Earlier today, I was sitting at the kitchen table on a lazy Saturday afternoon towards the end of a warm July --- after a leisurely lunch so different from the hurriedly inhaled affairs I routinely experience at work (with the muted sounds of adolescent bedlam in the background) --- gazing at the large wall calendar we keep to track the multiple comings and goings of our large family, and it suddenly occurred to me with a feeling rather akin to horror that next Tuesday will mark the halfway point of my summer holiday. And I have accomplished only a fraction of the things I want to accomplish during this time.
(Yes, yes, I know, he said wearily... spare me the hoary old jokes and the thinly disguised bitter remonstrances about how much time those darn teachers have off in the summer, please. I’ve had 30 years of hearing them, and I can come back with either false jollity/humourous zingers like “well, teachers do 12 months of work in ten, you know” or earnest explanations that essentially boil down to variations of the statement my kids invariably used to make when I pointed out some glaring lapse of logic/judgement in their teenage sensibilities: “Dad, you just don’t understand.” Having heard it enough times --- hell, way more than enough --- I can even, if you’d like, accompany the statement with appropriate eye rolling and associated body language that eloquently suggests the listener is the stupidest person on the planet.)
I know I should have viewed my little discovery with a glass-is-half-full mentality (“Wow! Half my summer vacation still to come!”), but it seems the common human reaction to such situations is more along the glass-is-half-empty one, and I’m afraid I am no exception. But I’m feeling a tad philosophical today, so if you’ve read this far, bear with me and we can briefly examine the issue of time together (spend some time on time, one might cheekily say).
We’re all aware --- intellectually, anyway, although on a more everyday level we rather quaintly often try and deny it, or at the very least, submerge it --- that our time is all too finite. (In the film Star Trek: Generations, the villain intones theatrically at one point that ‘time is the fire in which we burn.’) But for much of our lives, we behave as though it’s infinite, and that frequently leads us to use time carelessly and not very productively. In that, ‘twas ever thus, alas. For example, a couple of thousand years or so ago, a man named Paul made the frustrated observation succinctly for all of us when he said, in effect, “I don’t get it. I spend my time doing the things I hate, and don’t do the things I want/need to do.” Yeah, you and me both, man.
As a writer, one thing (among many) that deeply concerns me --- especially now I’ve published the beginning of a story that has the potential to be both long and complex --- is the possibility I might ‘shuffle off this mortal coil’ before I have a chance to finish it. And no, the concern is not because I would be depriving legions of readers the opportunity to savour my deathless prose. I’m not that vain, thank you very much. (At least, I don’t think I am.) But, you know, I want to see how this story unfolds, too. I know how it’s supposed to end --- at least, at the moment, I naively think so --- but as I’ve written in another entry, I haven’t a clue exactly how we’re going to get there. (Yet. Don’t despair. I’m working on it.) And like a few others, I really want to find out, because I happen to like my Rhissan very much and want to see his tale told. And the joy is in the journey as much as the destination. In fact, sometimes, perhaps more so.
So... why don’t I spend every waking minute feverishly committing his story to paper? After all, perhaps I should be telling myself, as the character named Q tells the dauntless Captain Picard in the brilliant Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Tapestry: “...That Picard never realized how fragile life is or how important each moment must be. So his life never came into focus. He drifted for much of his career with no plan or agenda… going from one assignment to the next, never seizing the opportunities that presented themselves…” (You may have noticed by now I have a certain fondness/interest in the various incarnations of Star Trek, but besides being hugely entertaining, it often presents its viewers with real philosophical gems. No, really. I swear.)
But I think there’s another side to the coin, one a little less driven. Ecclesiastes discusses the fact that “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose” (although it’s easy to take that passage out of context, if you’re not careful). And back in the 1960s and ‘70s, there was a little poem called Desiderata that rather typified the times --- although it was eventually over quoted to the point of parody. But one line is relevant here: ‘beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.’
In other words, there are times we should be busy with various tasks, and times we should be relaxing, whatever that looks like. Sometimes it doesn’t resemble much of anything. Other times, to other people, the relaxing might look an awful lot like work. So let’s leave the last word to one of these two eminent deep thinkers (your choice):
“Be aware of wonder. Live a balanced life --- learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some”
- Robert Fulghum, philosopher extraordinaire
“This is no time to talk about time! We don’t have the time!” (pause) “What was I saying?”
- Counselor Deanna Troi, of the good starship Enterprise