I stopped seeing time as rigidly linear long ago. Maybe it was when my dad decided to read us Einstein’s Theory of Relativity before bed in Costa Rica. Or noticing how, as I got older, the years seemed to accelerate, a swiftly sneaking whiplash. Whatever the reason, my current conception of time is pretty analagous to that lava lamp goo: sometimes stretching, sometimes contracting, ever maleable, always moving. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten better at manipulating time, more conscious of the ways that I’ve let it manipulate me.
At its worst, I allow time to take hold of me and shake me limp. Synonym: procrastination. I allow the paper to go unstarted for too long, because as long as I haven’t started it yet, it retains the perfection as represented in my brain. And oh how I dread the inevitable plummet from perfection as fingertips tip-tap their opening strokes. And so, I delicately place the idea for the paper in the display case of my mind, perfect and unformed, like a catarpillar in its chrysalis when all the cells are nothing but a mush of pure blissful potential. And then, at the very last minute, I have no choice but to dive into the mush, and then must swim so fast I haven’t time to think of perfection, keeping my eyes fixated on the closing gap between my progress and a hand-in-able word count. Far too often, I must cut short the gestation of a would-have-been-beautiful butterfly, forced by the time I let control me, whose pressure I used to propel me, to fling out hapless butterfly preemies before the rainbows on their wings could form, or their tiny brains develop. I am both the victim and the perpetrator, freed by the time crunch … but also chained. In the throes of an episode, I feel as though I have no choice, and yet, I really always did, just never had the will to take it.
This is a nasty cycle at Wellesley. In Chile, though, I decided to break it up a bit. I studiously avoided all responsibilities besides my university courses. While I went to plenty of exercise and drumming classes, I could always skip if I wanted and no one could make a fuss. At the beginning, I didn’t have any friends here. And so, for the first time in what felt like forever, I had time to think. I had time to walk for hours around the city, discovering hidden staircases, street art and stray dogs. I had time to spend 2 hours at lunch and another hour during onces chatting with my host parents. I had time to start my final papers a month or two early and really dig into my readings. As I stopped asking so much of my time, it started giving back much more to me. It slowed. I began remembering better the things that had been happening to me, the narrative of my life, allowing myself to relive things instead of having always to hustle forward and not look back. As the semester drifted into summer and what few responsibilities I had dropped away, time slowed to a deliciously meditative crawl.
In this slowness, my mind unfurled. I wrote and wrote and wrote, processing and reanalyzing and making sense of the ways that I had been in the past year. Sometimes it would be for 2 or 3 hours at a time, scribbling with the boundless energy of thoughts finally freed. I realized that I had been living that feeling you get when you step off the treadmill and walking suddenly makes the world rush at you, and I hadn’t enjoyed it that much.
I came to realize, too, the story that I had been telling with my time. And I didn’t like that story, much, either. You know how they always say that time is money? Well, in reality, time is the currency of our values. In the US, perhaps, since we value money so highly, our time really is money, because that’s the only thing we know to do with it. But it doesn’t have to be that way. For Zelita, my friend’s grandmother in Brazil, time was loving in delicious food, hugs and a clean house. For María Alicia, time is love for her grandchildren as she knits yet another adorable sweater, or relationships as she grabs coffee with her best friend and chats with her daughter on the phone thrice a day. Their time, unlike in the US, could be measured in magic pennies.
In the past, I’ve trafficked in stress, in a manufactured sense of duty and responsibility. I’ve let self-imposed shoulds take the place of wants and loves. My time has told a tale rich in resume building and attempted adult pleasing that lacked a coherent storyline because it lacked the essence of me. This semester, though, has been different. I commented to my host mom today how lovely it was to just run into people and have a bunch of little mini conversations as I went about doing errands and going to classes, and how I didn’t remember that happening last semester. She smiled and said that maybe it was because I was more relaxed. And I think it’s true. Instead of feeling like I have to always be in control and Moving Forward (see my theory of me post for more on that), I am letting the moment dictate more how I act. I am trying to trust that, basically, on average, what I actually want to do now will align with my current friends+studying+adventuring trajectory, which will align with my values. I have spent so much time in the past two weeks, heck, couple of months, writing, listening, sleeping, being active, just plain being. As a result, smile a lot when I walk around. I am falling out of love with being distinctly disenchanted by my body and how it moves. I make lists of my close friends and wonder what on earth made me lucky enough to have such a wealth of caring, wonderful people in my life.
In essence, I am making a present to myself of my own time. And just like with those magic pennies, as I slow myself down, the time I have feels like more, not just because it’s stretched out like that lava lamp goo, but because what I’m doing with it means more to me, too.
On my Facebook post for this post, a friend commented this article from the NY Times Online, which I found incredibly insightful, and a good complement.