The following was written a few weeks ago, while I was away for some R&R in the woods. That was the only way this year’s update was going to happen.
The Setting: New England Winter
I’m sitting, propped up by pillows and legs outstretched, on an old firm couch in a guest house above a garage on a farm in rural Connecticut.
The temperature outside is at freezing point, but it’s warm inside. I woke up just in time to watch the sun finish rising out the three large windows that face the forest that surrounds the properties.
New England winters mean something to me. I grew up with them. Despite the bitter cold and the ice and the snow typical of the season in the region — I usually enjoyed them. Especially I enjoyed them when sleeping somewhere surrounded by forest.
I’m here with my wife, who’s out running right now. I already made myself breakfast and ate it. I’m on my second cup of tea. This weekend is a necessary time-out, and not the only one I have taken this year.
This house is small but perfectly designed and artfully furnished. The couch I am on runs alongside a set of window perpendicular to those through which I watched the sun rise. Now the sun shines upon the large table where we ate dinner last night.
A pair of blue jays have been fluttering around the giant, stately bushes outside. I can see the main house from here. It’s large and also stately but in an un-obsequious way. The owners seem kind. We’re here, probably, for a few more days.
A fly is buzzing around and I’m pretending not to care. That sort of thing is easier to do here.
I had planned, in view of this setting and circumstance, to continue with the new fiction piece I have been working on. It’s a story that I have been wanting to explore for a long time, but hadn’t up until recently been able to start. Now it’s started. Not only that, I am happy to be engaged with it. I can see, now, why I left it in its prior uninitiated state for years. The time wasn’t right.
No, that’s wrong. It would be more accurate to say that the time hadn’t arrived yet.
Musings on Time
I have been thinking about time, recently. This is partially a result at having read Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, and also Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: Overture. Both books, in their ways, jab at popular notions of time.
I worry about time a lot. I used to worry about it a lot more. I would like to worry about it even less.
A good portion of the lessening can probably be attributed to aging. What “they” say, as far as it concerns me personally, at least, appears true. I worry less now than I did in my twenties.
I can see and feel my body aging, now. This has been both a new cause of a concern and, at the same time, an clear indication of my powerlessness against time.
Contrastingly, in career terms, I have lately begun to accept that, at thirty-one, I am mostly still considered young. There are still days when I feel like I should be “further along” by now, or that I “should have” accomplished “x” or “y” — but I try to respond to such ideas with self-compassion and a plea for personal patience.
When I still felt young, which was still going on as recently as three or four years ago, I was, as I have said, much more obsessed with time.
I never felt able to keep up. I never believed I was going to get to where I wanted — had –- to go.
That’s changed. It’s changed for a few reasons.
Withdrawing from Time’s Pull
First, while it’s still a battle I lose for hours and days and sometimes weeks at a time, I committed some time ago to working towards presence.
Nearly every day, I write this sentence out as an affirmation in my Five Minute Journal:
I am present, mindful, grateful and kind.
Also every day, I second-guess myself, wondering whether it’s “right” to affirm both presence and mindfulness. It could be argued that they’re the same thing. But I still do it, every time. And, today, I think I know why.
My affirmation of presence is a reminder. That, whether I believe it or not, remember it or not –- I am here. This is a fact I have had difficulty believing and facing in the past, despite its more than obvious truth. We are all, always, here, until we’re not.
But do we always feel that way? Do we acknowledge it? I don’t, not always, or often enough.
Sometimes, honestly, it hurts to be here. My own mind, the internet, social media, TV or films or books — even my work — they offer a welcome reprieve from the difficulty of acknowledging the pain that sometimes seizes my heart when I consider the sheer power and responsibility of being here.
And I don’t mean to suggest there’s not joy in that knowledge, too. But, for some (me), the process of courageously pursuing that joy can become a loaded one with its own potential to overwhelm.
Still, presence is truth. As such, it’s impervious to regret. That makes it work fighting for, to me.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is the path by which I seek and access truth. It’s how I come back to the present, and to myself, when I’m obsessing over the past or worrying about the future.
