Thursday, January 13, 2011

And If Not Now, When?

To get to the Red Bull's chamber, you have to walk through time. A clock isn't time; it's just numbers and springs. Pay it no mind.

~ The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Time is a funny thing. A fourth dimension that either lasts for ages or speeds by us in a few twitches of a cat’s tail. We take it for granted when it’s plentiful and hoard it when it’s not, guarding each precious second like some tangible nugget that we can use to haggle with the gods.

“I’ll do this right now, and get it out of the way, and that way I’ll have more time to do something else, later on.” Of course, later on may never come. Or something else may happen and then all that careful planning goes out the window. Carpe diem, as they say.

According to Wikipedia:

In Horace, the phrase is part of the longer Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero – "Seize the Day, putting as little trust as possible in the future", and the ode says that the future is unforeseen, and that instead one should scale back one's hopes to a brief future, and drink one's wine. 

Such a fine line between living moment to moment and planning for the future.

I ran into this post from a fellow author yesterday and it struck me rather hard, hence the moroseness of this post. I have not read her work, though I will do so now. It seems the least I can do, after all.

I will admit I think about what it would be like for myself in this position sometimes. My mother died of cancer, as did her mother. (Both of them before age 55. Both of them from lung cancer.) This fact looms over me like some wretched pendulum. I feel like I'm just waiting for it to swing back one day with my own diagnosis of no return.

In this case, it seems as though time becomes a trickster, taunting us with a terrible choice of trying to hold on for every last second allowed to us in return for what might very well be a painful end. I watched it happen with my parents; all that careful planning they had mapped out for their future withered and died in a matter of months.

It shadows me and I can't help but wonder how terrible it must be to stare over the brink of the abyss and realize that time is up. There are no more bargains. As a writer, it's distressing on a completely different level. What would I do with all those stories I want to tell? Internally it's sort of incomprehensible to realize that I may not have the chance to get it all out there.

It's part of the reason why I write now, I think. Call it an urge to leave some facet of my existence behind. Photos and memories fade, but words stay the same, no matter how many times they are read.

I know for myself that the less concerned I am with time, the less it affects me. It’s actually sort of refreshing to have the battery in my watch die. For a few brief days I constantly find myself staring at my empty wrist and eventually I stop looking at it at all. And the days *do* seem to slow down for a bit, though eventually I’ll get a new battery and things start back up again.

I suppose I could just stop wearing one all together, but it is my mother’s watch and I’m not ready to give that up just yet, though the memories slide through my fingers like water through a sieve.

But that's all I've got.


  1. Beautiful post, AP. It's so important not to wait for everything to arrive, to be brave and do now what you could put off for the future. It's not an easy thing, but it's an important one.

    I know, for me, time is often like a ticking bomb in my head of all the things I planned to finish by a certain point in my life, or it flashes in my mind as a timeline of my past, marking the time that's passed and thrusting me back to the rawness of whatever the event may be. It's not a good way to consider time, let me tell you! It doesn't accomplish anything and you risk never making the things happen that mean so much to you.

  2. *throat is tight*

    When someone asked why my hubby would quit his job now, why we would travel in a 24' camper across the country with destinations unknown and unplanned. Why I would give up a house and home base, IRL friends and familiar faces...

    How can I not? Today the opportunity is there. Tomorrow is not gaurenteed, so I'll take the minor inconveniences of writing on my laptop in the vehicle as we travel to make this dream come true while we have the chance.

  3. Mmm. I love that Peter S. Beagle quote. He's one of my literary heroes.

    Time is strange stuff, especially when distilling it to a human lifetime. I read a book not too long ago about the Fates measuring the threads of our lives and then snipping them when it was over. Because they controlled time and would not speak of what they knew, even Zeus feared them.

    Someday, we all will hear that snip of the scissors. I know that I'll leave a lot of things undone. But I think that it's better to have many ambitions with some unfulfilled than to have none at all.

  4. There's another way to come at this. We're all of us under a death sentence. None of us knows when. We just know that no matter how perfect, nice, or well-liked we are, we have a date with death. So get out there. DO stuff. Experience. Viv, I love that you're out there traveling! My dh and I got the boat bought - but fear won't let him release his grip on what society says he ought to have: a job, respectability, stability - he's not a *man* if he doesn't have those things! So we stay tethered to the dock by fear as much as by mooring lines. At what point does fear become synonymous with death? Maybe right here - my internal editor just sat up and went You can't post that! So I deleted it. And then decided I was tired of playing it safe for today, damn it. Control Z to the rescue. We all know we have limited time. I plan to my grave kicking and screaming that I still have so much I want to do, rather than sinking quietly into myself as afraid to live as I am to die while the clock ticks my life away.

  5. Excellent post. There's so much to consider and think on, and in the comments, too. You've all given me much to ponder.

  6. Beautiful post.
    I've had people slip away from me long before you think they will and know the importance of doing the stuff you love now instead of later.
    One of my favourite Dutch bands (Klein Orkest)has a couple of great songs about this subject. One of them is my moto: 'Later is al lang begonnen' (= Later has already started)

  7. Allison, lovely and brave post.
    Marcella - I'm so glad you put back in what you deleted. Many of us deal with that conflict between wanting to leave free and large, and feeling trapped by the desire for safety.

    Marvell is always whispering in the back of my head: "But at my back I always hear
    Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
    And yonder all before us lie
    Deserts of vast eternity."

    I too have lost people that I loved - suddenly, and without warning. One day they were here with me, and the next, they had moved on. Only one of them had finished everything they wanted to do - and yet all of them have left a legacy that has changed the world and made it better because they were here.

    I guess when it comes down to it, I believe we all have an allotted amount of time, and when it's up, it's up. We don't get to know when that is. But - I'd like to think the adventures don't stop with death, either. Don't have the exact quote, but I love the moment in Harry Potter where Dumbledore says something like "to the well adjusted mind, Death is just the next great adventure."

  8. "The Last Unicorn" made me bawl as a child. The ferocious red bull of fire trapping all those unicorns beneath the sea and there I sat utterly unable to help them find their HEA.

    When it comes to death, I'm usually thankful that the dead have been released from the dying. I find the pain of their absence easier to endure because of a notion very similar to Kerry's Dumbledore quote.

    Seize the Day, Drink Your Wine. I'm totally on board with that.

  9. I love Marcella's take - hell if we should stay tied up to the dock! Bring on the wine and the tradewinds!