Archive for October 2010

Time Matters

October 24, 2010

The time has come to make a new entry in this blog. The piece which I planned to post is not ready. I just ran out of time! Making this statement ‘publically’ triggered in me some thoughts about the concept of time. I have dedicated a couple of essays to the issue of time in my book Looking at the World Twice. Today however, I am looking at this issue from a different perspective. It is different because my stage of life is different. The shortage of time seems more urgent to address now than when I was much younger.

“Running out of time” sounds and feels as if someone is running out of a defined place — a building, a room, or perhaps a container. It is understood, of course, by all who speak this language that this is simply a concept similar to running out of money, sugar, water, or any kind of supply. To translate the expression “I ran out of time” into my native Polish, I would probably choose the phrase “czas mi uciekl,” which literally means “time escaped from me” or “time ran away.” It is similar to English, except in the Polish version time, rather than the person seems to be in action.

The problem is that in both languages, and likely in most languages, the way we talk about time implies that time is tangible and touchable as is sugar or water. Yet it is not! Time is much more elusive. Our perception of it changes depending on our feelings and circumstances — how busy or inactive we are, for instance. In some situations it feels as if time is passing quickly, in others that it is passing slowly, and occasionally (very seldom) it almost stops. So time is more of an experience than a possession of ours. It is even considered by some scientists and philosophers as a fourth dimension. Fourth dimension or not, most of us complain that we don’t have enough time for what we want to accomplish. Is there anybody who has extra time these days?!

“Time is money” I have been told here (in the US) many times. But I’ve never ‘bought’ such a concept. Maybe I didn’t buy it because I grew up in a different political system in which we definitely had more time than money. Maybe I didn’t because, years ago, I decided that time is actually more valuable for me than money. Perhaps this is also the reason that I live such an intense life and consequently “run out of time” once in a while.

Forgive me if I state something that might be obvious to you. Nevertheless, since so many of us are having difficulties with time management, I will risk saying it. Yes, time, similar to money, can be ‘invested’ and can be ‘spent’. We can even ‘save’ it, but time saved can’t be accumulated the way we accumulate money in a bank savings account or potatoes in the cellar. We can’t store it and keep it for later use. We can’t borrow it and return it later. That is impossible! We use it or lose it. All depends on our priorities. We also know that there is a limit to how much time we have in our lives. Death is that powerful and inevitable ‘limiter’. Each time I encounter the death of someone I know, I am reminded of the well-known expression “memento mori,” which is most often translated to English as “remember that you are mortal.” The Polish version is more powerful and more to the point: “remember about death.”

I am writing this not only because death recently took my friend away — as some of you learned from my previous post A Friendship Tale of Love and Work. Also, since I returned to Tucson from Cape Cod, I have felt squashed in time — like one of those sardines squeezed in space among other sardines in their characteristic flat can (which is so hard to open when the ring comes off the lid accidentally). For me, no image other than a can of sardines illustrates better that tightness of space which I ‘translated’ here into tightness of time.

That ‘sardine’ feeling got me into some kind of panic lately. I could not focus, I could not sleep, I felt overwhelmed and anxious. I decided to find a remedy for it. Drinking wine would not do! I went to the Barnes and Noble bookstore to wander there as I usually do when in crisis. And as in most cases of my wandering time in a bookstore, I found what I was looking for.

After twenty minutes spent among ‘how to’ books on the subject of managing time, and then reminding myself that I already have at home a much more interesting book about it, I went to the music section. A few jazz CDs caught my attention, but after listening to them, I was still not ready to buy. Then I stumbled onto the CDs of Chris Botti. His Slowing Down the World grabbed me. “What a perfect title!” I thought. I bought it without any hesitation, ran back home to listen to it and have that glass of wine.

Cover image from Chris Botti's CD "Slowing Down the World"I‘m constantly reminded of a sense of social acceleration — we move faster every day. From air travel to the speed of information, at times it seems as though our awareness of ourselves and each other can suffer. Music is one of the few things that brings me back to my center — that calmer place amidst the distractions.  Chris Botti

The record is ten years old, but Botti’s concerns about time resonate with me. I also like his photo (from that time) — his calm and thoughtful face is very attractive. That evening Botti’s delicate trumpet playing delighted me and one of the songs with Sting (I like Sting a lot) surprised me. Every composition was soothing and comforting. The entire CD worked like a band-aid. I know I may feel different later, perhaps even bored with it, but for now it affects me the way Botti intended. His music works — it slows me down.

Cover image from Robert Grudin's book "Time and the Art of Living"That evening I also found the book I mentioned above — Time and the Art of Living by Robert Grudin. The book was sitting on the bookshelf among other books, and like them, waiting for the right moment to be picked up, to share its wisdom and interesting ideas — like a trusted friend ready for a good conversation.

