Publisher's Message: Time Spans, the Brain and the Art of Celebration
by Suzanne Gillis

This poem of U.S. Poet Laureate, Kay Ryan, first published in The New Yorker and now part of her latest collection, The Best of It; New and Collected Poems, beautifully expresses the passage of time and therefore the urgency to move along with whatever it is we would like or need to do before it’s too late.

For awhile now, I have been considering and trying to make sense of the speed of time passing and time spans: events that happened years ago but seem like they happened a few days ago.

Most recently, it is the convergence of events: including the celebration of Vermont Woman's 30-year-span, saluting the remarkable women of Vermont, combined with the joy of finding a long lost friend from 50 years ago, and then learning about the Human Brain Project, made all the more poignant to me by Ryan's poem.

In mid-September, while vacationing in Maine, I became acutely aware of time compression. That is to say, unwittingly and unknowingly, I hit the friend button on an obscure Facebook page and wham! I was quite suddenly myself, fifty years ago.

Here is what happened.

After a few of years of intermittently trying to find my college roommate, lost over fifty years ago, I had about given up my search. Still when I had a few moments to browse on my new iPad I checked again. This time suddenly a name similar to hers popped up on Facebook. It was so unexpected that at once I realized I had no idea how to pursue this lead, or why, or if I really wanted to after all these years.

Was this really her? Maybe. Should I find out or let it go? What was my intended result...a question I always ask myself when confronted with a dilemma. Anyway, I hit the friend button and waited. Minutes later, she answered with her own question. “Could you possibly be the same Sue Gillis I knew at Westbrook College? I have been looking for you for years.”

There it was: a simple message on my iPad confirming a 50-year span, and it seemed like a few days ago.

Coincidentally, a few days later, I received Vanity Fair's 100-year anniversary issue (a span really; they did not publish for 47 years), just as I was also thinking about Vermont Woman's celebratory current issue, which spans a remarkable 30 years. It was then that I realized just how significant print publications through the years really are. Just think of those page design and layouts, photo spreads, stories, headlines and editorial content, all held in each reader’s hands; they reflect the time of our lives and those past. You just don't get that sensory experience from digital publications.

Anyway, it was the time span of both these events that gave me pause.

Why is it, I wondered, that an experience you had years ago seems like it only just happened? You know what I mean, right? Like a parent lamenting how quickly their children have grown. Early on, the days and the years seem long but later as the years pile on, both the days and the years seem shorter, which may help to explain time compactness. Every time we experience this phenomenon, we ask ourselves the same question: How could so much time have gone by when it seems like it happened only yesterday?

Which leads me to the Human Brain Project (HBP).

The bold and huge international project was awarded over a billion dollars by the EU this year. It was launched in October to much fanfare in Lausanne, Switzerland. Its goal is to build a supercomputer model of a simulated brain by the year 2023 in conjunction with over 103 European research institutions and others around the world.

Director Henry Markram, a neuroscientist at Lausanne’s Federal Institute of Technology says, “The researchers are on an exciting but extremely difficult journey that will provide us with the foundation to understanding mental health, brain diseases and ultimately who we are as humans.”

Neuroscientists have only limited knowledge of the brain, which is why the scope of the Human Brain Project is so stunning, daunting and ambitious. Below are just a few brain facts to give you an idea of how difficult a task is ahead for the HBP and why, for the rest of us who have so many behavioral questions, we have few answers (yet).


Brain Facts:

  • Average brain weight: nearly three pounds.
  • 85 percent of the brain is the cerebrum, the front part of the brain consisting of two lateral hemispheres joined by a thick band of fibers. This part is associated with intellectual function, emotion, and personality.
  • 75 percent of the brain is water.
  • 40 percent of the brain is dendrites and axons, the threadlike extensions of a nerve cell, which conduct impulses to and from the cell body.
  • 60 percent is neurons, or brain cells.
  • There are around 100 billion neurons.
  • There are between 1,000-10,000 synapses—or neuron connections—per neuron.
  • The brain stops growing at age 18.
  • Your brain needs 20 percent of your blood and oxygen to function.
  • There are 100,000 miles of blood vessels in your brain.



Most of us know practically nothing about how our massively complex brain works, except in the broadest sense: that it is capable of memory storage and recall and hundreds of thousands of other functions. Of course, the brain also has the ability to deal with time. So as we struggle to understand the concepts of time all anyone really knows is that they are common experiences, and that although it makes us a bit ditsy at times, we also experience relief from it: meaning, we do not get stuck in the past (Thank you, brain).

At Vermont Woman, we have not been remiss in noting and celebrating every award received and every milestone passed. Like Ryan's poem, we are aware of time thinning. Aware of the rich volume of published work, pages filled by hundreds of Vermont women writers, expertly designed to appeal to multiple generations. Tough topics were tackled--like the politics of cancer, incest (from victim to survivor), Vermont women and AIDS to name a few—and political positions taken, and stories of achievements and challenges, plus hundreds of remarkable Vermont women profiled.

Through it all, Vermont Woman has been there, publishing for a total of fifteen years over a thirty-year period. Yet there is much more to do and most likely always will be.

We believe Vermont Woman has been an important part of the Vermont media, a terrific source of ideas, opinions and perspectives of many Vermont women. There is nothing quite like it in the entire country.

So no matter how swiftly time is sweeping by, or perhaps because of it, and as Ryan's poem encourages us to do, we take time to raise a toast to you, to all those who have worked for Vermont Woman and those who contributed to us financially from 1985 to now; to old friends and new; to the continuation and long life of Vermont Woman.

Like my sister-in-law has said for years, “when you have something to celebrate...then celebrate.”

Celebrate, indeed.

*Kay Ryan was U.S. poet laureate 2008-2010 and Pulitzer Prize winner for Poetry in 2011. The Edges of Time was first published in the New Yorker and is included in her collection, The Best of It; New and Selected Poems.