Thus, when we are at a higher level, we deal with our experiences more quickly, and when we are at a lower level we deal with our experiences more slowly.

Nowadays people’s level of awareness is always high.  And not because they are happy. In their conscious lives everyone uses a finer energy, because they force time to pass more quickly. More and more often we direct our attention to reading our watches, rather than the clouds in the sky. Everything has to keep to an accurate schedule, with every second accounted for.  From getting up in the morning to closing your eyes at night. Because time is money, time is a resource, time is valuable and should not be wasted. It seems as though time is all these things but there is never time enough for ourselves.  We’re not a train or the metro are we?! We’re not pizza delivery kids to have our lives controlled by various hands on some clock dials?!  It’s true that everyone has a biological clock, but even so it doesn’t wind us up everyday. Time cannot stop but we can stop it. We can for a second forget our step, hang back, slow down our tempo.  The clock hands aren’t going to turn backwards but we can.  We can go back and drink our morning coffee, hug our kids and wish them a nice day at school, spend those fifteen or more minutes in fixing our hair or putting on that expensive lipstick, kiss your man and as in the films rearrange his tie.  Let’s go out and breathe the cold morning air filled with lime tree blossom, gaze at the clouds playing tag,  smile stupidly,  laugh maniacally,  cry inconsolably. Because a life lived to the full is not counted a thousand times every sixty seconds, but in the several thousand moments and memories which fill the film strip which will play before our eyes in our last minutes.

Yes my small seven or eight year old brain managed to give birth to this deep meditation, I turned out a child genius. At the same moment Granny came home with a bag full of shopping and quickly fell to scolding me for wasting my time staring at the old clock, instead of reading the book from the list.

copyright Vladimira K Zhivkova

Translated by Christopher Buxton