Worrying about the past and the future is a normal, natural thing. Arguably, these anxieties even hold some utility, when indulged in a balanced way. Even when I’ve found myself worrying too much (and thus slipping from mindfulness) — I try not to judge myself. It’s part of our nature to “leave the planet” in spots.
It’s the coming back that really counts.
That’s why, I think, I started this post the way that I did. I was settling into life, in the moment.
This can be a delicate process, when writing, or creating. Creators face a difficult balancing act during each engaged act of genesis.
Creativity, unsurprisingly, is much like sex in this way. It’s about both being fully in and outside the moment, extending outside the body through the body.
Acknowledging Time’s Power
Now, obviously, we cannot be creating constantly, just as we cannot be constantly having sex. Reprieve from the realities of friction and fluid depletion, social order and sustained healthy living — these necessities preclude such behavior.
While time conceptually may be much less harsh and villainous than we often consider it to be, in cosmic terms it’s still one of only a few primal ruling elements of our lives.
However, also in cosmic terms (we’re keeping topics small today), time can be viewed simply. It proceeds and we ride its current, unable to do more than pretend at stopping or going (in relative terms) at spots along the way.
This is why, when caught up by concerns of time — I turn to gratitude.
Gratitude as a Perspective on Time
Gratitude is about perspective — about taking a particular view of one slice of time, at one such stopping point or another, and appreciating it.
I am fortunate to be in this house, at this time, writing this –- to you. I know this. I appreciate it as a captured, treasured moment of grace, an example of the exact relationship I seek in this world that speaks to my needs and wants as a person.
Often, though, in the busyness of trying to do and be more, all the time and in the midst of so many others doing and being their own things…I forget it all. I forget the moments of grace, I forget what I know to be true about time and life and the importance of remaining in the moment with my feet on the ground. I forget it all.
Being an artist, for many of us, is not a choice. Finding an audience, however, is a privilege. One that needs to be cultivated, earned, and sustained.
So, as 2015 gives way to 2016 — I say it again. I am not only grateful for the life I have been given and have built, but also for you. I am grateful for your time, support, and for the occasional commiserating moments we have shared and which I hope we’ll continue to share in the future.
Kindness as The Ultimate Expression of Time Best-Used
Kindness, to wrap up, represents the ideal state I wish to arrive in, on those rare, joyful occasions whereupon I am able to remove myself from time.
It’s the core appreciation of life, and of living, that feeds my beliefs. Probably, it fuels all the work that I do, that I have always viewed not as my own, but as something rooted in more primal, fundamental life-stuff than can be claimed as having originated in a single, struggling human.
Struggle As The Space Between Accomplishments
Struggle is the final key word, here.
Prior to writing this, I had been struggling to determine the appropriate lens through which to review the prior year.
Two years ago, on the first anniversary of this site, I remarked upon an arc of what I viewed as progress — observable inroads made against the injustices of the day. Last year, on its second anniversary, I celebrated a productive year of movement. Those posts have as much to do with my own natural evolutions through time, and through self-discovery, as they do with the conditions, histories, and developments of which my experiences are but a part.
Now, it’s three years later. The Videoblogs will be coming out (relatively) soon. It’s possible I’ll be compiling my first book of fiction as that happens. The podcast continues to grow. Time moves on and I try to ride its currents and appreciate its mystery, rather than pretend there’s a damn thing I can do to control where it takes me, when or how.
If you had said to me, three or four years ago, that this is where I would be, in this exact place in the woods, settled firmly in this moment, taking some time off with the woman I love in the midst of a years-long pattern of being in constant touch with all of you, who have supported my endeavors for years (via both your attention and your direct patronage), perhaps I would have been pleasantly surprised — but I also would have believed it.
This is because, as I am learning, time is much less measurable than it seems, or than at least I had thought.
It helps to set goals and mark progress, but change more often occurs, I am finding, via a day to day commitment to more courageously pursue those truths which compel us. The pursuit is the important thing. Everything else is at best a nice detour or a short break, but more often an unnecessary distraction.
Time is not containable. That is its beauty and our privilege.
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