Where does the time go? At the beginning of the day (week, month, year), it seems like a huge void to put to use any way I please. At the end of the period, I turn around and see no progress. Why can’t I fill time in the way I want?
The problem is time’s limited. When I was young, I saw no end. It stretched limitless in front of me. I knew I always could make that trip to Paris sometime, if not this year. Now, from this end of the life span, time has no beginning but many endings.
There are things I should do with my time. My blog, for instance. When my first novel was published, the entire world told me I had to create a blog. Further advice from experts added the blog should appear at least twice a week and have at least two links to other websites in it. This is proving to be impossible as winter colds, summer vacations, reruns of HIMYM, playing with grandson, depression, house cleaning, going to the gym, naps, balancing the checkbook, in short anything else, takes precedence.
What time I do have, I spend most of it reading emails or trying to sleep. Guilt induces me to compensate by making lists of responsibilities or desires to work on eventually. The effect time has on my lists is zero. To wit:
My to-do lists don’t differ much now from when I was 18. Then they included:
Lose 15 pounds
Clean and organize closet
Now they include the same main topics but have increased in complexity:
Lose weight (o 5 pounds, o 10 pounds, o 15 pounds, o 20 pounds, o 25 pounds)
Study (o French, o Music self-taught on recorder, o Stimulating mind games)
Exercise (o Stretches, o Dance, o Jogging, o Bike)
Clean and organize (o Papers, o Photos, o Old magazines)
I always think if I just get organized enough, I should be able to cram 48 hours worth of activity into 24. I’ve never succeeded, although I’m known as ultra-efficient. My sister-in-law once told me I was the most organized person she knew. In a burst of insight, I realized the flaw in her statement. I’m the most disorganized person, but I’m so threatened by chaos, I frantically try to control it through creating order.
I have a fall-back position on this process. In a voice down the ages from five centuries ago, Francois Rabelais advised, “With Time, all things are revealed.”
“You can’t fake true cool,” said the Super Bowl ad starring Bob Dylan. No, but you can fake sincerity.
When I strolled by the television on Super Bowl Sunday, my biggest surprise was not the winning team. I was floored when I spotted Dylan extolling the virtues of the American auto industry. Here was a hero of my youth, hard-core counter-culture leader, patron saint of individualism and liberal politics, shilling for the business poster-child of America’s hyper-consumerism and waste.
I had heard his music as audio for ads, but I figured he didn’t have much control over that in the welter of copyrights and legalities. This was different. His music wasn’t featured. He appeared on camera praising Chrysler as a product worthy of purchase, superior to other cars because it’s American-made.
Discussions about his spot cover the gamut of opinion. Some people feel artists don’t have many optionsnowadays to make a living unless they include advertising. Or they think performing artists expand their audiences and fan bases in this manner. Others are puzzled and confused by this decision apparently in contradiction to his long-standing persona.The one says Dylan is just changing as he matures. Another that “Dylan stands as an image of integrity, independence, and authenticity,” so it’s good business sense to relate him to a produce.
Sorry. Not to me. Seems to me to be part and parcel of the traditional American attitude—make as much money as you can by any means possible so you can consume excessive amounts of everything. The ad also asks. “Is there anything more American than America?” and continues to eulogize our supposed virtues. An appeal to an unfortunate human value run rampant in many nations—xenophobic and parochial jingoism. Thinking your country is always the best and eternally right.
What’s theimportance of “cool”anyhow, touted in the ad. The judgment about attitude, behavior, and style is a knee-jerk opinion important only to advertising copywriters and adolescents up to the age of thirty. “Cool” has no relationship to essential worth of a person or even a product or service, when compared to honest, intelligent, humorous, caring, beautiful, courteous, any number of qualities.
Also interesting, Chrysler isn’t even an American company any more. It is a consolidated subsidiary of Italian multinational automaker I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with hypocrisy in advertising.
