“And therein lies the whole of man’s plight. Human time does not turn in a circle; it runs ahead in a straight line. That is why man cannot be happy: happiness is the longing for repetition.” ―Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
I’ll start by being blunt: I have issues with time. Ok, now I can meander around this space in a circle, because seriously: screw the straight line.
H. Jackson Browne, Jr. said something that really ticks me off: “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”
(NOTE: Don’t confuse the above (possible lunatic) with Jackson Browne the writer and performer of Before The Deluge, Running on Empty, Somebody’s Baby, In the Shape of a Heart, Doctor My Eyes, etc. Oh man, that guy has my heart. The other? I’m not so sure about him. He seems a little short-sighted. Or maybe it’s me, because what he’s really saying is: No more excuses. Get out of your own way. He’s saying you can get it if you really want.)
I rarely feel like I have enough time, and tend to severely underestimate the amount of time it takes to do individual tasks. What this translates into is that I usually run late. I don’t like waiting; that seems like a waste of time, so I push limits. I bargain. I tell myself I can go to the bank and the post office in twenty minutes, and because I was able to pull this off once I believe I can turn it into something more than a fluke.
“Time is the longest distance between two places.” ― Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie
I will die trying to recreate something that was, but here’s the thing: comparing to the past muddles our decision making. But you know what else muddles our decision making? Comparing ourselves to other people. So while we may all have the same number of hours in a day each day, every person is different in the space of time. But I don’t even need to explain that like a crazy person. What it boils down to is stop comparing. It’s unhealthy.
When time couples with worry or anxiety a single moment can feel like forever. On the contrary, when time is combined with love and joy it goes so fast. Sometimes we want to turn back time for another chance, and sometimes we want to crank the clock forward because we just. can’t. wait. any. more. These desires fall on opposite sides of the spectrum yet have one thing in common, their most significant characteristic: they’re impossible.
Because of that impossibility we’re left with one really fine option: Seize the moment. BE. HERE. NOW. (I swear I will get that tattoo one of the days….)
“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” ― Dr. Seuss
Sometimes I’m so in the moment for so many consecutive moments that I forget to do basic things like shampoo my hair for days on end or give the dog dinner before the sun goes down. But then as stealthily as it started—it’s over. I’m snapped away from my focus by the darkness settling around me. Turn on light, feed dog, wash self. Reality check.
The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this “Flow.” He studies happiness and creativity, and says a good way to get there is through achieving flow, which is when we’re completely immersed in an activity and though we’re working hard, we are given a break from the worst time and soul suckers of all: worry, anxiety and fear. I’d suggest reading Flow or listening to Mihaly’s TED Talk because my summary doesn’t do his research and findings a bit of justice. For starters you can think about the six factors that must happen to have flow:
- intense and focused concentration on the present moment
- merging of action and awareness
- a loss of reflective self-consciousness
- a sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
- a distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered
- experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience
I love that in flow the hardest work can seem like the greatest vacation
I’ve thought of a type of flow that I haven’t heard Mihaly talk about: the achievement of flow when you’re with a good friend. Like when two hours or ten hours or five days can pass and you can hardly believe it because you’ve been so there, so present, so with this other person.
This is what we call a lovely way to spend time because time is, after all, a currency, and in my opinion it’s the most valuable. Of all the things I enjoy spending like it’s my last day, time is at the top of the list. I’m getting pickier these days about how I spend my time. I’ll spend time I don’t really have (although that’s just an illusion, right?) to spend time with someone really worth it, but when I’ve spent my time on someone who might not respect it, or me…. Ick.
It’s a waste except for the lessons learned, though those days are ending. Because although time takes things from us—flawless skin and endless energy—it also gives us one of the greatest gifts: experience. And you can’t buy that with greenbacks or credit. It is only available with time.
