Here we are at the very end of January and I’m only now getting to the first journal entry of the new year. It’s been a full month since my last post, and I feel guilty. I hate missing a deadline, even if it is self-imposed. I could say that I don’t know where the time has gone, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. I know it’s been spent cleaning out, getting organized, doing paperwork, regrouping, and yes, at least preparing to “have fun.”
In a recent essay in The New York Times, writer Alan Burdick (It’s Been a Year of This? 1/21//18) talks about the fungibility of time, how it drags when you are bored or fearful or sad — such as in this era of the Trump administration — or how it flies when you are happy or engaged or productive —such as in this era of the Trump administration. Curiously, even involvement in fervid political activism can qualify as “fun” if you are really into it (depending, of course, on how you define fun).
Anyway, my personal description of the last few months has been that the days seemed long, but the weeks and months flew by. That description is not completely incompatible with the standard psychological trope: time slows down when you are agonizingly conscious of it, such as at a boring lecture or involved in a tedious conversation, but it “flies” when you are fully absorbed and occupied, even if you are not exactly “having fun.” Days full of stress and anxiety may feel excruciatingly long, but when those days add up in chores accomplished, objectives reached, and goals achieved (such as handling my Mother’s affairs, getting her relocated, and recovering from a hurricane), then you somehow feel that time has, indeed, flown by. “Fun” is beside the point.
But not always. This month I had dear friends here to visit for a week. It is a given that stressors can be both positive and negative, and that even happy occasions can create stress, especially when it comes to entertaining guests: the planning, the cleaning, the cooking, the work of preparation. An additional stressor for our week was the absolutely terrible weather that San Antonio experienced during their visit: snow, sleet, ice, rain, mist, and freezing temperatures. On the day one of my friends arrived at the airport, the entire city was shut down. (Good thing I am confident, even if stressed, about driving in snow and ice.) But, we had plenty of food and wine in the house, and our own good company, so even though some of our plans had to be adjusted, we did have fun. We talked and laughed and enjoyed each other, rejuvenated our relationships and set a date for our next get-together.
During that week, time flew because I was not aware of it. I was happy and busy, “in the flow” of friendship, much as I am “in the flow” when working on my art quilts or my writing. The conscious suspension of time happens not only in creative pursuits, however, but also in moments of ordinary everyday pleasures. Something as simple as reading a book, hugging the dog, or walking in the sunshine can offer moments of pure contentment, even joy. We just have to be quiet long enough to let ourselves enjoy those moments, to be present in them and be grateful for them. The experience of time flying is generally an indicator of good mental health and emotional stability, though we may not always recognize it as such until it’s behind us.
Ultimately, time slows down because you are painfully aware of the waste of it; likewise, it speeds fast forward when you are NOT counting the minutes and hours. It may seem counterintuitive but, even when engaged in unpleasant activities, time will accelerate because you are totally occupied. While that may not be remembered in retrospect as one of life’s happier periods, it is still better and more productive to tackle difficulties head on than to sit and sulk and count each dreadful day.
Now that we are over the hump of January and all the feigned optimism and good wishes that a new year inevitably brings, I am looking ahead to 2018 with a more realistic attitude, even a somewhat selfish one. Yes, I still have to face some of those mundane chores of another year, banking and taxes and medical appointments, all of which will fritter away time holding on the phone or sitting in doctors’ offices, but I am determined not to deliberately waste my own time — or to let others waste it —on anything that is not absolutely necessary. I have stories to write, art to create, and trips to take. After all, whether it drags or it flies, time is a finite commodity; there are only 24 hours in a day and only so many days in a life. We need to spend what we have wisely, and well, in the interest of our own happiness.
So, are we having fun yet?