It looks like my high school social studies teacher came closer to predicting the future than others, including Bob Dylan or Chrysler. Mr. Balliat’s evidently revolutionary theory was that eventually all arguments pro and con about trade and manufacturing and business will shake themselves out, and those countries and groups of people who WANT to work in a particular industry and who are BEST SUITED for the responsibility will do so.
Have you ever read a novel and felt as if you’ve left your surroundings for a new world? This is one of the ways I use to decide if a book’s made a major impact on me. The process by which this happens isn’t simple, not a matter of exciting action or steamy love scenes. A combination of writing style and language, plot, compelling characters, and an unfathomable mixture of interesting ideas old and new are some of the qualities that go into what’s called “willing suspension of disbelief.” In essence, although I know what I’m reading is imaginary, I react as though it’s real. And it changes me in ways I haven’t measured, provides knowledge, even, dare I claim?, wisdom.
Some of the books that have done that for me are Pride and Prejudice, A Tale of Two Cities, Hunger Games, Main Street, Caramelo, Doomsday Book, Revolutionary Road, and The Things They Carried. These probably aren’t your choices, but you might have your own favorites.
Or you might not read fiction. I know people who refuse to on the grounds that it’s not real, not for serious-minded people, it’s fluff. Stop and think a minute though: fiction is more truthful than nonfiction because it allows us entry into other people’s minds and emotions. It presents thoughts in action and practice. It’s the closest thing we have to eternal life since every eon, each individual can be represented.
As usual with slap-your-face obvious information, this perspective, known for centuries to readers and writers, now is being substantiated through various studies. Yes, reading fiction stimulates and strengthens certain areas in your brain. Yes, reading changes behavior. Changes can be positive, assisting you to function and relate betterin the world. Or they can be negative, encouraging aggressionand cruelty, setting you and those around you up for a world of trouble.
I began thinking more about the impact of fiction on real life when I read a novel about a poet and a group of immigrants in Sweden. The Shadow Girls, by Henning Mankell, starts off comedic with the protagonist Jesper being urged to write a thriller by his money-hungry publisher, escalates until nearly everyone, including the hero’s stock broker and his 90-year-old mother who staffs a phone sex service, is trying his hand at a manuscript. Then Jesper accidently meets three young women, immigrants from Iran, Russia and Africa (two of them undocumented), whose lives intrigue him. He becomes determined to give their stories a voice. They want to tell their own tales, thank you very much, and through a mélange of narrative, writings from their classes, and inner dialogue, we learn a little of the terrible and distinctive circumstances of each, along with their dreams for a future. (Mankell is best known for his Kurt Wallender police mysteries.)
I started grasping emotionally how the state of homelessness, powerlessness, nonpersonhood affects the girls in the novel, giving me a better perspective on my small efforts to support immigration reform here in the US. And I wished everyone on all sides of the immigration debate would open themselves to the world in the book’s pages, because in some small sense, you are what you read.
A strong argument against dystopian, spy, and war novels, littered with bodies like abandoned soft drink cans, and for thoughtful, positive, compassionate novels with happy endings.
If you’re a parent or you work with kids, you’re probably familiar with the dilemma of independence versus dependence. On one hand you want to encourage children to be as independent as possible for their ages, making decisions and trying new experiences. On the other hand, you want to protect them from the apparently endless bad things that can happen to them. Some of these issue from the society around them; some result from taking risks beyond their capabilities.
Fast forward to an individual of legal age. It’s nice to think that adults can handle the challenges as well as the benefits of maturity. But if someone experiences a run of bad luck, should we help? I know if my children or grands came down with a catastrophic illness or lost their jobs or had a major expenditure for education or travel, I’d jump right in.
Still, at some point, would I be doing them a disservice by discouraging them from taking responsibility for themselves? Various friends and relatives face this issue. A daughter’s employer bottoms up, and she can’t find another position. . .for years. A son’s plumbing must be replaced, and he borrows thousands. . .and never is able to repay the loan. Depression and other emotional challenges can accompany the situation, making action or planning for changes even more difficult.
