Time, the clocks and the lies they tell

I stopped wearing a watch almost 20 years ago. The one I loved broke and I never found one I liked to replace it with.

It turns out you can live by the clock without wearing one on your wrist – your car probably has one, now you carry a phone that knows what time it is better than you ever could. Banks like to put big clocks on their buildings, probably because their livelihood depends on your timed labor. My friends and supervisors might say that this explains my supposed tardiness, but that’s no different pre-watch or post.

The tyranny of the clock has felt worse in a COVID-dominated world. It was the only thing that seemed to move from one moment to the next for those of us in lock-down. It seemed to be describing so much more time that there used to be in a day, and less to fill it with. Combine that with work that was less about when I started and stopped and more about getting things done on any given day, and evenings that were indistinguishable from work hours, and I was going a bit nuts there for a while.

I started doing puzzles, one right after another. Finally, I’d found something that pulled my attention away from the minutes ticking away, telling me how many I’d used up and how few I might have left to exist in. I measured time by the image taking shape and the ache in my back from being hunched over so long. It helped.

I moved apartments last fall – out of a place near the heart of the city where I used leave home to work in an office – a beautiful old apartment with hardwood floors, old fixtures and no outdoor space to call my own. The new place has many great features, but the best is the yard. I bought plants and patio furniture and started feeding the birds. I can eat breakfast while watching them every single day. The plants had flowers and leaves, and then they had bare branches. There was an old, neglected rose bush that bloomed once I trimmed and watered it a bit. I planted a tree, hoping for future shade.

When winter came, I started buying indoor plants. I left my old place with four, and now I have more than 30. Caring for them – propagating and trimming and counting new leaves – is more time spent not looking at the clock, watching the slow but steady rewards of time spent focusing on things which don’t respond to minutes and tasks, but seasons and sunlight.

It’s spring now, and I’m watching the trees around me sprout flowers – a magic I never get tired of. I planted new shrubs and cleaned up winter damage, hoping for new life from old. Soon, I’ll be eating outside and wishing someone would come mow the grass.

Two years have crawled like glaciers and yet also seem not to have happened at all. 53 years have passed in fits and starts. There are likely only a few decades left for me, and yet it seems I’ve only just reached adulthood.

Physicists have determined that time moves faster closer to the gravity of an object than farther away. How can we trust any of it? How can it really mean anything, that ticking clock?

I’m actually fine, but seriously

It’s almost warm enough to sit outside and visit again.

It’s grey but not raining. I had intended to plant things and get the patio ready for use, and maybe I will, but the sun is not shining and therefore I‘m not inspired.

I know that moving the body in the direction of the thing you want helps you actually want the thing you’re moving towards. But I’m sad and I miss my family and my friends and this is not the life I was working for. It’s hard to be motivated, hence me not playing outside in my small, not great-but-brings-me-much-joy-and-also-bird-friends yard. I bought plants with yellow variated leaves because they look like the sun is shining even when it’s not, and like a miracle to this Alaska girl when it is.

I can’t imagine how much harder this would all be if I was still in Alaska – where its so much darker for so much longer and socializing outdoors comfortably is even more limited than here.

Writing as Performance, a rambling

I spent so many years in school, and loved it. I first wrote because they told me to. It turned out I could do it well by their standards, and so I liked doing it. But I liked a lot of other things – math, reading, drawing, gymnastics, singing.

So much of my writing has been about receiving praise from other people (mostly my teachers). The writing became about the praise. Which is why I couldn’t sustain that “help you with your money” website I started – because no one was telling me it was good and helpful. And I told myself that it wasn’t the writing I wanted to do but the helping – that what was missing was the one-on-one interaction. Which wasn’t a lie, but it also isn’t the truth. I felt like no one saw it and no one told me it was good and I was smart and kind and also a hero and a great writer. So I lost all interest in the project – in an idea had consumed me for weeks. But what had consumed me was the idea of a lot of people praising me for how helpful I was, not the doing of it. Ego, much?

Now I wonder if I’d have been as good a painter/ artist (for instance) as I am a writer if school/ anyone had spent as much time praising me for it and teaching me to hone that craft. I’m a decent painter & sketcher, and I get better the more I do it (true of most things! For most people!). And I derive at least as much pleasure from it as I ever did from writing – with a lot less need for outside validation. Not because I want to be an amazing painter – but it seems clear we all have many parts we let atrophy for lack of sunlight.

With painting, I focus on the process and therefore am less invested in the outcome, which means I end doing a better job. Or something. But with writing I can be happy as hell with the product but still not care about it if no one else is reading it.

I am a thinker, an over-thinker, honestly – and writing is really the part of school that best matches up with that tendency/ skill. And writing does clarify thinking for me, both emotional and intellectual topics (false binary!). But I don’t think it’s the writing itself that I like, or that attracts me. It’s the deep thinking about whatever topic that appeals and excites, not the writing process or the product. Writing being an effective medium for sharing thoughts is why I like it, not because I think writing is something I should be doing. Maybe those aren’t actually different things, but they feel different.

