Sunday, September 7, 2014

Being and Time Redux

Perhaps it began shortly after I retired, when I found myself driving differently.  I have noted for quite some time that people are less and less aware of one another in space, in the hallways of the university, in the amount of room we take up in parking lots, or on the roads. I'm going to be an old fart for a moment and blame this on our smart phones, where we wait impatiently for the addictive dopamine hit that comes with the next "like" or the imperious text telling us to meet Fozzy at Common Ground today at 4.  We are less often where we actually are and more often in some space that's between here and there, mediated always by our "devices," to use Bill's word.  But after retirement, I found myself driving differently, more intent on modelling civility on the road or being patient with the person who didn't quite know where he was going, someone perhaps checking the map ap on his phone.  

Perhaps it began last weekend, when Bill and I went for a drive to Katepwa Point and then along the lake to Fort Qu'Appelle.  Maybe I glimpsed it when I wished that I could photograph sound, particularly the hilarious, whooping, joyous laugh of a young man sitting near us, eating french fries.  Perhaps it was inspired by the pelicans that simply drifted effortlessly along the currents or by the clouds that seemed to hang inert from the sky, not even bothering to drift with the currents.  They looked so serene, as if they embodied the fact that hanging out, especially hanging out somewhere up high, gives one a sense of perspective.

Maybe I was convinced by reading Proust's In Search of Lost Time.  I have nearly finished the second volume, and at some point settled into the novel's pace.  It probably helped that sometimes I read it in the evenings sitting in the front yard until I could no longer see, or taking it upstairs to read in bed, among the trees and the breeze at the end of the day.  I love the time created by summer TV re-run season, the way evenings open out into late day light and cooler air and a kind of exquisite, engaged laziness.  So I have begun to revel in Marcel's attempt to stop the narrative to see everything there is to see and consider an event from every possible (and some impossible) angle.  What does this all mean, he asks himself as he observes the troop of young girls who are currently the focus of his interest and his questions.  What does her facial expression mean?  What does his reaction, that odd feeling in his gut--half longing, half nostalgia, half self-knowledge, half self-delusion--mean?

The nature and uses of time have changed profoundly for me. Time is no longer something to be fought with or even bested in some peculiar way by doing more in a given period than is really humanly possible.  It's not exactly that I'm lazy; I'm editing the upcoming issue of Grain Magazine, I examined a creative MFA thesis at U of S, where I also had a charming and informative chat about poetics with Adam Pottle, Grain's current poetry editor. And if I'm not doing these things I'm writing a minimum of four hours a day.  Four sacred hours:  10-12; 1-3.  Gardening or playing the piano or watching the birds over the enforced hour for lunch.  Surely we can meet some other time?  Yet in four hours (a time when I do not let myself check FB or my email) I can get a great deal done.  I can do it over and over several times, so that whatever I'm writing is better written, more carefully reflected upon--deeper, I hope.  I can try out words, delete the almost right word to look for the right one. 

But the other hours in my life have changed.  I have time to study the pattern of a boil in the apple jelly I am making, or listen to the hollow sound of canning jars bubbling while they get sterilized. Instead of running right back to Regina after the thesis exam last Wednesday, I went up to the family farm where dee Hobsbawm-Smith and Dave Margoshes live.  dee and I walked down the causeway the next morning, stopping to listen to the birds or to talk about Amigo's arthritis, or to share stories of our lives and so become better friends.  On either side of us, the prairie sky was clear from horizon to horizon, and I felt as if I were inside time in an entirely different way.  I've glimpsed this way of being at Emma Lake or at Banff, but I don't think I was prepared in either case to delve right into that sense of peaceful timelessness which takes care of itself while we take care of what's important to us.  I probably lost a day or two as I made the shift from time-as-antagonist to time as a place to glory in being.

We live too quickly.  What are we running towards?  What will we accomplish at the pace we force ourselves to keep?  Anything thoughtful or permanent?  What happens to a culture whose heroes are ineffective CEOs who are lauded for the long hours they work--long, ineffective hours?  Multi-tasking--interrupting one task for another--makes us even less productive.

I have seen some of the plot lines of Act III, wherein the comedy of your life is likely to turn tragic.  When the way you begin every single day is the result of a deliberate choice you've made because you are now retired, then time is on your mind, particularly the fact that each day there is one less day for you to live.  That sounds like an existential threat.  But what I'm learning is that your relationship to time shifts, so that each moment, each long walk, each coffee with a friend, each poem drafted, each chapter of the Woolf book almost brought up to snuff, is something to be celebrated. That there is time and that it flows through a glorious world full of moonrise and cats and words and stories and gardens (and wars and religious fundamentalism and cruelty) brings you back, in Act III, to decisions about what matters.  It's profoundly joyful and liberating. 



  1. This is so beautifully and elegantly expressed. Bless you.

  2. Yes, what Theresa says!
    This entry has made me think you are a wise woman I would love to take a walk and have a coffee with. I hear Regina calling me again, as it has so often over the past couple years.

  3. Time is an amazing thing. Or perhaps the amazing thing is how we look at it and handle it. When we slow down enough to live in the moment, to watch the boil of bubbles or hear someone else's laughter, time slows for us. It is as if moments stretch themselves to the utmost and we can fit inside them. Good for you to rise to meet the occasion.