Some of my acquaintances seem to take great pride in their support. Other times they express their frustration as well as worry about the situation. They report tip-toeing around the needy person to avoid making them feel like failures.
Would a swift kick in the butt help? Perhaps. People’s drive for independence, their ability to meet challenges differs greatly. My kids were determined to stand on their own two feet from the time they could walk, probably to escape me. But not everyone’s like this.
If our ultimate goal is a self-sustaining adult, we should be looking at the help we offer and evaluating if it’s really the help that’s needed. In a crisis, sure, we rush to do all we can. But after weeks or months or years, shouldn’t we discourage dependence? While emotional difficulties aggravate the process, they shouldn’t be a get-home-free card. Getting active mentally or physically can help. Composer Pyotre Tchaikovskyhad bouts of severe depression, but his work actually helped him get through those.
Politics doesn’t clarify the matter, neither do experts. Our attitudes haven’t changed much over 60 years. In West Side Story’s song “Dear Officer Krumpke,” written in the 50s, a gang of punks recite the numerous sociological and psychological reasons why they should be helped, rather than punished for their crimes and wrong-doing; and nothing changes them. The same pop-reasoning still holds sway.
Rather get caught in that tired old debate of “one answer fits all,” in which political leanings seem to dictate an extreme either-or approach to helping people, we as parents/friends/voters might aim for a broad swath across the middle. Help people in a crisis, then gradually wean them off both the public dole and the private handout. They’ll gain pride as well as self-sufficiency.
* For one point of view about welfare and dependency, which, by the way, I don’t agree with, see “Why the U.S. has a culture of dependency,” a CNN opinion piece, by Matthew Spalding,
We usually define “success” as achieving some sort of goal. A sports team wins a competition. A job search results in an offer from the company of our choice. A contest awards a prize. And life in general, we gain more money or a bigger house or greater fame than others.
I’m starting to realize that I’ve learned the most from projects that I initially labeled as “failures.” This perspective probably is grounded in the decades I’ve spent trying to get published. I wanted to be a writer since I was ten years old. For about 30 years, I slowly but steadily published articles, nonfiction pieces in a variety of local and regional outlets, capped by a how-to book about recruiting and managing volunteers in libraries. Hardly the stuff of a Pulitzer or National Book Award. Since I always wanted to publish fiction, if I’d been asked about my writing success during those years, I would have rated myself as a failure.
At the same time I usually held down a full-time job in communications and public relations. It was during some stints writing applications for grants, then evaluating projects based on the final criteria, that I realized the expectation always was that we’d achieve every objective we’d listed in the original proposal. That defined “success.” This wasn’t always possible or even desirable. Surely if the people involved in the project learned about impacts, that was more important that claiming we’d met objectives. An example—if we hosted an art workshop for kids, and our objective was for each child to create three clay pots, surely it was more important that we leaned those children preferred paints to clay than that every child made his allotted number.
Evaluations with goals and objectives also are common in work plans. In fact as a government employee, I became accustomed to dreaming up annual evaluation methods, which usually changed according to agency fiat every few years, ungrounded in any kind of reality. And again, I seemed to learn more from ostensible “failures” than successes.
This same approach can be applied to raising children. Before mine were well launched into adolescence, I agreed with the theory that good parenting showed up in children who never got in trouble and did well in school. My eyes were opened to the independence of a young human when one of mine always had to learn the hard way. If my sole criterion had been my original standards, I would have written off the parent-child relationship as irretrievably broken. Fortunately I held on and realized both of us had learned and grown through the ill-defined “failure.”
Bob Dylan wrote, “There’s no success like failure. . .failure’s no success at all.” I’m inclined nowadays to apply this Zen-like approach. Arbitrary standards for success may be applied by others, but as the person on my own voyage through life, I’m trying to enjoy and learn from the process, not the result. Perhaps others can benefit from this perspective, too.