The Uncertainty of Being Jelly

Kate Kolberg

Not entirely sure of where their gelatin form stops and their surrounds meet, they are encompassed in a space that, to the best of their knowledge, is endless. The current of the ocean dictates the majority of their movement – at least horizontally – but with a simple push upwards they might find themselves on a new plane, within a different drift. As such, the jellyfish lives in a world of chance. A world where time is not so necessary but “a little before” or “just after” makes all the difference. I imagine time, for the jellyfish, can collide with the endless space in such a way that it suspends all meaning. Temporal returns and asides infiltrate this zone readily. The ageless jellyfish might be 650 million years old, a memory of being young once lingers ( a little boy?  A girl? ) but so much has happened since then. The sense drifts in and out. And yet, time, for the jellyfish, can make itself known with a snap. In a flurried shift – where more happens in the space of three seconds than seems possible – it is cast ashore. Static, and vulnerable, time and space become the essence. The firm ground beneath its jello dome makes its-self known to itself. And, with each passing hour, the sun works to turn its congealed fluid form to cloud. Once a presence, then forgotten, or, just absent.


Virginia Woolf writes how Orlando saw Sasha and: “He called her a melon, a pineapple, an olive tree, an emerald, and a fox in the snow all in the space of three seconds – he did not know whether he had heard her, tasted her, seen her, or all three together.” But, to the reader, three seconds have well-since eclipsed by the time a melon has managed to morph into a fox in your mind. While near drowning under the suffusive shift, Woolf leaves you time for a brief gasp, in the form of a ‘-’ dash, before you are submerged, again, under its lateral, sensual reality. Temporarily endless, these three seconds stretch long, comfortably overlapping, and suspending time before it precipitously snaps back – a jellyfish tossed on shore. Suspended in the wave of Orlando’s spell until, suddenly, he comes into his body on ground, in time – and in love.  After Sasha every second is thick, fleshy, felt. Orlando, as he was before her, begins to melt into nothingness; unable, without her, to linger any longer between “a little before” or “just after” – a body contingent on her time. 


At first time didn’t present itself materially. It wasn’t a mountain or a hurdle, not a thing to climb up or over. We delayed in the long mute between evening and dawn, eagerly unfolding the tucked edges of each other. “A little before,” “just after.” Floating in a space that, to the best of our knowledge, was endless. Unbounding inquiry, touch, that unselfish desire to be within the other so badly that the end of yourself is forgotten. In this space, latent retentions of past lives slip out, memories easily aired, allowed, and re-embodied. Together we shifted planes to a new drift but, like the jellyfish, control was little ours. Endless, each thrust pushed us closer to the shore, to the tow, into the predictable wave pattern: energy, from far away, always destine to land here. To crash here, static, and vulnerable.


1 Characterized by Mikhail M. Bakhtin’s exegesis of adventure-time within the ancient Greek romance novel in his essay “Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel” (1937-8). 2 Virginia Woolf, Orlando (1928).