Time During the Holidays Print E-mail

123 1(Times of San Diego January 6, 2024)

The other day an estate lawyer said to my partner and me that the older we get, the faster time goes. Psychologically, that’s so. But in what sense is this “psychology” true? Is it because we geezers have more to do in less time, and we’re worried we’ll run out of what we assume is our due, a squishy estimate at best? I think it means we’ve put off the unpleasant things, too busy reading and seeing friends and petting the cat, though we will, it’s in the bag, run out of time — and soon — to jump rope or climb ladders. Just as well.

When young, time is “on our side.” But as long as we have some left, isn’t it on our side as well? I have as much time as I have left, and it matters only to me what I do with it. Still, life is no help with its persistent pounding away, a disco score of measured pulses whether we recognize them as such or not. We get our share, our due, so speeding the plow or taking the siesta is purely a choice. It’s not time that moves at varying rates but our awareness — blithely, fastidiously — of its tick-tock.

We occupy time, sure, but we exist as time, too, in the sense that all living things are on the clock just as the sky is not different from the weather. It’s relational, time and us, road buddies. And yet it’s also mysterious, incapable of pinning down — by design. As the Buddha says, we are never in the present (though that’s the goal: present moment, perfect moment).

Rather, we are in undefined units of time, one and another, one and then another, though the adjacency feels concurrent. In and out of focus, what Schopenhauer called the “eternal becoming and endless flux” of life, the “striving of matter.”

I feel this blooded commotion around “the holidays,” when they’re imminent and when they’ve just passed. True, the designation for some December days are they’re “holy.” But, for my secular cohort, it’s nothing consecrated but, instead, a day off work, a collective suspension.

In my freelance life, I can take a “holiday” anytime. But I don’t. I love to work, and I love it when the days gallop along, holiday-less, running full bore as I do. So, when these tedious weeks arrive, I’m anxious to get them over with since I need the Bosch hotline associates to answer my damn call about our temperamental new dishwasher and, when they don’t, which is always, it’s because the “wait time” for help with America’s expensive Christmas gifts is, like immigration courts, backlogged till the next decade.

Back to my feeling. Mid-holiday (pie-stuffed, sweets-sick), I worry I’ll vegetate like Elvis and end up on the floor, my fingers in the peanut butter jar and flatlining. But then, humbled or ashamed, I realize my doldrum is really my dread of an end (the end), party-horned with another year’s turning. Here it gets squirrelly. The last thing I want is for time itself to quicken, though I recognize the psychological ploy. I say I don’t watch the clock, but I do.

As much as I try to “enjoy” the end of the holidays, I’m squeezing them through, faster, faster. Through what? The tunnel that brings the future closer. Utter folly and utterly useless.

What the real dread is, if I’m honest, is my life being marked by public events, which are meaningless markers. Christmas is not me; maybe it was once for my kid. And it doesn’t register as my passage, attainment, graduation.

Long ago, finishing grad school meant an end to the toil of tests and assignments, which, as “my education,” involved a long march through their course offerings. My education has taken place outside of and in opposition to institutions. Getting my degree in American literature freed me to go back to my love of reading. Which is unassigned — unless I’m paid.

Finally, writing in long hand (often before typing) is how I like to be in time, to exist as time’s equal. Putting words on a page is metronomic. The placement follows a pattern that replicates the improvisation of thought and the blocking out, stroke by stroke, of letters, punctuation, and spaces. Such is the imprint, chipping into stone, of a moment-to-moment bond between the page and me—as witness and participant — the writer who is reading as he writes, just like you.

The act of writing is durational, no different than playing music. Written or typed, it’s time travel, not in the H. G. Wells sense, but in the span of time it takes to write or type. No faster, no slower than what it takes. Whatever I’m here, on your doorstep, to say, it will be said in the length and relative complexity of the sentences I’ve written and you’re reading. Had I said instead — I have labored to write elegantly, and you have, in kind, labored to read with interest — well, that would have taken a few tick-tocks longer than the first telescoped attempt.

Such is how reading works, the result of the time it took me to write it down (including its revision over several days). The time it takes is neither more nor less than what my fingers can letter on paper or screen in the time it takes . . . about this long . . . or a bit longer . . . or a bit over-polished and longer still.

I just realized. The holidays are over — Praise Be! — and I feel a lot less nervous because now I have no excuse not to be using whatever time I do have to get a bit more writing done.