Time Matters

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

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2 Comments on “Time Matters”

  1. Marina Says:

    Oh, Alicja, I always delight in reading what you have to say, and right now, this blog seems to be my favorite one yet. The subject is so relatable, but perhaps I relate to it even more, because of those words that you used: “panic,” “overwhelmed,” “anxious.” That’s my territory!

    As a music lover, I was right there with you as you recounted the trip to Barnes and Noble –finding Botti’s CD, the meaningful title, his words on the package, the immediate commitment to purchasing it and the fact that it did fulfill its mission by relaxing you and helping you to slow down.

    When you wrote about pulling Grudin’s book off the shelf, it made me think about how often I have opened a book, read a passage, and made the comparison to having an encounter with a friend, so I particularly enjoyed reading of your similar experience.

    I also want to say that I appreciate the nuances of expression provided by your sprinklings of Polish with translations, and hope to continue to see those references in your future writings.

    As you moved from feeling distressed to slowing down and enriching your spirit, the writing evoked the province of living well. I have always considered you somewhat of a maestro of this realm, and to dwell in it with you, via your writing, is always a treat!

  2. Jennifer Richardson Says:

    What a wonderful topic to write on. I, like so many others, find myself running around, worrying and feeling stressed over completing everything I’ve set out to do by the end of each day. When I look at the clock and read 7:00PM I find myself nervous and reviewing my day in an attempt to tell myself I’ve made the most of my time while repressing regrets for all the additional things I could have done. I don’t know why the world seems to collectively run at this unsustainable pace. Instead of congratulating myself for nearing the completion of my college degree, I criticize myself for not having finished sooner. I do believe gaining a better awareness of stress and time management may help. So thank you, for this post and asking me to stop and consider the way I am living.

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