Do you picture a calendar in your head, or am I just strange?
August 27, 2006 6:40 PM   Subscribe

An am-I-alone-here-question: What does the calendar that you picture in your head look like? For as long as I can remember (or at least as long as I knew my months of the year), my mental calendar has always been monthly, and seemed to start with the month of August--maybe because I was born then, or maybe because the school year started around then.

The calendar just kind of continues on, one month next to the other, side by side, with January/February as kind of a halfway point. The end of the calendar is always in July, and then it just kind of starts over again in August. Think of a line of monthly calendar pages, all lined up, in just that arrangement. This is what I picture when I try to envision/plan for vacations I'm planning, pregnancies of relatives of friends, birthdays, etc. For what it's worth, the pages are always white. And it's not like a kitten or Far Side theme or anything.

Is this crazy? Do other people's mental calendars look similar, or do you picture something different? Do you even envision such a calendar?
posted by printchick to Grab Bag (78 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
I'm with you in having an absolutely firm mental image of the year.

Mine is like the face of a clock. Jan1/New Year's Eve is 12:00. Dec 1 is 1:00, Nov 1 is 2:00, Oct 1 is 3:00, and so on. Or sometimes I think the equinoxes are 3:00 and 9:00, and the solstices are 12:00 and 6:00. (This difference obviously doesn't make a lot of difference to the general layout: winter on top, summer on the bottom, spring on the left and fall on the right.)

There's just one hand, which runs counterclockwise.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:55 PM on August 27, 2006

My mental calendar is like a column of calendar pages, with January at the top and December at the bottom. Each year is a separate column, and for some inexplicable reason, the years go right to left.

In my case the overall layout is definitely loosely based on the calender in my first grade classroom, and I'd imagine that some others' mental calendars are similarly based on calendars that were used when people explained months to them as children.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:56 PM on August 27, 2006

My mental calendar is round - like a clock or actually more of a squashed clock. Christmas occurs around 11 'clock or 10.30. Which makes February or March at 12. (It's squashed....) Interestingly, my birthday is at the beginning of March so maybe you *do* subconsciously (and selflishly) lay out your year around your birthday. As a kid, I guess that's the most important time of the year.

Oh. And I kind of overlay the seasons on there. Winter is dark and summer bright and cheery.
posted by NailsTheCat at 6:56 PM on August 27, 2006

LobsterMitten: Counterclockwise? No no no. That just won't do. My mind aches trying to visualise it.
posted by NailsTheCat at 6:59 PM on August 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

mine is like an oval, starting with september, divided into fourths. like a string of pearls. i guess cause of the way the school year goes.
posted by amethysts at 7:03 PM on August 27, 2006

My inner picture of a year:

Cool days (September); brisk, falling leaf days (October); wet, leafless days (late October to early December); white snow (mid-December to mid January); dirty, graying snow (mid-January to mid-February); moist, cool, muddy days (mid-February through March); windy, flowering days (April to early June); hot, green days (some of June to July and August).

Eight seasons of inequal length, based around the particulars of Chicago-area climate. Like you, printchick, I start my calendar both around my birthday (in September) and the approximate start of the school year.
posted by Iridic at 7:09 PM on August 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

My unimaginative mental calendar is monthly. My mental year used to begin in March, when the first signs of spring can be found in the woods of southern New England where I grew up. But I have been an academic for so long now that my year starts at the end of August, when classes begin.

(By the way, bookmark this thread before it gets deleted.)
posted by LarryC at 7:13 PM on August 27, 2006

Each month has a color:
January is brown
February is pink
March is Green
April is White
May is peach
June is turquoise
July is blue
August is gold
September is orange
October is black
Novemebr is gray/green
December is red
posted by Sara Anne at 7:19 PM on August 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

My mental calendar looks a lot like yours. It begins in September and ends in August, so it's about to be a new year for me. Of course, my birthday is in the end of August, and school always started around the same time, so it was a natural way for me to imagine it ever since childhood.
posted by evariste at 7:20 PM on August 27, 2006

I have absolutely no mental calender, but I have spoken to many people about this before and the common themes I hear of are: left to right january to december, lots of colours, many images that don't relate to calenders at all, e.g. Someone who has a line like your get in the heartbeat monitor than increases in frequency/ wave height when something out of the ordinary is coming up - if it happens all the time it the effect on the line becomes less.

