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Taming Time

by Tim Thornton

Perversely, after cutting days into these cookie-cutter shapes, we scheduled society way outside those boundaries. It began, I suppose, with electric light. When we could stretch day way into darkness, a great darkness dawned. Now it's a 24-7 world.

Remember blue laws? Remember when 7-Eleven stores really were open from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. — and people thought that was really convenient? Now grocery stores and discount stores regularly run around the clock. It seems downright anti-capitalistic and un-American not to. The city that never sleeps has annexed most of the country. Every second counts. The cigarette lighter in a car's dash used to be a device for lighting cigarettes. Now it's just another place to plug in a laptop or recharge a cell phone. Cars come with entertainment centers and cup holders because we live in them, hustling from one appointment to another. Got to keep moving. Dog eat dog. Time to go.

If you want to get something done, the old saying goes, find a busy person to do it. They know how to schedule, how to prioritize. They know time management. That's the old saying. But are we really managing time, or has our artificial creation — like Mary Shelley's fictional monster — become completely unmanageable? We've corralled time, but I don't think we've tamed it.

I used to write columns for little newspapers, so I was always scavenging for material, anything that might be hammered into 800 to 1,000 words of pseudo-enlightenment or semiamusement. Newspaper stories, magazine articles, snippets of conversation. Notes and clippings and tapes. I still have drawers stuffed with the stuff. Sometime in the early 1990s, I taped a radio show. A few months later, I taped a television show. They were both about time. I still haven't had time to turn them into a column. I haven't even had time to play them back.

I'm a busy guy. A job that requires some travel, some weekends, some nights. Two kids, five pets, one wife. A 100-year-old house that needs 90 years of maintenance. A yard that's filled with flowers and trees and moles and mice and rabbits and the neighbors' chickens. Three vehicles that have collectively traveled nearly half a million miles. These things take time. Throw in a little civic duty, a little church-going, a little of that lifelong learning educators tell us we must have if we're to keep them and ourselves employed and you have a pretty full day.

Younger people with fewer visible responsibilities ask me how I do it.

Poorly, I tell them.

I'm not as bad about this stuff as my father-in-law is. He's retired. Twice. Works like a dog.

The night before he went into the hospital for an operation to cut out what doctors thought was cancer, he stayed up late to do some renovations in the family room. Another time, when he shattered his heel and the doctors told him to stay off his feet except to go to the bathroom, he propped his cast up on the cowl of his riding mower so he could keep the lawn in shape.

I think I got my strain of the virus from my father. We used to have a little place at the lake, a lot in a campground, rented by the year. We'd drive down, unpack things, set up camp — and Dad would do a little yard work, maybe some repairs or improvements on the camping trailer. Nothing like a little work on the weekend to wind down from the workweek, I guess.

I remember him holding two full-time jobs and adding a bedroom onto the house in his spare time.

For me, the overscheduling started fairly early. In high school I'd get up before the sun so I'd have time to go running and feed my cousin's horses and cattle before school. Then I'd go to class, go to work out with the football team, go to track practice, go to baseball practice, go to play practice, go to garage band practice. One summer, I did the running, the livestock, the band, attended two-a-day football practices and held down two part-time jobs. Slept about four hours each night. I subscribed to the philosophy in Warren Zevon's song, "I'll sleep when I'm dead."

Hubert Humphrey used to say that his father had died in his sleep and his father's father had died in his sleep. So Hubert tried to stay out of bed as much as possible.

Made sense to me.

But lately I've developed doubts about the way I spend the time I spend outside my bed. The doubts began when my father — the guy who taught me that a hot summer day spent with a hoe and a long summer evening spent shelling beans are recreation — told me I should devote more time to enjoying life. The doubts grew when I realized that my 7-year-old's shouts of, "Daddy, you're here!" seemed to have as much surprise as joy in them.

I really should slow down a bit. And I will. I have two uncles who died when they were not much older than I am now. One died younger. I need to slow down and enjoy life this minute, while I still have this minute to enjoy. And I'm going to do it.

As soon as these two classes are over; as soon as those three projects at work are finished; as soon as I write those travel stories I promised to that editor in North Carolina; that very minute I'm going to slow down.

No, really. I am. S

Tim Thornton is a writer who lives in Southwest Virginia

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.


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