Friday, January 14, 2011

Time and Being

While I was reading Heidegger's puzzling and illuminating work, Being and Time, I found myself thinking of my daughter Veronica, probably partly because I was working away at her copy and reading her notes while I made my own, but also because she's so good at being, while I am perhaps more inclined to be constantly doing. By what was probably sheer coincidence, I found us talking about being during the tea we share most Wednesday nights. As we talked, I realized that I do a better job of simply being when I'm with her. Perhaps that practice goes back to the days when she was small and it was difficult to find her shoes that were comfortable; I made the conscious decision that I could get impatient and frustrated or I could find a way to enjoy the process. The solution was to simply enjoy being until shoes were found. The habit is kept alive by the fact that we take one holiday together every year, a holiday that is one long glorious photo shoot, a holiday where I see the world very differently.

But the observation that startled me most was her assertion that she wasn't a list, but an organic whole, making me intensely jealous. Because I am definitely a list: teacher, scholar, creative writer, wife, mother, friend. The reason why my blog post mangles Heidegger's title is that time and its limitations seem constantly to be forcing me to choose which of those roles I need to play during the coming hours. Unfortunately, I suspect that during the academic year my drive to be a good teacher determines that choice, so that all the other things on the list of what I am get pushed to the side or ignored until I know I'm going to either melt or explode if I don't stop doing and start being: Then I need to take a long walk or have a meaningful conversation with Bill or Veronica over a cup of something warm and comforting, meditate with the cats, or sit and simply listen to Bruckner.

"Work/life balance" is an issue that we certainly talk about, but I think it can benefit from an admittedly simplified version of Heidegger's thoughts. For him, humanity is characterized by its reflective awareness of and curiousity about its very existence.  When we are lists of contradictory desires--I want to teach well, but I also need time to work on my next novel and there simply isn't time for me to do both of those things--how do we carve out the space to reflect on and simply delight in our being? Work/life balance isn't simply a logistical problem that we can solve by being more efficient and setting priorities, but a philosophical one. The demand that we be constantly doing and working dehumanizes us at some level.

I suspect that our children--this current generation of young adults--have learned from us that our struggle with work/life balance has often been frustrating, and have learned to do an end run around it. I wish I knew how. Certainly my work/life balance is influenced by the fact that at universities across Canada more needs to be done with less. So I can, as I promised in my New Year's Resolutions, rebel against some of the expectations that I believe are unreasonable or even fruitless, and carve out a little more time to be.

But it's also that I want so much, am simply hungry for so much. It may be too late for me to learn to want less. There are two novels I want to write and half a dozen quilts I want to make. Don't even ask me about the notes I've made for poems or my sock yarn stash. Perhaps what I need is a different attitude toward time. That it must be respected with a certain amount of careful being inside of it.

It's interesting that Veronica's and my chosen art forms have a different relationship to time. As a photographer, she captures a split second, though I think the power of her photographs comes from her ability to frame the right split second that resonates through time--both forward and backward. There's a history to the passionate conversation she's caught in the photograph above, taken outside one of the posh shopping malls in Boston on one of our vacations, and there's a future in the young man's daydreams. My medium is language and narrative, which can only unfold in time.

You can see more of Veronica's photographs of Boston on her Flickr site. She tells me her wonderful photographs of our trip to Chicago will be up soon.

1 comment:

  1. Veronica has some beautiful photographs. Thanks for sharing. At times I myself go to write in the parks and watch the photographers capture beautiful families' smiles, or even sometimes at shopping malls in Boston.