I'm guessing there's been studies on this, and the sort of people that do it and the sort of memory / type of person it requires... anyone got a nice PDF for us to read?
posted by takeyourmedicine at 7:20 PM on August 27, 2006

My mental calendar is sort of like a rectangle, where it starts with January, February, March, April and May as squares going to the right. It makes a right turn, so that June, July and August go down, then turns again at September. September, October, November and December are along the bottom, and somehow December and the following January manage to almost meet over on the left side.
posted by srah at 7:23 PM on August 27, 2006

Left to right, January to December, that's me. That probably means I'm extremely anal rententive or something. Sounds right.

As dumb as it sounds, New Years Day is always meaningful for me, because it truly does feel to me like a whole new beginning. It feels so far away from all the other days, way back at the beginning of my linear mental calendar.
posted by peep at 7:48 PM on August 27, 2006

This is really interesting stuff.

My mental calendar isn't quite as concrete as some of the ones others have described, but there is some definite order to it. Also, since it's not as concrete, some of this may be biased by the fact that I'm actively trying to visualize it the way I usually do, which inevitably means that it is definitely not accurate. Anyway:

Mine is read bottom to top, starting with late january, when my spring semester starts. So january is on the bottom, feb above, and so on. It's hard to say whether normally the weeks would all ordered bottom to top, or whether within a month it's like a normal calendar page. However, that is just the month by month view, for up to maybe a year or so. On a view of up to maybe 4 years at most, things are just arranged roughly by season, with the summer being the dividing points between years. This view has pages stacked on eachother, one page for each season, with the summers carrying extra significance somehow as the dividing point between years.

Beyond that, I just picture the numerals of each year ordered left to right and images of events grouped with each year.

Now going down to a much narrower view of a few weeks at a time, if I'm picturing just two weeks or less, all the days are in order in one row, starting with either monday or sunday going left to right.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 7:57 PM on August 27, 2006

Mine is exactly like needs more cowbell's.

A series of columns, January at the top and December at the bottom. It's white with black grids and letters. It looks like a long scroll, almost. You can zoom up and down it and side to side to different years like some kind of modern computer game (except I've always picture it that way before I knew what a computer was).

In my head, newer years and the future are on the left and older years are on the right.

This is fascinating!
posted by bristolcat at 7:59 PM on August 27, 2006

My mental calendar is round and goes clockwise -- January is 1, February is 2, etc.

I am convinced this is because when I was a kid, one of my teachers had a display of the months of the year set up this way.
posted by sugarfish at 8:12 PM on August 27, 2006

Do you even envision such a calendar?

No, and I really worry about all of you.
posted by trevyn at 8:13 PM on August 27, 2006 [8 favorites]

sugarfish and NailsTheCat: but can't you see that it's much more natural for the year to go counterclockwise? I just feeeeels like a counterclockwise cycle.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:24 PM on August 27, 2006 [2 favorites]

My mental calendar more or less revolves around feelings rather that actual months or a clockwise/anticlockwise movement (but for future reference, a clockwise cycle would feel much more natural).

My year begins toward the end of february, the beginning of the academic year in Australia. It is generally filled with fealings of loath and excitement - the end of holidays, but a fresh start at uni/school. The middle of the year is more or less June/July when it's cold, and the mid year uni break happens. My birthday also happens around here, which explains the mid year feeling. The end of November definetley signifies the end of the year, coming into summer and the holidays. It's also a time when I have a lot of family around, and it is always lots of fun. I think it's because I'm a glass half full kind of person and like to end the year on a high. =]
posted by cholly at 8:57 PM on August 27, 2006

I dont visualize a yearly calendar...i always visualize a weekly calendar, sunday through saturday left to right. maybe i just dont think that far ahead in the year. But when thinking of the year, i do tend to start with july, which really doesn't make much sense, thinking about it now...
posted by gilsonal at 8:59 PM on August 27, 2006

Mine takes the form: Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday! Sunday! Rinse, repeat.
posted by SPrintF at 9:02 PM on August 27, 2006 [2 favorites]

I can't envision my year as a calendar. That's what I have calendars for! Instead, because I am self-employed I think of time long-term in relation to projects. For instance, before project x, which will be after project y, followed by project z. Basically breaking down chunks of time depending on what I am working on. It's not very visual, just kinda sorted.
posted by typewriter at 9:06 PM on August 27, 2006

What a great question. I'm sitting here surprised to realize that my mental calendar runs right to left, definitely, which is weird. August wants to claim starting status, but it doesn't ring true. There's no starting or ending point in my head; things just keep rolling forward, although I do get a strong sense of new possibility every spring.

