Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Tyranny of Time

I wrote this a few weeks ago when I was struggling with my place in the world and being time poor - your comments about time Dali inspired me to put it up here ....

'Time is on my side,
yes it is'
Rolling Stones - 1965

The irony of it is, at the moment I don’t feel as though time is on my side. I feel, what has been recently coined ‘time poor’ (but not necessarily money rich, which is the flip side of the phrase). What I want to do, experience and achieve in life, far outstrips the actual physical hours available in a day, and therefore I feel personally impoverished, despite lots of love, joy and achievements of other kinds surrounding me. My time poverty doesn’t come from trying to juggle a paid job and family responsibilities. It comes from being a fulltime stay at home Mum and voluntary worker who has no family support to fall back on. It comes about also, because I don’t use the precious little ‘me time’ I have efficiently or effectively to make me happy. I often fritter it away, subsumed by the internet and other modern distractions, in a trance like state, simply being in the space, rather than using the space. Yesterday at the Ipswich Workshop Museum once of the placards had scribed on it ‘the tyranny of distance’, but for the majority of us in the 21st century the real tyranny is time.

As we get older, we all comment that time seems to slip away far quicker than it did when we were young. As a child it seemed that a school year took an eternity and even the six week summer break seemed an forever (exacerbated by the fact that after four weeks my sister and I were hell bent on doing serious damage to each other, and Mum was counting down the days until school begun again!) This was in the days of the three term year. I vividly remember the worst time type of time distortion was when we stayed with my Nanna and Pa, and I would wait for my cousin to come and visit on a Sunday. I can still see myself, as a small child looking up at the clock and barometer in their tiny hallway … counting down the hours until 11am would arrive, and so would my cousin. The hours passed slowly, but it was a agonising snails pace that would bring 10:45 to 11:00am and her arrival.

When we desperately want time to slow down – when we are pushing ourselves to complete a task (school or university assignment, work report, or just making it to an appointment on time) time always seems to conspire against us. There never seems quite enough of it to help us out. However when we want it to speed up (when we’re waiting in a line at the bank, supermarket or petrol station) there seems to be such an excess of it, you wonder if you could bottle and store it for times of deficit. Our experience of time is never really constant or predictable, despite the metronomic changes to the digital clock face (I remember the alarm clock my parents had where the numbers were on small white tabs the actually flicked over each minute, so not only was the passage of time visible but audible as well)

Time can have an oppressive resolve that is difficult to fight or befriend. Anticipation warps and slows time, as does impatience, ambivalence and being pissed off. Think of waiting in the airport for a flight that is perpetually delayed and you are have been advised not to leave the departure lounge – how quickly do the hands on the clock move? Anything that generally makes us unhappy seems to slam the breaks on the passage of time. Nothing is more sinister though than the distortion of time that comes with the descending cloud of depression and black moods. Those who experience chronic pain have a similar relationship with time, as those with depression. In the few sunlight moments, time is fleeting as you try and hold it, to keep it from slipping away, striving to make it last just a few hours longer, then the eternal darkness of emotional, psychological or physical pain takes you in its embrace again and time becomes an endless void.

The subject of time was discussed on TripleJ’s Hack program last week. The focus was lost time, with people asked to call in with their experiences of having lots time. Some call backers spoke about their battles with drug addictions and depression, others regarding bad relationships. The later hit a note with me. I have struggled for many years now not to look at the years from Sept ’96 to Sept ’99 as ‘the lost years’. These were the years I spent with my not so nice ex partner in country NSW. In those three years I could have finished a uni degree (still only half completed) or travelled half way across the world or more (passport still unused in the bottom draw). It was hard to try and integrate those years into the fabric of my life as positive experiences not shadowed with regrets. In time I came to understand that I had a wealth of encounters and experiences in those years; amazing people, even more amazing places, a chance to run two business and motivate young people into creating better opportunities for themselves. I learnt more about myself in that time, than I had in the previous 26 years, developed skills and abilities that have stood me in good stead in the years since and taught me what love and respect really are, what I will and won’t stand for in life. This was a similar theme to those TripleJ callers, who admitted that although they were regretful for the time they had lost, they had learnt much as a consequence of their experience.