“But life is just a party, and parties weren’t meant to last.” ― Prince, 1999
When I first got to Florida in April I had a lot of people to see and didn’t know how I was going to squeeze it all in. My mother and I ran around non-stop my first week here, and after I dropped her off at the airport I continued two hours north so I could visit my friend Caraline, who I hadn’t seen in over twenty years. I was going across Florida the next day to visit my friends Kate and Kim, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Caraline who had—another lifetime ago—been very important in my life. We’d been mostly absent during the adult years except for our recent connection on Facebook we learned that we both love dogs and sunshine and delicious food. But for years we never actually talked; it was just the voyeur-friend thing.
It may be impossible to turn back time, but Caraline and I got damn close. The way we talk, the way we move, the way we interact with each other…it’s a connection and a bond that two decades can’t touch. The beach house was a little tricky to find, so she said, “I’ll be the nut in her bathing suit in the middle of the street.” And she was. And I loved it.
We posted up on the beach with her boyfriend and his family and never shut up for ten hours. Flow. Love. Friends. Later I sat on the bed while she did her hair and makeup—talking to both of our reflections in the mirror—and I got the goosebumps. We’ve done this before. Here’s us then and now:
It makes my heart burst to see that Caraline and I are still linked via the soul after all these years. It makes me wonder too; about both the power and limits of time and the extraordinary expectations we have for it. If time can’t break bonds, then how can it be expected to heal wounds? But yet it does.
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” ― Rumi
Time isn’t the only one that plays tricks and makes magic. Our hearts and minds do to, and our eyes….oh the tricks. About a month ago I was deep in the trenches of writing and editing my book and flow seemed 100% unattainable. I was itchy, irritated and unsettled. I posted this on Facebook:
It’s impossible to know how the future will flesh out and where or when I’ll settle somewhere permanently, but right now not a day that goes by when I don’t miss something about Missoula. Usually it’s my friends, but I’ll tell you, Missoulians, your photos of lilacs and balsamroot and greening hills hit me hard.
I was at the gym tonight, and out the window I caught a glimpse of the condos across the street lit up by the setting sun. For a hot second I thought I was looking at Mt. Sentinel, as I’ve seen that mountain lit up in *exactly* the same way hundreds of times, and each time I fell deeper in love with it. Or at least that’s what my memory told me until my brain said, “Girl? You losing it?”
A laugh was followed by nausea over my mistake, but there was something about tonight’s color and light and the way the slope of the roof mimicked the ridges of the mountain that tricked me good.
I left the gym and grabbed Lucky for a walk around the neighborhood. While we were out the sky became impossibly beautiful. First a rainbow, then the sky looked like a marble with a fire inside, and the condos that in silhouette looked like mountains. There may be no end to the tricks our minds can play. I took a picture that needs no filter. In fact, I snapseeded it, but reverted to the original because I liked it better naked and untouched.
I broke the rules and let my boy off his leash, and as we walked home a bald eagle flew over us. Life: it’s amazing. The mind tricks. The contrast between eagles and condos. The opposition of the sky over a manmade lake. That moment when it’s impossible not to believe that everything will be okay in the end, because really: everything’s okay right now.
And I love this: if it’s not okay then it’s not the end….So we carry on in a world that seems strange and confusing. In a world that is more beautiful unfiltered.
Here are the accompanying pictures.
The condo photo reminded me of the light on Mt. Sentinel, but the cloud picture didn’t remind me of anything until after I’d posted it, when it became apparent that the silhouetted roofs looked a lot like a Montana ridge line with the sun at its back. My friend Amy was tricked too, and commented that when she saw it she thought I was back in Montana. Tricks.
I almost didn’t include the line “if it’s not okay then it’s not the end,” but after deleting and undeleting a few time I decided I wanted to. Within moments I had a text from Caraline:
“You know that’s my favorite sayings, right? I have a card with the saying framed in my bedroom, and a magnet in my office cube with it. I read it almost daily. Did you know? Are we really that closely aligned after all these years apart?…”
I told her I didn’t know, and that I had chicken skin after reading her message. She sent me a photo of the card that night, and told me that inside is a note from her mother: “We were all waiting with you. You were not alone.” The next day she sent a photo of the magnet, and we’ve been steadily communicating since then. We send quotes and jokes and pictures of the dogs. We send words of support.
