Morning clouds

Morning clouds


Morning clouds over Green Lake, Seattle

Morning clouds over Green Lake, Seattle

“The clouds, the clouds, she thought.  Piled and beautiful, they were both indifferent and inviting.  They had that paradox of nature you saw also in the sea, a thing appearing eternal even as it changed every second.”
— Susan Minot, from Thirty Girls

by Wendell Berry

I know I am getting old and I say so,
but I don’t think of myself as an old man.
I think of myself as a young man
with unforseen debilities.  Time is neither
young nor old, but simply new, always
counting, the only apocalypse.  And the clouds
— no mere measure or geometry, no cubism,
can account for clouds or, satisfactorily, for bodies.
There is no science for this, or art either.
Even the old body is new — who has known it
before? — and no sooner new than gone, to be
replaced by a body yet older and again new.
The clouds are rarely absent from our sky
over this humid valley, and there is a sycamore
that I watch as, growing on the riverbank,
it forecloses the horizon, like the years
of an old man.  And you, who are as old
almost as I am, I love as I loved you
young, except that, old, I am astonished
at such a possibility, and am duly grateful.


How to Live on 24 Hours a Day

November 14, 2013

The dawn of a new day

The dawn of a new day

I wish I could take credit for the title of today’s post, but it’s the creation of Arnold Bennett, who wrote a self-help book with this title in 1910.  (The book is available for free download from Project Gutenberg.)

If you have been following my blog, you know that I sometimes lament the lack of time to do all the reading, painting, writing, photography, traveling, etc. that I’d like to.  Well, Bennett has the answer.  The secret is to have something — some meaningful project that cultivates the mind in some way– to look forward to and then take 1-1/2 hours every other evening to work on this endeavor:

“. . . when you have something definite to look forward to at eventide, something that is to employ all your energy — the thought of that something gives a glow and a more intense vitality to the whole day.”

Committing yourself to this project requires an attitude adjustment.  Instead of marginalizing the hours before and after your work day (your outside job), you make your private hours beginning at the end of your work day (say 6 p.m.) to the start of your next work day (say 8 or 9 a.m.) the primary part of your life that you give your fullest energy to.  Then make those 1-1/2 hours every other evening sacred.  Half of those hours should be devoted to careful reflection, serious thinking about what you are learning and doing.  The pace will be slow.  But the accretion of this dedicated time will add up to something important — your growth as an individual.

Bennett has other ideas for finding even more time, for example, using 30 minutes of your commute to focus and think about a single topic.  Quite serendipitously, I just read about this same thing — the benefits of focused reflection and attention — in Brainard Carey’s book, Making It in the Art World where he says:  “Small steps get you very far.  This is the beginning of a big step because if you can get used to managing thirty minutes of your time, five days a week, you can begin to manage other portions of your time as well.”

Bennett warns that failure happens when you try to do too much:  “Most people who are ruined are ruined by attempting too much.”  I have these tendencies myself!

I think Bennett is right in pointing out that there is enough time if we first decide what is most important and then give sustained daily (or every-other-day) effort — in seemingly small increments — to that one thing.  For those of us who are “constantly haunted by a suppressed dissatisfaction with your own arrangement of your daily life,” he says, “the primal cause of that inconvenient dissatisfaction is the feeling that you are every day leaving undone something which you would like to do. . . ”

I have already been taking this piecemeal, but sustained, approach to watercolor painting.  I am slowly learning by trial and error and building a body of work.  It’s validating to hear that this way of working has a history and other champions.  It seems to be working for me.

Early Birds

October 23, 2013

“An hour in the morning is worth two in the afternoon.”
— attributed to William Corbett

We all know about time’s relativity. I dedicate this post to all the morning people.  You know who you are.

Watercolor sketch with quote

Time’s Architecture

October 22, 2013

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean

Time has an architecture and most of its patterns follow the rhythms of Nature.  Our days reflect a single rotation of the Earth.  Our months follow the cycles of the moon.  Our years and their seasonal rhythms synchronize with the revolution of the Earth around the Sun.  But what is a week?

A week is a man-made construct.  Judith Shulevitz, in The Sabbath World, says that “the seven-day week was a by-product of the Jewish Sabbath,” established to mimic the Biblical six days of Creation followed by a seventh day of rest.  A week is a cultural, rather than a biological, phenomenon.

Over the years, I have internalized the week’s rhythms.  In my childhood, we went to church on Sundays, Mom did laundry on Mondays and Fridays, we baked on Saturdays, and we went to school on Mondays through Fridays.  Today my weeks have no such patterns.  I don’t attend church, my work days vary erratically over a 14-day schedule, and I do laundry when I have a full load’s worth of dirty clothes in the hamper.