We consult troops of specialists on the question of how to live, when memory alone heard with common sense and compassion, will tell us most what we need to know. Robert Grudin

Both of my findings that evening — the music that Botti created ten years ago and the rediscovery of Grudin’s writings (I’ve had that book fifteen years!) — are marked with time, yet they are timeless as our concern with time itself.

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Copyright © 2010 by Alicja Mann

A Friendship Tale of Love and Work

October 5, 2010

On the shelf above the desk in my Tucson studio stands a little pale blue framed square picture of Pooh and Piglet walking side by side. The writing on the frame reads:

“We’ll be Friends forever, won’t we, Pooh?” asked Piglet. “Even longer,” Pooh answered.

I received this little picture from my friend Nancy Benoit quite a few years ago while I still lived in Massachusetts.

‘Forever’ means in perpetuity, an eternity. In a relationship of two persons it is a promise to stay in that relationship as long as one lives. When one person dies, the relationship in the real world ends for that person. The forever and “even longer” has to be carried by the one who is still alive.

On Sunday, September 26, just two days after my return from Cape Cod to Tucson, a phone call from Ray, Nancy’s husband, had the sound of tolling bells. And indeed Nancy Louise Benoit died at her Auburn (Massachusetts) home that morning. Knowing about Nancy’s tragic health issues and her struggles with them for quite a long time, I was not surprised by such sad news. I should have been ready for it, but I was not! I guess one never is….

Nancy Louise Benoit

Nancy and I met on Cape Cod as two young mothers – one baby each – about a year after my arrival in this country. We met when I responded to her ad in a local paper. She was giving away a bicycle and I needed one. That day I became the owner of a terrific, fat-tired, one-speed bike. Later I learned that the bike was of importance to her and that is why she did not want to sell it, but “to give it to the right person.”

We “clicked” that day as some people do when they feel some form of kinship.  We lived nearby, were ecstatic about our babies while at the same time a bit overwhelmed by having them. Since neither of us worked professionally at that time, we could arrange our “tea times” relatively easily. On such days we would have a good talk, exchange recipes, and share our notes about children while they played together in the back yard. The seed of our friendship germinated and became a little seedling that year.

Very dynamic times arrived for both families. The Benoits moved out of the Cape to Auburn (about 90 miles away). I went back to work in science.  Later both of us became mothers again. We were busy with building our homes. Still, we kept in touch, but saw each other rarely. So the seedling of our friendship was growing very slowly. The difficult time of my divorce and single motherhood enlivened its growth greatly. Nancy stood strongly behind me and we visited each other more often again.  The seedling became a larger and stronger plant.

Most relationships have some stormy times and so did ours. Actually, we almost killed that plant of friendship, but the plant was smart and went dormant for a long eight years. When it was awakened again, I was an established writer on the Cape and getting ready to enter the world of books. Nancy was writing for and editing a local paper in her corner of Massachusetts. When I decided to publish the book Son of Mashpee, I needed an editor and an excellent one. So I proposed that assignment to Nancy. She accepted and from that time our friendship plant grew like crazy – in height, in width, and in depth. It grew through our hard work together and through long, intimate, middle-of-the-night conversations.  We found great allies in telephones and computers. The distance between Falmouth and Auburn suddenly shrank. We met often – for working in person, for the celebrations of our finished projects, and just for fun. Those were the best and the happiest times of our friendship!

Ray and Nancy Benoit Nancy and Ray Benoit at the door of Alicja’s studio guarded well by Mr. Einstein

My moving to Tucson did not change the dynamics of our work relationship or the personal one. We learned to deal with the huge distance between Massachusetts and Arizona. I was also spending my summers on the Cape and we could see each other once in a while.  But the clouds of Nancy’s unkind fate were coming our way. Still, we threw ourselves into a project of putting together my book of essays. It took longer than we expected with major interruptions by my emergency travels to Poland. As a result we ran that final stage of the project depleted of energy – I by my mother’s death and Nancy by her own health issues. In spite of it all, and thanks to our stubbornness (both of us being Taurus), we finished that race on time and with kudos for the book. Looking at the World Twice would never have seen daylight without Nancy’s perseverance and dedication.

You can see why my most vivid memories of Nancy will be always connected to our work on editing and polishing the words endlessly. And there is some humor in that as well. The process of book editing was long and complex. It went as follows. The file for Nancy’s editing was labeled by me as READY.  Then after her work on it I would receive it back as FINAL, but it was not. A discussion of various details was ahead for us. After that the file would be labeled as ALMOST DONE and I knew that more discussions, especially about placing commas, would follow. Then, after receiving the file marked as DONE, you might think that it would be ready for publishing. Wrong! There was always something more Nancy found in need of correction. Only a file marked by her as DONE DONE could face the world! I truly loved that attention to detail in her work. Now, after Nancy’s departure, I have to carry the flag of DONE DONE excellence – all by myself.

Nancy Benoit and Alicja Mann in Word Studio Nancy and Alicja at work

“We’ll be Friends forever, won’t we?

“Yes, even longer.”

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Copyright © 2010 by Alicja Mann


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