Monday, July 23, 2012

In a Relative Way

I have whiled away the whole evening at nothing.

There exist copious notes, vocal and typed and scribbled and mental, which I've taken over the last, oh, year, for a personal essay about time that I may never write. There's a lot I want to get across in this essay - how fucked up my conception of time, on a minute-by-minute basis, can be; the best advice I was ever given about how to conduct my life, related to time; how time felt when I was a child, and how it does now, and how I desperately hope it will not feel in the future; what it means to me that I wrote an entire book that deals with time in a fantasy context and I still don't have enough insight about the subject to actually sit down and write this essay.

The best personal essays I've read have been ambitious in scope, have related various life-topics across each other to make a Fibonacci-ed whole that's devastating and beautiful. "The Love of My Life" is the best example of this I know, but when I tried to write an essay like it about smoking, I think I failed. I put everything I had into it. I told all my closest, hardest stories, all the things that make me suffer when I think of them. (In the process, I may have discovered that that's how you have to write anything worth writing.) When I reread it every now and then to try and revise, it feels hasty, the linkages not fully formed. But I don't really know how to fix it, because it contains all I have.

This time essay is the same way. I don't know where to start. I want to put everything in it, but I don't know how to make it cohesive and complex and lovely, instead of a stammering confession.

When I have an afternoon and evening like this - concocting homemade pickles, which will be ready to eat in one short week; creating a healthy dinner, which was devoured happily; hours of fiddling on the internet, looking at old bookmarks and either deleting them in bewilderment as to why I'd marked them in the first place, fulfilling them (that musical artist I bookmarked to listen to eventually, the $10 item I'd get around to ordering one day), or rereading them and retaining them with pleasure; just screwing around - I look at the clock and I wonder whether this was the right thing to do or not.

There are a few things to show for it. The pickles, for one. The added music and the smaller list of bookmarks. The experience of offering to myself unstructured time, which is just not something you get a lot of as an un-trust-funded adult in 2012.

You want to hear the best advice I ever got about how to conduct my life? About five years ago, I was trying to make up my mind whether to start a professional certificate program in the winter term of the coming year, or whether I should wait a semester or even two, and start when I felt more ready to commit the time and finances. I knew I was going to load up on courses as much as possible to get through the program quickly, and that my time wouldn't really be mine for about 18 months. I dreaded this. I was lamenting it. My mom told me pragmatically that come what may, the next six months were going to pass anyway. I could choose to use that time more thoroughly, adding more responsibilities to my life, or I could not. But the time was going to pass regardless of what I did.

This was profound. I'd never thought of it this way.

I signed up for the program for that winter, and I got in and out of there in the 18 months that followed, instead of putting it off another six just because I wasn't looking forward to it (which was the real reason I wanted to delay).

And you know what? That time passed. It was over in 18 months. It was miserable, but now it's been three years since I finished, and that 18 months seems like just a smear of time.

This evening was going to pass regardless of what I chose to do with it. I could have spent the time revising my lit story and maybe going back to work on the KUFC novel, or I could have screwed around all evening. I picked screwing around (semi-unintentionally), and what I have to show for it is not creative effort, but other things. The next month is also going to pass no matter what I choose to do. Whether I write fiction every night, or spend too much time on Facebook, or drink too much, or go to bed early and sleep a few extra hours, or bake bread, or watch Prince of Space for the 18th time. It's all going somewhere.

I think the lesson I could have gotten out of this was to choose what I do with my time very wisely, to make sure every hour is filled productively, but that isn't it at all. Instead I have a feeling of a larger arc of time, of the months and years adding to something. Whatever I invest in, it'll be over with sooner than I think. So maybe there's some hay to be made there, if that's my choice. Or pickles, even, or homemade ginger cream scones. Which are excellent with a nice cup of tea around 3:30, just about the time I take a half hour to myself before going on to the next thing on my list.


Denise said...

I'm assuming your title is a reference to Pink Floyd? <3

I think about the time stuff a bit as well. Have you included any thoughts about the time book we read at MHC? I still have that and have looked back at it occasionally, though I'm not sure if you're going for a philosophical angle or not.

I haven't done pickles yet, but I'm interested. =)

Katharine Coldiron said...

Since I used the lyrics to that song as the epigraph to the book I wrote about time, it's a safe assumption! :)

That class has been an inspiration to me for a lot of other assorted stuff, but this essay is a lot more personal than philosophical. So if I bring in the class, it'll only be incidental.

Pickles are shockingly easy. Fridge pickles, anyway, not the long-term ones. The hardest part is getting the boiled vinegar smell out of your kitchen. Which, oddly enough, is much easier in my tiny apartment kitchen than it was in my prior, somewhat larger house kitchen.