Lidia Yuknavitch says that the truth exists but using words to try to describe the truth can only be fiction – that feels like a part of it. But you can get to the truth of an idea, if not a life or an experience – with words. Ideas are quite literally only words, they can’t exist without the language to describe them, whereas all manner of other things exist outside language entirely. And that’s what excites me most. But it is the pursuit of the idea that can motivate me, not the writing that comes from that. Or maybe that’s why I want/ need that praise/ interaction? Because I can’t know if I’ve translated the idea well enough until someone else has read it and told me they understand? I don’t know maybe this whole thing is just a circle.

It’s true that writing essays about money advice really is useless if no one reads them – but quitting after five essays and two weeks or whatever is hardly a fair chance given.

So… I’m a much better writer than painter. And journal writing is an important part of my life and growth as a person. But it’s suddenly obvious that the other writing in my life is just performance. Writing is certainly the way I figure things out for myself, but public righting is about how others react to it, not how I feel about it myself. Which may be why I don’t do it much while still thinking I should be doing it and being disappointed in myself for not doing it more.

But maybe I’m only think I should be a writer because someone told me early on that I was, and I believed them. What if they’d told me I was a good artist instead? Who would I be?

Joy and Stillness

Flathead Lake, Montana, bevyofbooks.com
Flathead Lake, MT

Still.

I am sitting very still – metaphorically speaking. Day 7 in Seattle, and the stormy weather forecast has discouraged all the vague ideas I had about driving to the coast or going to visit people in Portland. And so I am sitting – with tea and a book – and looking back at the last few weeks in awe.

One week ago, I was driving from Hungry Horse to Seattle. Two weeks ago, I was on day three of driving from Cleveland to Hungry Horse. Three weeks ago, I was driving from New Hampshire to South Carolina. Four weeks ago, I was in New Hampshire. Five weeks ago, I was in New Jersey. Six weeks ago, I was driving from Cleveland to Philadelphia.

Somewhere in there, I visited New York City, a beach in Rhode Island and knocked four more states off my list. I spent time with both sisters and their families, two cousins and their families, one aunt and uncle and several great friends. I stayed in six different homes and 11 different hotels, traveling through a total of 23 states (nine of those in one day, thank you tiny New England states) and put more than 6000 miles on my car.

Manhattan, Staten Island Ferry, NYC, New York City, bevyofbooks.com
Manhattan from the back of the Staten Island Ferry.

No wonder I’m tired. No wonder I’m excited about getting a regular job and finding an apartment of my own. Even the idea of having to get up IN THE MORNING five days a week hasn’t made me question my decision to stay in one place for a little while.

I got to take public transportation to three interviews this week – someone else did the driving! I got to shop at Fred Meyer, where they have both my favorite tea and my favorite sausage! Street buskers, gorgeous views of Elliot Bay, funky residential areas, pedestrians! I actually unpacked my suitcase!

Tea and a good book. Stillness and joy.

So. Many. Questions.

Everglades National Park, bird, bevyofbooks.com, Florida

How long are you going to do this?

I’ve been getting this question a lot recently. Maybe because this is my first trip to Florida since I quit, and these folks haven’t had a chance to grill me yet? Maybe because I’ve been doing this for almost a year now? Maybe because the space-time continuum calls for it? I don’t know.

Regardless of why, it’s an interesting question. How long *do* I want to do this? My standard answer is, until I get tired of it or I run out of money – and I’m betting on the money running out first. I’m supposed to be working on finding more location-independent income, and I’m on a few lists, but I really should be doing more. But working in Portland this winter reminded me how much I do not want to go back to a nine-to-five.

How long has it been?

Another good question. Homeless? Since Feb 1, 2015. Stationary-jobless? April 3. Out of Portland? April 11. On the road? May 10. So when do I start counting, exactly?

For me, the important dates are April 3 and May 10.  April 3 was the day it was really real. I’ve quit a bunch of jobs in my life, but never with this kind of intention. I quit to move somewhere else, to make more money, to go back to school. I’ve been fired and laid off from permanent and temp jobs. But I’ve never quit with the idea of changing my whole life. That last gig was the best regular job I’ve ever had, in every way. But rather than making me happy, it made me realize that I’d never be happy doing that kind of thing, I’d only ever done it because I had to. And now that I don’t have to, I’m going to try and see if I can find a way of living and earning my way that makes me happy.

May 10 I left Great Falls with everything I thought I might need in Little Red, and no clear idea when I might return to home base. That feels like the real beginning of this… whatever it is. It really needs a name. Trip? Adventure? Insanity? So it’s been 11 months, and I’m nowhere near ready to stop, regardless of the challenges along the way.

Everglades National Park, osprey, Florida Bay, bevyofbooks.com
Maybe I’ll move in with these ospreys on Florida Bay.

Will I never have a real job again?

Who knows? I’m hoping not. But the idea that a different life is possible is a really good reason to try something else. I’ve made plenty of risky choices in the past with regards to jobs and whatnot, and all those were really in the service of paying off my debt. Now I get to use those skills in the service of a joyful life.

Where to next?

I’ve got to get back to Montana by the end of May, so I’ll be heading back north in a week or two. I’m thinking about going to the Science Fiction Writer’s Association Convention in Chicago mid-May. Maybe I’ll see some of you on the way.