Yesterday, our airline tickets arrived by Fed Ex, Newark to Chennai. The day before, we started filling our basement with boxes of books. Tomorrow, I have to go to NYC to acquire visas for the whole family. And Kodaikanal wants a syllabus from me.
I seem to recall my woodworking business is still in business, though what projects I am currently working on is a mystery to the conscious parts of my mind. My inability to recognize what’s on the shelves of a refrigerator has been extended to my desk and shop bench.
In short, I have Short-Timer’s Syndrome, a mental affliction caused by inhabiting Short-Time Space. Symptoms include general disorientation, inefficient scrambling after multiple tasks, and a simultaneous sense of loss and anticipation.
Being a short-timer means that you’re neither fully one place nor another. Short-Time Space has the same dimensions as old space, but the new has begun to invade and redefine so many things in the old. Nothing in daily life has the same value. A scrap of wood that was valuable yesterday for a potential project is now a burden to store, or more firewood. A collection of half-used paint cans that was valuable for touch-up jobs, is now a serious waste disposal problem.
Then I wonder what the weather is half-way around the world, for all the good it does me in my daily rounds. I find that I’ve taken things downstairs in my shop that I took upstairs the day before, having changed my mind about where they should be stored. Where’s the list that I keep to keep track of what I should be doing when?
Having grown such deep roots here in Bridgewater, I had almost forgotten what it is like to be a short-timer. I lived much of my ill-spent youth in a version of short-time. How it all comes back now--an endless series of one-year leases in apartments where I did not know any of my neighbors, always studying something with the goal of doing something with it later, never quite in the present, always in the past or the future.
Apartment life was wonderful. I had the delicious joys of privacy and the freedom of anonymity. Every non-working minute was my own, to spend as I liked, with friends or alone. I came and I went as I pleased. And I was largely depressed during those years.
On the other hand, since getting married, I have grown some deep roots in Bridgewater and in the Congregational Church. I no longer have much privacy. When I get in my car to go somewhere, at least one person notes it. Once I bought a telephone answering machine in Walmart using a $100 bill. I failed to take the receipt with me. The next day in Church a friend handed me the receipt. It happened that his daughter was the cashier and recognized me. A trip to buy a jug of milk at the Village Store takes at least 30 to 45 min., considering all the people I meet, chat up and otherwise bump into.
I have barely any free time now, between kids, my business, married life, the church and the community (where I find time to write this blog, I do not know). I cannot come and go as I please. I socialize with a huge number of people from church, ranging from the best of friends to marginal acquaintances. And I could not be happier.
What this says about our perverse human nature is rather beautiful. It reminds me of a recurring dream in which I attempt to run from some terror, but find my feet cannot get traction. With each push, I float up in the air lightly, rather than move forward. The feeling is very much like trying to run along the bottom of a swimming pool. It is a horrifying feeling in the dream, unable to escape, wondering why my feet and legs will not work as they were designed to.
Only with the resistance of a yoke, can we get traction. When left with perfect freedom, we tend to run in a futile manner, never really pushing ahead as well as we could. Try this test: give one artist $100,000, free space, and a year to make something beautiful with no restrictions, and give another artist a hard-fought commission from a harassing patron, problems with studio space, a nightmare of a family and three months to get it done. At the end of the year, who will produce the better work of art? The artist with freedom will probably not cherish every second of unclouded work time, but set an easy goal for himself with no scourge at his back. The burdened artist will cherish every unencumbered moment, and certainly get more out of his time, knowing there is so little. Clouded though, forever distracted, will help that artist work harder to overcome it. For great art, I think the odds are even between the two scenarios.
All of the burdens of community life, from helping neighbors to volunteering, are transactional, which is to say they go both ways. As much as you give, somehow you end up getting it back with interest. You give a few hours of your time helping someone else, and think nothing of it, so nothing spent. Then one day a grateful friend drives up with a cord of fire wood (…heard you needed some…), free of charge. The joy of unexpected gifts is one of the best. Hearing through the grapevine that someone spoke well of you to another, is also one of the best. So in communities, for the little you spend, the return is outstanding. The long-timer thus finds the types of happiness that the short-timer cannot imagine (there’s a country folk versus city folk theme here).
Community life is simply the way humans were designed to live life. We do much better in it. I take great solace in knowing that we’re moving from one great community to another, and that we’ll never really leave Bridgewater entirely (what with all the modern forms of communication).
Only a few solitary wretches do better on their own, in perpetual Short-Time Space. A wise man once said that only gods and madmen can handle solitude for any period of time. Funny how so much of our modern world is oriented to solitude (ipod with earphones; the socially required silence of trains and buses; driving to work in a car; the cubicle; etc.) but then creates new means to repair these shattered bonds (telephone; email; cell phones; CB radios; television; radio; newspapers; blogs….). We are such magnificently perverse creatures.
So much for great intentions. I seem to recall this blog was to tackle some big issues. Here I ramble in Night Thoughts. Oh well. Maybe next week I'll come up with something substantial.