I never knew this until now, but it makes sense. January 1st has *never* felt like the start of a new year to me.
posted by mediareport at 9:09 PM on August 27, 2006

I've never even heard of the concept of a "mental calendar" before. I don't have one, and if I did there certainly wouldn't be a visual representation of it. That's not to say I don't think about the future or the cycle of time. I just don't do it in any kind of spatial way.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:16 PM on August 27, 2006 [2 favorites]

I have a weekly and yearly calendar. Both are circular.

For the weekly, saturday and sunday split at 9 o'clock and go clockwise. The days are "filled" with moving images of what the day typically consists of. This may be why I have never used a personal organizer and don't understand the need for one--if I want to know what I have planned for Tuesday I simply "look" at the calendar and can "see" a meeting filling up the afternoon.

The year is shaped more like a tilted oval with the seasons taking on different shades. Summer takes up about 10-1 o'clock, but the direction is not as fixed as with weeks. This is a fascinating thread.
posted by null terminated at 9:27 PM on August 27, 2006

my mental calendar is weekly ... unless there's something i need to do for sure on a certain date, i don't give a great deal of thought to the future ... wednesday is hump day, saturday is daughter day, sunday laundry and do little day and monday, oh hell no day and grocery day

i am very fond of october, though ...
posted by pyramid termite at 9:28 PM on August 27, 2006

Mine's more of a three-dimensional cloud, starting with "today." Literally a cloud, like there's fog (looking suspiciously like "difference clouds" from Photoshop) when I try to picture it too clearly. Days kind of extend back and forth, depending on how far away they are. Somehow more defined if there's something important that day.

GREAT question. I've always wondered about everyone else's.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 9:29 PM on August 27, 2006

ps - i don't even have a physical calendar ... i just click on the time in windows if i really need to look
posted by pyramid termite at 9:29 PM on August 27, 2006

(On preview, this looks like it works, if not, October, November and December are directly under September.)

It's a childhood thing that stuck.

The individual dates roll pretty much like a normal calendar page would look.

Neat question.
posted by sciatica at 9:49 PM on August 27, 2006

I love this question. People have given me weird looks when I try to explain mine, which I don't see up here.

Basically, my calendar starts at January on the far "right" and continues, right to left, to december. but the weird thing is. around december, January "appears" directly to the right, so that when new years comes, I go from Dec 31, on the "left" month, to january 1st, on the "right" month, then Feb-dec of the next year "appear" on the left of Jan and the cycle repeats.

Dec - Nov - Oct - Aug - Jul - Jun - May - Apr - Mar - Feb - Jan


Dec (2006) - Jan (2007)

then repeat the above.

I have no clue why I'm so backwards since I'm 100% american with your standard caucasian european background, where everything is supposed to be 'left to right'. even when I write a calendar on paper, it looks 'backwards' to me if the months are left to right, unless of course, it's a commercial calendar, and then it looks 'ok'.


umm.. why is everyone staring at me?
posted by johnstein at 9:54 PM on August 27, 2006

The calender in my head is...very odd. It's pretty hard to explain but by my best estimation, it begins with Aug/Sept (perhaps because my brithday is in August, or the school year begins in September,) and continues in monthly blocks to the right. That is, up until we hit December and January. January takes a sharp 90 degree turn straight up and continues that way. Here's where it gets interesting, however. For whatever reason, June/July and August/Sept never actually connect in my mind. I simply can't figure out how the blocks would connect.
posted by InsanePenguin at 10:11 PM on August 27, 2006

My mental calendar starts in Jan but gets shorter as the year goes on. Jan to March is twice the size of Oct to Dec.
posted by fshgrl at 10:14 PM on August 27, 2006

I don't have any sort of visualization for my mental calendar, but it starts in September. Never seems right to me that the year has to start in January.
posted by flod logic at 10:18 PM on August 27, 2006

Do you even envision such a calendar?

No, and I think every one of you is crazy.
posted by rhapsodie at 10:26 PM on August 27, 2006 [4 favorites]

I view time linearly, starting with winter on left, going towards fall in the right, though when I think of a paticular time it comes out as a percentage or ratio (ie may is 1/2)
posted by aggienfo at 10:30 PM on August 27, 2006

My mental calendar is a circle, or more precisely, a ring. January 1 is at the *bottom* (bottom of the chart, darkest part of winter) and it runs clockwise. However, since it's a ring, I can see through it, and in my head, I'm looking from the backside of the ring, slightly above it, so it looks like an ellipse. And even though it's properly going clockwise, it's counterclockwise from my perspective.