When NWA comes on the shuffle while I’m running I text her because it makes me think of her, and she tells me she still knows most of the words to the songs and raps them Office Space style in the car. (TRUTH: I made that last part up about her rapping in the car, but it’s not outside the parameters of possibility.) We also talk about serious things, and that’s how it’s always been with us: balanced.
It’s like we never missed a beat. I’ve been invited to her mom’s 70th birthday party in August in Connecticut, and because I’ll be spending the summer in New York and New England I’ll be able to make it. Really, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
My summer travel schedule is going to be capital-I intense and I can’t wait! In case there was a miscommunication: I may have some fun here and there, but I have not been on vacation for the past six months. Some people think because I’m not clocking in or working for someone else that I’m not working. News flash: I’ve never worked so hard in my entire life. Stringing letters and words together to represent thoughts and ideas and hope that they make sense on the flip side is kind of like building a spec house of materials that may or may not have proven themselves. Writing sure can be a great path to flow, but when it’s not it can be the exact opposite: it can be a waking fucking nightmare.
Time never passes so fast as when there’s a deadline looming and you’re not sure you’re going to make it, but it’s not like you to miss a deadline so you push and push and hope and hope and then it comes. And after a brief moment of elation you hit the deck, exhausted, where you stay for days. But you need a facial and a massage and the dog hair tumbleweeds get caught up in the breeze and start looking like tarantulas and rats and so you think about sweeping and then decide to make some juice. You make cantaloupe juice and watermelon juice. The nectar gets the blood flowing again. You juice kale, apple, parsley, and lemon. You are convinced you discovered gold or invented the wheel. At the very least you’re convinced you’re going to make it. The life comes back. The skin clears up. The back straightens and the head lifts. You go to yoga on a paddleboard when you’re not even sure you can lift your ass off the couch and it turns out to be just what you needed. That standing on a moving object, that balancing, that falling in the water. The surprise, the laugh, the eyes on the horizon.
And in the end when the sun sets and the dust settles and you get around the wrangling the dog hair it becomes clear: Your friends are still there. You were never alone.
There are the old friends who are soul sisters, but there are the new friends too. The ones who got you thirty years ago still get you, and that’s awesome. But then there are the new friends. The people you’ve hardly spent any time with, but out of the gate it’s easy, comfortable and eerily familiar in a good way. My friend Jill, who teaches SUP Yoga (and a bazillion other things) and I are like that. That she’s married to a good high school friend helps, but now Jill and I have our own little thing going on. We’ve been quietly “helping” each other since we met, and today I sat writing and sweating and writing and bleeding words and sweating and she walked up and commended me on my diligence and I because I think I only accomplish a fraction of what she does I got awkward, but (see above) it’s not about comparing to the past or to each other. It’s really about what Jill said next, “Let’s help each other.”
Jill organized the sunset SUP yoga that also got me out of my exhaustion funk the other night. It also happened to be a photo shoot and she needed bodies there, so I took one for the team and showed up for her without realizing that I was also showing up for myself as I let my stress worries leave my horizon along with the setting sun. Does it get any better than this?
(Photo by Erik Kellar)
In lieu of knowing how to end this circular meandering path, and because I’ve already quoted half a dozen people, I’m going to end with a few lines from one of my first favorite books, a book that deserves a rereading now that I’m past the age of twenty, or whatever I was when I first got my hot little hands on it: Jitterbug Perfume.
“If New Orleans is not fully in the mainstream of culture, neither is it fully in the mainstream of time. Lacking a well-defined present, it lives somewhere between its past and its future, as if uncertain whether to advance or to retreat. Perhaps it is its perpetual ambivalence that is its secret charm. Somewhere between Preservation Hall and the Superdome, between voodoo and cybernetics, New Orleans listens eagerly to the seductive promises of the future but keeps at least one foot firmly planted in its history, and in the end, conforms, like an artist, not to the world but to its own inner being–ever mindful of its personal style.” ― Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume