Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Carpe Diem


The pursuit of a simplified existence is rarely defined in black and white (and, ironically, sometimes feels complicated!). After calling time a construct (see Prose below), it seems a bit contradictory to talk about time management. But, while realizing the illusions, the false gods we can create with time, we also need to manage our very real, time-driven work and home schedules more efficiently. We also need to take a hard look at how our society values (or devalues) time.

Some timely tips:

  • -I love that this time management column starts with realize that time management is a myth. The column, intended for the frenzied, points out the obvious: there are only 24 hours in a day, no matter how organized you may become! After that it supplies some very pragmatic tips and links to help harness those 24 hours (well, at least the waking ones).

  • -This article is appealing because it promises to help save 1 hour/day, and gives a menu of easy suggestions that can add up to that hour pretty painlessly.

  • -Here’s an interesting fact sheet on Time Poverty. It is tied into the Take Back Your Time movement, which calls for societal changes in attitudes towards work time.


I grew up hearing carpe diem and loved the enthusiasm in its translation: seize the day. The image that comes for me with the phrase is that of passionate hands, my hands, grabbing the day by its shoulders and looking into its eyes steadily, appreciatively.

The Latin phrase comes from Horace’s Odes Book I, and the whole original verse is translated as:

While we're talking, envious time is fleeing: seize the day, put no trust in the future

I contemplated time quite a bit this week. I had President’s Day off and added two vacation days to make a five-day weekend. Just the thought of this stretch made me giddy, but I agonized over how to spend my long-awaited window of time. Catch up with family, friends? Tackle those household tasks that never get done? Schedule time alone?

After spending a rare long weekend with family, I still craved time alone to write. I called my favorite writing home away from home, Mercy Center, aka Mercy by the Sea. For a small donation, I could spend the day at Mercy, overlooking the seascape, writing like a fiend, and undisturbed by anyone. I gave more than the expected amount. Had I the means I would have thrown bags of money at these quiet people, grateful for the space of this day.

It took me only a half hour to get into my writing groove, and I wrote for at least five hours, taking a break for the day’s lunch special, seafood gumbo. My contentedness seasoned my food deliciously. I covered a specific theme (simplicity, what else!) for a specific contest. I was on fire with motivation.

Even as I savored my writing nirvana, it was not enough. When it comes to writing time, my favorite phrase is if only. I drool over fellowships and grants in Poets and Writers. I think, if only I had the time, I could write that masterpiece.

Thought-provoking commentaries on time fell like rain onto my path this week. The March/April issue of Poets and Writers had a piece on The Writer’s Triangle, described by Caitlin O’Neil as the metaphorical vortex writers get pulled into while trying to balance making a living, …[their] literary lives, and staying connected to the world around them. The article led me to realize that even writers who do have the luxury of time still struggle to make good use of that time, to stay balanced, ironically perhaps even more so than writers who squeeze writing between their day jobs and family obligations.

I finally dug deeper into Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, by Gregg Levoy. He talked about spending nearly a decade thinking if only I had a nice fat chunk of time to write what I really wanted…I’d do it in something more than the fits and starts that…characterized my pursuit. When finally granted the time, Levoy realized that lack of time wasn’t the real obstacle to pursuing his dream. There were fears and misperceptions that stood in the way, that required real contemplation before any real progress could be made.

Apparently the universe really wants to drive this time message home. This morning my e-mail box contained a message from at the top, heralding the book Take Your Time: How to Find Patience, Peace, and Meaning. Time has turned around and grabbed me by the shoulders, particularly with the phrase put no trust in the future from Horace’s carpe diem verse. This doesn’t mean I won’t plan for the future; this doesn’t mean I won’t someday write creatively on a full-time basis. But I hear my grandfather Poppy’s voice along with Horace: Don’t wish your life away. This means write now, right now.

My sister Linda, fresh with inspiration from a children’s writer/illustrator conference, recounted one successful author’s story of writing 10 minutes a day. As a mother of four, 10 minutes was all she had. But she used that tiny slice of every day until she had a book. How could I, the mother of one, not be motivated by this kind of determination?

Time, like money, is a man made construct, and often an illusion. Like an oasis in the desert, free time can evaporate or morph when you finally reach what you thought was its location. Any parent can tell you this is true, because time suddenly changes shape when you have a child. At Gavin’s 5th birthday party yesterday the speed of time was more apparent than ever. I can still recall the stretched feeling of pregnancy, the impatient wait for labor with clarity. I never thought he’d be rid of diapers, or able to listen to reason. I am positively misty eyed at the rush in which Gavin is growing up, and now I want time to slow down. Of course, time waits for no man (nor boy, nor wistful mother).

Today, at the library, I will look for Take Your Time: How to Find Patience, Peace, and Meaning, and see where this particular message leads me. In the meantime, I’ve had my writing and reflection time, my daily dose of carpe diem.

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