There are two lines or breaks, where summer break stops and starts. The "color me beautiful" seasonal palettes (yeah, i'm a guy, but my mom taught me that stuff so I'd know what colors to wear) are somewhere on the diagram too, but I'm not sure how.

(then again, when I add, the numbers look like numbers but have area equal to their valuem and smoosh together to give the answer - mental imagery is eff ewe see kay'd up.)
posted by notsnot at 10:57 PM on August 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

This is one of the more interesting questions I've seen on here. I too have a circular mental calendar, like a ring divided into 12 segments. New Years is at the 6:00 position and the months proceed counterclockwise. Strangely, some months have longer segments than others (why does May look so much longer than December?). There are thicker separator lines at the end of May and the beginning of September.

Each month's "segment" also has a sort of related background image, like green trees for June, orange sun for August, grey rain for April.
posted by DefendBrooklyn at 11:21 PM on August 27, 2006

No real mental calender, I live on coyote time. I pay attention to when to plant certain crops,rainy season, fire season,(california) and lobster season starts next month but thats about it
posted by Iron Rat at 11:33 PM on August 27, 2006

Whoa... This must be one of the difference between visual thinkers and verbal thinkers... or maybe spatial vs concrete thought. I've never felt the need to picture a calendar when reasoning about dates -- even as a structural analogy (eg. clock analogies, etc).

My notion of of time is pretty much a sequence of appropriate durations proceeding from any useful reference point. My birthday is in a few weeks, christmas is a season away, , etc.

There are infinitely many such "clocks", and each has its own unit of measurement. Time can be told from the color of leaves, the phase/position of the moon, popular colors of clothing, temperature, angle of the sun to the horizon at noon, amount of light every day, which animals are present, what the georgian calendar indicates, number of seconds since 1-1-1970 (unix :)...

None of these dominates in my mind. Each gets a lot of use. And none of them get the honor of a "mental picture."
posted by clord at 11:37 PM on August 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

what clord said. Couldn't have put it more eloquently myself.

I'm actually stunned reading about these notions of 'clock faces' and 'grids' and such. Even if I have a date to remember in a week or two, it doesn't fall into any particular frame of mental reference.

But then again, I'm shocking at remembering birthdays, and I rely heavily on notes or an electronic PDA to help me plan stuff.
posted by pivotal at 3:35 AM on August 28, 2006

Mine is more of an arc, starting at the lowest point with September, peaking at January 1st, and then going down to about April/May. June-July-August is flat. It's very much related to the school year, as it feels something akin to a roller-coaster ride. First semester, I'm slowly slogging through a lot of work, and then in the second semester, everything goes faster and faster and suddenly school is over. Rest during the summer, start the whole thing over in September.

Of course, I just graduated, so we'll see how that changes as I get used to the work world.
posted by heatherann at 6:16 AM on August 28, 2006

My mental calendar year is sort of a road with intermittent signposts and towns representing significant yearly events. It begins wherever I am now - I can't see back, only forward. But if I had to pick a nominal start date, it'd be in August (now-ish!) with my birthday represented by Present Town. Then the road stretches bleakly along through Summer, which, where I am is pretty much September to May. Or feels like it. I see Summer as heat haze on the road. In December there's an Xmas village filled with frosted gingerbread houses and January is just a little signpost saying 'New Year' atop a barber-shop pole, leaning over in snow by the road. Because, meh... whatever, *my* new year is August. In March three people close to me have birthdays, represented by a giant phone across the road. Yes. I don't know why, but I when I think of March, I see... the big white rotary dial phone blocking the road. I guess I have to phone people for their birthdays and I'm selfish enough that I only see Present Town when it's MY birthday. The year ends in June with tax. Which is piles of paper by the road. And then it's back to Present Town.

The road isn't circular. It just stretches on and on indefinitely with the same stops coming up each year. I should say too, I'm in sub-tropical Australia. It's hot. (See 'Summer'.) There is no snow at New Year unless I shave ice and fling it into the burning, burning sun. But there are always, always presents in August. Even if I have to buy them myself.
posted by t0astie at 6:16 AM on August 28, 2006

Response by poster: Wow, I love that phone image. Reminds me of the "fork in the road" in the Muppet Movie.

