thoughts on time

The thing I've wrestled with the most this semester is, not surprisingly, time. I feel like I've been struggling with time in various ways for years -- not my whole life, exactly, although a few key scenes from the past do stand out. Certainly by my mid20s I was frequently finding myself morassed in indecision when I had too much flexibility in my schedule, and feeling oppressed when I had too much constraint.

Of course, time itself is actually never the problem. It doesn't actually change. My perceptions of it, my stories about it, my ways of dealing with it are what I can change. And that's what I've been working on a lot this semester.

I've realized that at least one little piece of the problem has probably been with me for a long time, because I hear these phrases all the time from Elderly Parent: "the day's half over already," "there's never enough time" or "I don't know where the time goes." And I catch my own mind saying those and similar things too. I've probably been running those mental loops for most of my life, since that was certainly very familiar in my childhood.

Even when I know it's literally untrue to say that the day is half over (when it is only 11:00 a.m., for example) (or when the start and endpoints of the day are up to me to determine), that feeling is a horrible one. To feel the substance of the day slipping out from underneath you like sand.

At this moment, distant from the mind that thinks and says those things, I can see that such a feeling is just a form of self-criticism masquerading as a fact -- which makes it all the trickier to rout out. Because what it really means is that if one had gotten up with the early birds and been of righteous character, I would have already written 10 pages and cleaned the house and run 10 miles and five other virtuous things by 11:00 a.m. , instead of doing whatever it is I usually have done by that point in the day. I don't exactly know where my inner Benjamin Franklin came from, because I wasn't raised that way (if only I had been, maybe I'd have more discipline now, right?). I had one parent who woke up early and was the industrious bird, and one who woke up late but worked most of the night. And I mostly remember being left to figure this stuff out on my own.

Part of the difficulty is that I don't have a particularly strong pull towards any time of the day. I like to stay up late but I also like to get up early. I could do without early afternoon, maybe, but that's not a very useful chunk of the day to dispense with. Time management gurus tell you to experiment and discover your inner rhythms, but I have very little sense of when my optimal work zone is, because I've done good work at almost every time of the day (but too often at no time of the day). I probably work better at off hours, when I feel less distracted by other things; but I also have a strong desire to conform to normative hours for waking, working, and sleeping so as not to feel totally out of sync with the world. And I've learned that it's best for managing my mental health to get up fairly early, preferably near sunrise. I just dislike going to bed early enough to make that an easy lifestyle choice. So then I'm virtuous during the week, or for a few days, and then have to catch up on sleep. Which isn't the healthiest approach.

You'd think that having several months in which to experiment with all this, I'd have been able to mastermind a perfect system. But I feel pretty far from that. Especially right now, when I'm in some weird leave-holiday transition time that doesn't have very clear boundaries. Am I squeezing out the last few days of my research leave? or am I easing into a few days of vacation? Can I do both?

This week's affirmation is one I've used a lot this semester in an effort to counter the inner carping critic: I have plenty of time. I have plenty of time. I have plenty of time. Because time doesn't change and I might as well try to feel open and bountiful and generous about it, instead of miserly and anxious.