Monday, October 31, 2011

Running Out Of...


Is that how you  finished the phrase? I wonder. I know it isn't just me for whom time is the one thing that's always running out. Curious, isn't it? Of all the things that could complete that simple phrase. Of all the things that I actually can and do run out of. Because an added paradox in the equation is that it never happens. There's always time. It never runs out (until the moment of death, anyway, and does it matter after that?)

Still, there's this notion - this feeling, really - of trying to hold onto something, or hold back something, that's slipping away. Like sand through an hour glass, or the last rays of light in the sky.

That last thought trips a potent coming-of-age memory. I used to be a night owl. I loved the hours after midnight. When I was in my teens and twenties it was a favorite time for hanging out, for getting high and philosophizing with a friend, for listening to music, and taking solo walks through the city streets. It was the time I did my most creative writing - when I could escape my self-consciousness and be more playful and exploratory with words. The first time I lived with a lover, those late hours provided my solitary time, for reflecting and journal writing, for checking in with myself in a way that was difficult in the light of day.

In those early years, there was a romance about the late night. I experienced it as an unending well that only got deeper. The later it got, the more removed I was from ordinary reality, and from the constraints that daylight imposed. The middle of the night was a free and magical space, made all the more special by the rarity of my ventures into it.

I can't remember when it was that I stayed up all night for the first time, but I'm sure I experienced it with ambivalence. I made it through to the other side. But what a disappointment to discover that the deep didn't continue to deepen! Of course I knew about dawn, the cycle of the day, the rotation of the earth. But it had always felt like the night brought with it a kind of suspension of the ordinary rules of things. The clock, beyond a certain point, wasn't really measuring time anymore, so much as fathoms of depth, or portals through dimensions. It was a bit crushing to discover that behind the last curtain was not 'beyond', but merely street sweepers, buses resuming their routes, and people trudging off to work and school. At dawn, my miraculous oasis evaporated like the mirage it was.

And perhaps that loss of innocence marks the beginning of my losing struggle with time.  Because the toll of those excursions into night only began with the lightening to the east. The greater price, exacted by way of exhaustion, was the dimming or outright loss of much of the next day. Either I dragged my way though it foggy brained, or slept through it in that dream-logged place that doesn't know time at all.

One way or another, it seems that it was during my twenties that the 'running out' of time began, and it's been accelerating ever since. But I'm finding my ways around that.

My first line of approach is simply through realizing that time never runs out. It only seems so, in relation to something I either want to happen, or want not to happen. But in life, there's always something to want and something to dread, and that fact itself seems enough to somehow quiet the tyrannical ticking of the clock. It's that Buddhist thing again, living in the moment.

I recall a minor character in the novel Catch-22, who occupied himself with watching television test patterns and the like. His theory was that if he made himself as bored as possible, his subjective experience of time would stretch, and he'd live longer. But of course, it doesn't really work like that, except in the instant. Those empty seconds may stretch, but the days and months will fly by, with nothing at all to distinguish one from the other. But when life is busy and rich, the minutes and hours may seem to fly, but looking back, I'm always amazed at how thick with life my time has been, how full and generous the days become.

But my best tactic recently has been to renounce multi-tasking! I'm done with trying to do several things at a time. I've decided that nothing robs me of time like that. I've become very happy with doing one thing at a time. Sometimes that means going back and forth from one thing to another, to another. But increasingly, when I'm doing something, I try and keep most of my attention on it, and not allow myself to be distracted with other things I have to get to. And it's made a change. It seems to work as a kind of spotlight, highlighting whatever I'm doing, wherever I am, whoever I'm with, in way that ... well, that seems to make the passage of time just not matter so much any more.

And one other thing. I've finally come to accept that I'm just late for everything. After fighting it - unsuccessfully - all these years, I've surrendered. Aaaaahh! How wonderful. Time! Do what you want with me!

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