Yay, I'm glad I'm not alone, kids. Keep posting...these counter-clockwise circles are just making my brain hurt...
posted by printchick at 6:27 AM on August 28, 2006

This is a fascinating window into the way some people think about time. I never realized some people were so discrete in their concepts. Time has always been more of an ethereal thing for me. My map would look more like one of those old timey maps, with most of it covered with "There be dragons".
posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:48 AM on August 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

My mental image is of a big oval with two sides as such, like this week is on "our" side of the loop, then next week on the other side, and then the week after next around in the place of this week, with the same with the years. Months don't really come into my equasion: they just seem a way of labelling groups of weeks. This all has something to do with the two week timetable we had at school, and the way that at the moment things happen in 2s: Two years of GCSEs, two years of A levels etc.

This thread would be a psychologist's dream: the different ways we all see the passing of time.
posted by philsi at 6:50 AM on August 28, 2006

Mine is very similar to srahs. I've discussed -- and read about -- this subject before, and this is the first time I've heard of people who have no mental image of the calendar year.
posted by martinrebas at 8:00 AM on August 28, 2006

Well, add me to the list of those who don't visualise calendars.

The year is just... well, the year. I remember birthdays well (if they're for people I like anyway), and am generally good with time etc.

I know my best friend's birthday is March 9th, but I don't have any kind of mental picture for how I get from here to there. It's just automatically known that March is after Christmas and I don't have to think about it yet.

I find this a VERY weird question, and was expecting far more "you....visualise....calendars??? ...right......" responses.
posted by knapah at 8:02 AM on August 28, 2006

A flattened ring (wider than tall) with the ring thicker left and right than the thin, horizontally stretched out top and bottom.

Like LobsterMitten, the top is sometimes Jan 1, sometimes Winter solstice (northern hemisphere). Months and seasons go counterclockwise. Sometimes there is shading as one season goes into another, but it's very gradual and I don't really have fixed colors.

For me, summer has always been from late May to late August. The conventional summer = solstice to fall equinox definition is bullshit, since anyone can see that the fall equinox is at the far right, in the middle of fall.

When I think about this map, different parts of the ring have different feelings, a blending of all events of past years during a particular area.

I've had this mental map since I was very young. It probably goes back as far as when I first gained the concept of marking time beyond hours or weeks. Because of its definite, non-clocklike shape and direction, I've always wondered if I saw an illustration like this when I was young or if I imagined it myself.

I'm also left-handed and have always been a music/math/science geek. Language and visual imagination are weak for me.
posted by D.C. at 8:03 AM on August 28, 2006

Like some others here, my mental calendar has no visual component.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:31 AM on August 28, 2006

Very strongly linear, months laid out in a row left to right, starting with January. As I move through the year the preceding months are still "there," but sort of greyed out. And there's a terrible grinding of mental gears at the end of December, when I have to sort of crank my neck all the way back around to the left to start seeing the new year.
posted by Kat Allison at 9:31 AM on August 28, 2006

A more pertinent question now should be //why// there is this chasm between those who visualise the calendar and those who don't.

I'm glad this question was asked, but I'm still glad I'm one of the well adjusted ones, heh.
posted by knapah at 9:52 AM on August 28, 2006

Mine is kinda weird, it's weekly for one. It runs left to right, Monday through Sunday, but it isn't visual, it's more verbal. That probably has to do with me having an internal dialogue running most of the time.

The beginning of the year is Autumn/September, probably tied to starting school and my relief that the heat is gone and the refreshing coolness has arrived.
posted by deborah at 9:55 AM on August 28, 2006

This might be the best question I personally have ever experienced on AskMeFi, because at 32 years old I have always wondered if other people have a mental calendar, or if it was just me -- but never thought about articulating the idea. I did assume, as croutonsupafreak and clord pointed out, that a mental calendar would not be for everyone, because not all brains organize information the same way.

With slight variations, the following all really also describe my own picture:

…My mental calendar is sort of like a rectangle, where it starts with January, February, March, April and May as squares going to the right. It makes a right turn, so that June, July and August go down, then turns again at September. September, October, November and December are along the bottom, and somehow December and the following January manage to almost meet over on the left side…

...As I move through the year the preceding months are still "there," but sort of greyed out...

…I kind of overlay the seasons on there. Winter is dark and summer bright and cheery…

I know that the last week of December and the first week of January become very stretchy, sort of reaching toward each sort of across the gap.