Time does not feel like it is flowing smoothly these days.  I seem to be mourning the loss of a rhythmic week.

” . . . there is, for each of us, a proper sense of proportion and pace for subjective processes, as there is for walking or breathing; a right rhythm and scale of lived experience — of being-in-the-world — which we need to find for ourselves for the sake of our well-being, and of being well.”
—  Eva Hoffman, Time

What would be the right rhythm and scale for me at this stage of my life, when I still work for a living?  I believe a more optimal scenario would be to work Mondays through Thursdays and have Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays off.  But this isn’t going to happen.  It’s only fair that the “burden” of weekend work at the library be shared more-or-less equally among those of us who work there.  I need to find other ways of coping.

And for me, maybe that means moving away from the architecture of the calendar week.  To focus on each day, day by day, without seeking the structure of larger patterns.  After all, what is important is finding enough creative time, inner time.  And I think I might be able to find it within the rhythms of each singular day.  This will have to be enough.

“But in ordinary life, if we are not to succumb to illness, or fall into the rigidity of thoughtless routine, we need the space (so often equivalent to time) to make sense of what is going on within.  We need to acknowledge the mute motions of our interiority, and catch their drift through reflection or a sort of inner interpretation.  Sometimes we need to pause in order to listen to the inchoate movements of our thoughts and feelings, to let them meander in aimless free association, or crystallize into an unexpected insight.  . . . We need to give time to inner time.”
— Eva Hoffman, Time

It does seem as if the week is on its way to becoming obsolete, at least for me.  So many retail and service businesses are open on Sundays, and that means lots of people work on weekends.  Do they feel out of synch with American culture, too?   And how do retired people cope and shape the architecture of their time now that it is no longer constrained by the demands of work schedule?  It’s interesting to think about.

“How lost do you have to be to forget which day it is?”
— Judith Shulevitz, The Sabbath World

Disappearing into the distance, into the fog.  Skagit Valley in October.

Disappearing into the distance, into the fog. Skagit Valley in October.

The other day as my husband walked out the door to start his day, I reminded him that we would not have a DVD movie to watch that evening.  But instead he could watch Monday night football.  He gave me a quizzical look and said, “It’s not Monday.  It’s Saturday.”

Oh, my.

This is the life I grapple with.  My library job, like so many in the retail and service sectors, is a seven-day-a-week affair.  That means I work every other weekend and have my days off sprinkled across a work schedule that repeats every 14 days. It’s an irregular, fragmented life, and I just can’t seem to get into a smooth rhythm.

Is it any wonder that I’m feeling discombobulated?  I can see this is truly not just my own private issue, but a public one.  “Shift work, it is now clear, disrupts circadian rhythms, fosters insomnia, and induces inattentiveness, memory loss, and depression, especially when the shifts are irregular.”  (Judith Shulevitz, The Sabbath World)

One of the biggest challenges presented by my personal time patterns is sustaining any momentum with my painting.  I am doing a pretty good job making painting a top priority on my days off work, but those days occur so irregularly.  It’s frustrating, but I do the best I can for now.

“The abnormal effort necessary to produce a true piece of work is not an effort that can be diverted or divided.”
– Jeanette Winterson, Art [Objects]:  Essays in Ecstasy and Effrontery

“. . . haste is the enemy of art.  Art, in its making and in its enjoying, demands long tracts of time.” (ibid.)

“With a moment snatched here and there, it’s hard to achieve that feeling of being in the swing of something, the self-forgetfulness that psychologists call flow.”
— Judith Shulevitz, The Sabbath World

I know I am in good company with my struggles.  Mason Curry’s book, Daily Rituals:  How Artists Work explores how artists make time each day to be creative and how some earn a living while making art.  One of the blogs I follow, Gwarlingo, posted an excellent review of this book here.  It’s worth a look.

Where Does the Time Go?

December 28, 2011

” . . . the morning was almost over.  For Isabel, the watershed was always eleven-thirty; that was the point at which if nothing was achieved, then nothing would be . . . ”
— Alexander McCall Smith, The Forgotten Affairs of Youth

Late morning, time passing

The days seem to pass so much more quickly when I am at home than when I am at work, and more so in winter, when our Seattle days last not quite 8-1/2 hours.  The sun will rise today at 7:57 a.m. and will set at 4:25 p.m.

It sometimes makes me anxious when I see the minutes slipping by and I’m not getting done what I had hoped.  Where does the time go?