As soon as I became a mother, and had the 24 hour care and responsibility of a baby, I did become truly regretful for having not used my time more wisely prior to becoming a Mum. The tyranny of time, became the tyranny of unaccomplished dreams and desires as I felt my timeline contract to hold just myself and my small baby, one hourly breastfeed at a time. I felt ripped off for having so frivolously wasted the time at my disposal in the years past. I thought about all the books that I that wished that I had already read, the movies I wanted to see, the countries and cities that still remained unexplored except through other’s stories and photos, the uninterrupted conversations that I might not have again for a decade or more, the degree I still did not have, the simple pleasures such as sleeping in or doing not a lot of anything that were now just luxuries of a bygone era for me. A certain amount of grief came with these enlightenments of time extravagances and wastages. It took a lot more than the pure and simple joy of the bundle in my arms, to integrate and feel OK about it – to be at peace with the knowledge that the time had passed, but there was plenty more ahead to explore, experience and enjoy. It created a passionate intensity in me to really seize the day, understand what my priorities and goals were so I would never be left standing by the wayside with a bag full of half fulfiled dreams.

I’m not totally at peace with this part of my time troubles, because they are so inextricably tied in with freedom – in reality time and freedom are inseparable. When you feel free time expands and hurries by speeding you along on its wings, however when you are imprisoned time shrinks down to claustrophobic proportions, leaving you feeling as though it is barely inching forward. The only answer I can come up bridging the time/freedom quandary, is to find a balance that allows me to indulge in some freedom, some me time and bring my experience of time into equilibrium again (if it ever actually was- after all, before being a Mum I was always complaining about having not enough time to sleep, so some things never change!)

Finding balance so time does not become a fearsome and pitiless dictator is a challenge for anyone who identifies as being ‘time poor’. My tools at the moment are walking, mediating and writing. These fulfil several important personal goals. Walking always unclutters my mind, relaxes my body and gives me a sense of freedom … and you can’t beat being in nature even if it is smote with suburban development and peak hour traffic. Meditating allows me to turn my mind off and tune into myself. Writing suspends time and gives me the opportunity to explore and document my life. Walking and writing have always been priorities, and I have always keenly felt their absence when I haven’t made space for them in my life. Meditating is new. I recently read an article by Patricia Fry on Meditation Walking for writers and understood that I have being doing this unknowing since adolescence. I’ve also indulged in this type of meditative, creative process during long distance highway driving (this was where my creative inspiration for running children’s programs came while I worked in NSW and my creative problem solving has always been based). A balance of mind, body and soul seem to be a good starting point to befriending time again.

My other aid is simply being in the moment, and letting both the past and the future dissolve. It’s almost impossible then to be held hostage by clock, it can only move forward one moment at a time as you experience it. There will still never be enough hours in a day to complete everything I need to, let alone all the projects and assorted asides that I want to, but I can only ever be in the here and now. There’s a lot of time to waste fixating on either the past or present, and when you’re already time poor, it seems like a tragic waste. Fighting the tyranny of time poverty is also about simplifying your life, or ‘down sizing’, deciding what the really important elements of your life are and making them priorities.

Time is on my side … almost!

1 comment:

Sentient Marrow said...

Yes, I can relate to much of what you've said here about time. A lot of my regret currently is that when I was breastfeeding and such there was a part of me that was pissed off. Pissed off to be sitting on the couch yet again for another feeding. I couldn't enjoy the moment because I could only look around at my messy house and think of everything I wasn't accomplishing. And, as the babes kept coming, I kept staying up late at night anesthetizing myself in front of the computer in solitude shutting out my husband and all distractions. This behavior spilled over into the day on occasion and it's taken me a long time to let go of the guilt I have felt for being an imperfect parent and perhaps even a negligent parent at times. I've also let my husband down in that regard but my thought is always that he is an adult and doesn't need my attention as much and should be able to wait. Alas, I do feel like I am entering a new phase in my life now, though, where I am trying to enjoy every moment with my children since they are all in school this year. My relationship with my husband is the one I have to work on now not to mention my relationship with the artist within me.

I think it's so positive that you are already trying to live in the moment. It took me years to get to that point.