The perspective also changes depending on the info I am trying to retrieve. I am never just "looking" at the flat 2-d calendar before me... at this time of year, I am frequently "inside" August or September, looking "downward" toward the holidays, and then at the holidays I am looking up and around to see the coming spring.
posted by pineapple at 10:27 AM on August 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Mine is linear, like Kat Allison's, from left to right. The current month and date are selected, as if you moused over an OS X dock, with the rest of the year smaller and desaturated. Circles and clocks don't really make sense because no month is the same as the month last year. The week has its own mental linear projection, unrelated to the month or the date.

Otherwise, I think my idea of months and seasons is more abstract. Seasons have smells and colors and token clothing assosiations and favorite tastes. I guess because I've always been in school, the year is divided into semesters linked by the winter break, which all signify work and are forgettable, and then the SUMMER, which is solid and important and full of events and narratives. It is the only thing spotlighted, with the rest of the year serving as preparation, as background work. The summer starts on June 1st and ends in the middle of August.
posted by larva at 10:36 AM on August 28, 2006

My calendar: it's like a translucent strip bent around into an ovalish ring. January is the "beginning," kind of in a 12 o'clock spot, but then I go counterclockwise from there - February, March, etc. July is in the 6 o'clock spot, because it's the middle of summer (despite the fact that technically June should be in the middle as #6 - hence why this is a bit of a deformed oval). And just continues from there. There are different light colors associated with the months - August is a bit orange, July is kind of a fruit punch mix, January is dark grey, December is a light grey, February is light grey-blue, then turns into light green-yellow as it moves towards March. March is light pea green, April is kind of a salmonish color, with associations of a kind of light green, May is dark green, and June is kind of teal-and-orange. September is a dusky orange-brown, October is brown, and November is the color of vanadium (because of the N and the V). These colors are more just auras around the months, though - they only appear when I "visualize" that month more up close or focus on it. Otherwise, the calendar is kind of a grey translucent strip.

But I'm a that's probably why every month has a color association with it. :)
posted by limeonaire at 10:46 AM on August 28, 2006

This is actually a fairly common form of synesthesia. The more "famous" cases involve seeing certain numbers in certain colors, or associating certain words with tastes.

A couple of links:
Scientific American (discussed in the blue here, PDF from Ramachandran)

More specifically to a calendar, I've found a PowerPoint called Space-Time Relationships in Synaesthesia and an article titled Color My World.

On preview: limeonaire beat me to the synesthesia link, but at least the PowerPoint has pretty pictures in it.
posted by natabat at 11:04 AM on August 28, 2006

D.C.: yes yes! I agree completely with your third paragraph. Summer solstice marks the middle of summer, not its start.

I wonder if our kindergarten classes had the same visual aid, or something.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:40 AM on August 28, 2006

my calendar looks like a paystub, with a digital display of how much money i have left until the next paystub.
posted by fumbducker at 12:04 PM on August 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I guess I didn't think to articulate my yearly calendar. The years just kind of fade out into the past, with the later years towards the top. For some reason there's still sort of a spotlight on the late 90s. I guess I haven't quite gotten over that hump that was the year 2000, and why I still feel sort of surprised sometimes that it's 2006. Before 1975, the year I was born, it's still a bunch of years but gets a little hazier. But they sort of do trail back, like a ribbon, with the 1800s and below towards the bottom.
posted by printchick at 2:02 PM on August 28, 2006

My yearly calendar is similar -- the years increase upward and to the right, with the current year being right in front of me.

I see the individual years, back to about 1970, and then they turn into decades, until about 1850 when they fade back into centuries, increasingly hazier.

I don't picture but two or three years into the future, though. Have possibly never even contemplated anything past 2010 -- it's as though it doesn't "stick" to my calendar until there's a reason.

printchick, I'll say again, this is an awesome and provocative question!
posted by pineapple at 2:13 PM on August 28, 2006

Why do I feel like 75 % of these responses are complete bull$hit and people just made up their answers after reading the question?
posted by crewshell at 3:11 PM on August 28, 2006 [2 favorites]

Summer - some crap - Christmas - some more crap - Summer
posted by Harry at 3:27 PM on August 28, 2006

no mental calendar that I can think of -- I'm also *terrible terrible terrible* at remembering birthdays and the like -- I couldn't tell you my current gf's birthday (I think it's march-ish), or that of any of my ex's. i know my immediate family's only by rote learning.

however, when I think of the word "year", I picture a well with a little roof on it.
posted by fishfucker at 3:48 PM on August 28, 2006

crewshell -

My mental calendar is like a large bear, December being his left foot, with winter progressing up one leg and down the other, but then March (ironic that it's not on a foot, I know) jumps to his belly. Up the torso through April and May, with June through August forming the arms. The fall is entirely compressed into his head, with the exception of October, which does not exist at all. Individual dates of importance are large warts, scars, or discolored fur patches, with the exception of my Grandmother's birthday (July 28) which is a large, misshapen claw on his left forepaw.