“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.  I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is.  Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Watery reflections

The finite and the infinite — our lives are but a shallow dip in the endless streaming of Eternity.  We wish we could anchor ourselves for a longer stay, but the tides of time will ultimately triumph.  We will all die.

I’ve pretty much reconciled myself to my death and the fact that there will likely be no lasting memory of my time on Earth even a generation after I am gone.  Not even a light footprint.  And that’s okay.  I will be subsumed back into Nature, which is eternal.  My atoms will survive in a new form.

“As for man, his days are like grass:
He flourishes like a flower in the field;
The wind blows over it and is gone,
And its place remembers it no more.”
— Psalm 103: 15 – 16

“Surely human insignificance is at least as much of a mystery as human existence.”
— David Rieff, Swimming in a Sea of Death

“I bequeath myself to the dirt
to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look
for me under your boot-soles.”
— Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

“To end with nothing is something.”
— Suvan Geer

“. . . from generation to generation, the earth abides.  We are the earth, we come from the earth, and to the earth we return.  The earth abides.”
— Richard Quinney, Once Again the Wonder


” . . . the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden

At day's end: watch, keys, and pocket change on the mantle

I rather like the way Thoreau values his time more than money.  His definition of wealth is how much free time is left after his basic needs have been met.  And one way to maximize his personal time is to pare his material needs to the bare minimum:  “I make myself rich by making my wants few.”

I am comfortable living a frugal life most of the time.  My parents set the example of living within one’s means, raising nine kids on a small farm.  I never saw them use a credit card.  Thoreau’s way of life seems especially appropriate for weathering today’s tough economic times.

“Security to me is not what we have, but what we can do without.”
— quote from Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel

“Cannot people realize how large an income is thrift?”
— Cicero

Living life content with small means can be liberating — you’re free from the stress of burdensome debt, high maintenance costs, and the dissatisfactions of needing the latest thing advertised on T.V.  You can craft of your life a symphony, in the words of William Henry Channing:

“To live life with small means;
To seek elegance rather than luxury,
and refinement rather than fashion;
To be worthy, not respectable,
and wealthy, not rich;
To study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly;
To listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart;
To bear all cheerfully,
Do all bravely,
Await occasions, hurry never.
In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony.”



The Luxury of Time

May 13, 2011

A Different Kind of Luxury

I work in a library and see hundreds of books every day.  I read more books than anyone else I know.  So when I say that A Different Kind of Luxury:  Japanese Lessons in Simple Living and Inner Abundance by Andy Couturier is the best book I’ve read all year, you should know that this recommendation does not come lightly.

Couturier introduces us to 11 Japanese artists and farmers who have consciously chosen a rural life of little money.  They’ve resisted the cultural pressures to conform to lives with salaried jobs (and this pressure is intense in Japan), and have fashioned instead lives grounded in nature, with space for their imaginations and philosophic thoughts, incredibly rich in time and inner satisfactions.

I was impressed with how many hats these individuals wear — farmers, teachers, artists, potters, community activists, musicians, parents, etc.  and yet their lives are “suffused in timelessness, in an endless present.”  Slow, but rich.

Couturier says, “Time is what we have in this life, and how we use it determines what our life is.  Why is it that so many people start to value money so much that they trade in most of the hours and years of their life in order to get it?”

Gufu Watanabe, diarist, illustrator, farmer, botanist, and potter says, “It is important to me to be someone who has time . . . There’s a term we have in Japanese, furyu:  the characters are ‘wind’ and ‘flow.’  Someone with furyu has time to write haiku, or can appreciate flowers, and they have space in their emotions to look at the moon or the stars.  They’re not too busy working or making money.  Those people who don’t have furyu are not full people.”

These people interviewed for this book often choose to do work manually rather than buy modern conveniences, because “convenience just speeds you up,” says Asha Amemiya, farmer, textile artist, author and illustrator.  Couturier says, “A craftsperson’s job is half meditation, half creation.  It takes creativity to design whatever you are working on, but it takes meditation to do it right.  Making things with one’s own hands cultivates a certain generosity and openness of the heart.  It nourishes that state of mind in the craftsperson themselves, which is intimately connected with an entire way of life.”

I savored reading these intimate portraits.  It is inspiring to read about people who have chosen to live such unconventional lives.  Their words resonate with me, especially in this year when I am thinking about the lessons of Thoreau’s experiment at Walden Pond.

I’ll leave you with the words of Osamu Nakamura, woodblock artist, handmade bookbinder, cook and traveler: “Doing nothing all day — it’s difficult at first.  Being busy is a habit, and a hard one to break.”