Empty Calendar

“We have surface time, which is the time we move through every day, but we need to reach the rhythms of deep time. Like the ocean is all waves and movement on the surface, we need to sink through time to the depths where the true rhythm lies.”    ~John O’Donohue

I stopped using online calendars years ago, preferring the inconvenience of art-rich wall calendars. On January first I perform an annual calendar ritual. I go through the previous year’s written-on pages, using a colored pen to transcribe birthdays and anniversaries on the new year’s clean, optimistic squares. Then I add regular gatherings —  second Saturday for book group, third Monday for women’s spiritual group, every Wednesday for focused meditation, and so on. As I do, I can’t help but reflect on the past year. All those days filled with classes, meetings, deadlines. All the celebrations, house concerts, potlucks, and family gatherings. All the trembly courage it took to give a talk or lead a meeting, now comfortably in the past. I always write an overly optimistic list of the ways I’ll challenge myself in the next year. I rarely do more than a few.  

The calendar I picked for 2020 offers beautiful tree-themed art for each month. And like everyone else’s calendar, it lies. I no longer even cross off what’s cancelled. Why bother, when there’s nothing to add in its place? Looking at it I imagine another me, in a parallel universe, doing those scheduled things. My other self doesn’t appreciate them nearly enough. She complains about being rushed, about traffic, about long lines. She vows to slow down and appreciate the moment. When she does she notices new things while stuck in traffic, enjoys the faces of people standing in line, savors more fully the pleasure of a porch chair after a long day. But she’s not always so mindful.

None of us could have imagined the year we’re in. Time takes on a different dimension when so many people have died and so many are suffering. We can’t help but sink more deeply into these hours of ours.

My calendar hangs by my desk, beautiful and useless. Time’s measure no longer fits on its pages. 

Overwhelmed

Overwhelmed. This is the word I’ve been using lately when I can’t get together with friends or make it to meetings. Instead I’m stuck here at my desk. Working for myself means I don’t have an employer paying half my Social Security taxes or any of my health insurance. It means I say yes when opportunities arise, crazily rowing from work drought to work flood. It also means time management is up to me and my skittering mind.

My oh my does it skitter. My attention-deficit brain thrives on starting multiple things, then branching out in more and more directions as the day goes on. I rarely make linear progress through one project, instead coming up with new angles on other projects while also jumping up to make coffee, get mail, walk dogs. I’ve thrived this way for years but it’s no longer serving me well. I get to the end of the day unable to check much off my to-do lists. Instead I make longer lists for the next day.

As I posted recently on Twitter, Can’t. Accomplish. Anything. Time is glue stuck in the jar of me.

I am profoundly lucky to do work I enjoy. It’s been a long haul to get here and I’m grateful to write, edit, and teach for a living. I don’t have much time for my own projects but know if I possessed greater focus I’d be making some progress on them.

I meant to write a paragraph or two here about getting beyond self-criticism and telling myself a more positive story. But you know that skittering mind I mentioned? Yeah, it’s skittering off in another direction.

Because it seems time has gotten more slippery of late. Morning somehow slides into afternoon’s lap or what feels like Thursday is actually Tuesday. A week takes forever but suddenly a month is gone. Time falls into a jumbled stew of our own crises heated up by the shock of each day’s news. It’s not just me. Friends and colleagues complain about this same problem.

On top of work and home pressures, I suspect the era we’re living in is so unexpected that it’s just too hard to concentrate on our own daily minutiae. Things like getting the laundry folded or the next big project done make less sense when each day overflows with startling political changes and new environmental outrages. Perhaps this swings our sense of time toward an altered trajectory.

Are you overwhelmed? Is time getting away from you? How do you cope?