Future years are individual salmon floating by in a peaceful stream, and the past is an enormous pile of scat just up the riverbank.

Seriously, I never even considered the possibility of having an inkling of a thought about some spatial representation of a calendar floating in my head, and it amazes me that so many people have such a thing. What else are you all keeping from me?
posted by Rock Steady at 4:41 PM on August 28, 2006 [3 favorites]

My thinking exactly Rock Steady, I feel like I'm missing out, yet also quite happy I don't have to waste time navigating some mental structure to remember by work deadline is two corners and a spiral away.
posted by knapah at 4:49 PM on August 28, 2006

I've posted a sketch and explanation of my "ring" on Flickr if anyone is interested...
posted by DefendBrooklyn at 4:52 PM on August 28, 2006

Knapah I don't use mine to remember or do anything. That's what my diary's for. It's just a picture in the back of my mind.

It's been there since I was little, ironic snow and all, with stuff clustered around times that carry emotional weight.

Rocksteady, I don't know about other people, but I'm keeping all sorts of stuff secret.

I think this is my favourite askme question ever.
posted by t0astie at 5:53 PM on August 28, 2006

WOW. This is bizarre. I don't have much to add, but those like me seem underrepresented, so I'll throw my hat in:

No visual representation of the year whatsoever. In fact, no visual representation of time whatsoever.

I even have trouble visualizing time as a one-dimensional "timeline" when I need to.

I'm also horrible at remembering dates, and am not a visual person at all.
posted by mmoncur at 2:05 AM on August 29, 2006

t0astie: Strange, I find the whole thing really odd. I sometimes seems to associate smells with memories so maybe it's similar.

The main reason I feel like I'm missing it is so I could answer this question in a better way!
posted by knapah at 7:27 AM on August 29, 2006

A more pertinent question now should be //why// there is this chasm between those who visualise the calendar and those who don't.

I think some people are just too weak-minded to visualize concepts effectively. :)

I don't see what's so strange about it. The main way people keep track of time is by visual aids like watches and calendars, so it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to me that people keep thinking of time that way even when they don't have a watch or a calendar in front of them.
posted by martinrebas at 1:53 PM on August 29, 2006

I don't think I'm weak minded, but I'm just not a visual thinker at all. When I think of my husband, I can describe his appearance very well -- but I'm not drawing on a visual image of him in my head, I'm drawing on a verbal image.

I can't visualize maps or images without drawing them on paper, either.

The idea of seeing a year or anything time-related as a finite image seems kind of goofy to me. I mean real years as we experience them are not finite. Some years take longer than other. Some days pass more quickly than others.

Do everyone's visualisations of a year stay constant through time? Do past years look the same as the present year and future year? Do they shrink as you age, just as time seems to speed up over the years?

My experience of the time from the summer before kindergarden to the summer after kindergarden is vastly different than my experience of the first 12 months in love with my current husband. And one of those years began in August, another began in January.

I'm 28 years old, but I've lived through thousands of overlapping years with different beginnings and endings. There's the concrete concept of a 12 month year -- from any given moment in the earth's rotation until the planet returns to approximately that spot. But there are also plenty of approximate years.

The 9 months spent in school constitute a year, of sorts. The 10 months or 14 months it might take to adjust to a major life change may count as an emotional even though they don't fit onto a color-coded visual clock or the three-by-four grid of weather-related squares that some folks here live.

For what it's worth, unlike many of the other "WTF is a visual calendar?" folks, I don't have a hard time remembering dates and birthdays. I know the birthdays and years of my four brothers, my parents, my husband, his sister, aunts, uncles, and probably my 10 or 15 closet friends by heart.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:07 PM on August 29, 2006

The 10 months or 14 months it might take to adjust to a major life change may count as an emotional year even though...
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:09 PM on August 29, 2006

You must be right, martinrebas. I guess I'm just a weak-minded cretin.

I guess I'm just not big on mental imagery... I'm going to rely on a time-tested technique. Accept all your visual-time weirdness and move on!
posted by knapah at 3:58 PM on August 29, 2006

knapah: It was just meant as a small dig at your comment about being "one of the well adjusted ones".
posted by martinrebas at 6:17 PM on August 29, 2006

The idea of seeing a year or anything time-related as a finite image seems kind of goofy to me.

This comment made me think of a follow-up. Do those of you who do visualize a calendar, have a choice?

I could no more not picture time spatially than I could decide to stop seeing the color blue or just opt one day to start reading books from back to front. It's just the way my brain works. It's how it's been since I was able to grasp the concept of time in quantifiable measurements. I don't realize I'm consulting it, either. "Am I free for lunch next Tuesday? Yes, yes I am." That's how fast, and subconscious, the process is.

The same comment also makes me wonder: do those of you who do not have a mental calendar, use physical ones?

Some of you seem downright indignant over the fact that others would bother with such a time-wasting notion, which is fascinating to me in its own right -- who cares how someone else's brain works, long as it doesn't hurt others?
posted by pineapple at 6:34 PM on August 29, 2006

Don't worry martinrebas, I'm just messing about.


pineapple: I just tend to have a good memory for dates, "Am I free for lunch next Tuesday?" cues a response from my mind along the lines of "Is there anything on next tuesday? no". There's no visual component involved.

and I'm certainly not indignant about the "time-wasting notion", just very surprised that there IS such a difference. It seems odd to me that some people mentally visualise time, whilst many others (such as myself) do not.
posted by knapah at 10:43 AM on August 30, 2006

So, knapah, your answer is no, you do not use a physical calendar?

(I'm not looking for the newest Star-Bellied v. Plain-Bellied Sneetches. I just find this all fascinating, a peek at the ghost in the machine.)
posted by pineapple at 11:09 AM on August 30, 2006

I read the question, thought, "Hey, yeah! I do have a mental calendar that I've never really thought about or talked about!" and paused for a moment to pay attention to what it looked like before I read anyone's answers, since I realized that I might be influenced by them if I read them first. So, for the doubters: people really do have these images, they're not making them up. I don't know where mine came from.

My calendar is a bit like a teardrop-shaped clock going counterclockwise. If you took a clock with a rubbery outer rim, grabbed it with a hook at one o'clock and pulled it a little bit up and to the right, you'd have my calendar. The rounded point of the teardrop is January 1, with the months running counter clockwise from there, although somehow 12 o'clock is only mid-January. June starts around 8 o'clock, and the summer takes up the whole bottom, with 4 o'clock being about mid-September. My birthday, in late July, is at six o'clock. Christmas is around 2 o'clock. I experience January and February as cold, dull months which drag on far too long, but this doesn't seem to be reflected spacially in my calendar.

I'm willing to agree that this counter-clockwise movement is weird when you stop to think about it -- but, until now I hadn't! It feels natural to me, and I can't imagine "reversing" it. This was a great question, and the answers are really fascinating.

I'm jealous of the people who have colored calendars. Mine's a purely spacial thing, not colored at all, like a magnetic field or something.

I don't use this calendar for planning at all. I rely on paper calendars for that, and am hopeless without them. Also, this calendar represents some kind of perpetual year for me; there are no past or future years with reference to this caledar -- this calendar is The Year. Weeks don't fit well into this concept of The Year, and I have an entirely separate spacial concept for The Week: it's in the shape of a kidney bean, with the long arc-shaped side downwards and representing Saturday and Sunday, and the rest of the week crowding over the top side with Wednesday falling on the "dip" in the middle on top. Come to think of it, The Week runs clockwise! How strange! Well, not that any of this makes any real sense anyway, I guess.

Nothing that happens in any week or year does anything to change The Week or The Year, and the fact that some weeks, months, and years seem much longer than others has no bearing on it at all.
posted by Marla Singer at 5:46 PM on August 30, 2006

I just came across this and thought it was too good to not post anything to! I loved reading what everyone pictures the calendar. I always thought I was weird with how I picture mine: It's the calendar posterboard thing my third-grade teacher had in our classroom. It was 12 hot-air balloons, 6 on top and 6 on the bottom, and in each balloon she could write who had a birthday that month. The top row was January-May and the bottom half was June-December, so whenever I'm counting months out or figuring things out I ALWAYS imagine that poster. It's funny to me how certain things stick like that.
On a similar note, when I picture the alphabet, I picture the banner my first-grade teacher had running along the top of her blackboard in class. It's what makes it possible for me to recite the alphabet backwards, a great skill to have just in case I ever get pulled over for a DUI. :)
posted by slyboots421 at 11:04 AM on September 11, 2006

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