On Time

3/20/2013, 10:30 a.m.

For my birthday this year, April bought me a watch. As I type this, it’s glaring at me, reminding me of the many things I need to get done this week, Spring Break, and the amount of time I want to devote to them. As I type this, my Kindle is sitting across the room, reminding me that I still have 20-percent of DeLillo left to read. As I type this, I can easily see A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird sitting in my bag, reminding me of the book review I need to write for a class different from the one I need to read DeLillo for. All the while, as I type this, my watch is reminding me of how little time I have left to complete these tasks, before I have to go back to class next week. Spring Break is only halfway done, but it still feels like I’ve fallen behind.

Time is not on my side, I think.

I’ve never been the best at time management. As most adults do, I choose to blame how I was raised. I would love to say that my childhood was filled with the need to be everywhere on time, all the time, but that’s not true. My father was a pastor, and I was raised on “church time,” which is inherently ten minutes later than real time and twenty minutes later than military time, or so my military friends tell me.[ref]To be fair, in the era of the “mega church,” which holds two or three services on Sunday morning alone, church time has begun much more rigid, much closer to real time. Still considerably later than military time, though.[/ref] I never went anywhere on time, and I was ultimately okay with that. After all, life’s too short to worry about being on time.[ref]I’m well aware of the irony in that statement.[/ref]

Lately, though, I’ve been questioning if that’s the best for me, if I haven’t short-changed myself all these years, by not paying attention to time. I’ve started to wonder exactly how much time I’ve lost, by not being more aware of how the seconds and minutes have ticked away.

This is the reason I asked for a watch for my birthday: I think I need a constant reminder that time is moving, if I want to accomplish anything. Maybe.


3/20/2013, 11:05 a.m.

Right now, on Spotify, I’m listening to the new Justin Timberlake record. It’s pretty good, but that’s beside the point. Justin Timberlake is a pretty phenomenal artist, but more importantly, he reminds me of the first time I went to college. Justified was released during that time, and I loved it.[ref]Still do.[/ref] Later on, when FutureSex/LoveSounds was released, I was further impressed. Regardless of what you think of his time in N*Sync, he has made a place for himself in pop music with his solo stuff, and I’m sure 20 years from now, people will mention him in the same breath as Prince in terms of artistry.[ref]Though, to be fair, with considerably less purple and lace, for better or worse.[/ref]

Why am I talking about Justin Timberlake? There is purpose, though it may have gotten lost in the paragraph above. I didn’t intend to write that much, but I did. It’s yet another example of how poor my time management is. DeLillo still needs to be read.

College. Timberlake’s first album came out when I was in college the first time, back when I was a journalism student, ready to set the publishing world on fire, long before the publishing world beat that naïve enthusiasm out of me, with its constant focus on sales and advertising. Back then, I had even worse time management than I do now. I was late for work all the time. I never reserved time to do homework. I played video games and I drank, both things that many would consider huge time sinks. Most of you know that video games are no longer an issue. A few of you know that drinking isn’t much of an issue anymore, either.

But, still, I feel like time is constantly moving past me, leaving me in its dust.

3/20/2013, 2:00 p.m.

I’m trying to chunk my tasks to better match up with my time. Spring Break has been a trial run of that. Before the week started, I sat down and listed out all I wanted to accomplish and then broke that list into easily digestible pieces, assigning each piece to a different day of the week. For example, Monday was a reading day. I read the 2nd third of Isabella Bird’s A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, and the 1st third of White Noise, the aforementioned DeLillo novel I finished about a half hour ago. So far, it’s gone well. I was a little shy of my goal yesterday, but I easily caught myself up during the first hour of this morning. The first draft of my book review is done; I just need to edit it. So far, I feel like I’ve accomplished quite a bit this week, and I’m actually on task to complete even more. By the end of Spring Break, while I won’t have actually taken a break, I will go into the last month of my semester with a good portion of my work completed. That feels good.

But then, I begin to wonder if I’m becoming enslaved by time, constantly worrying about whether or not I’m being as productive as I could be. Unfortunately, Justin Timberlake’s golden voice is doing little to soothe these fears.

When I was in 9th grade, I came up with the totally and completely original idea that time is a man-made construct, and we don’t have to be limited by man-made constructs. This, of course, is 100-percent false in every sense of the word. While I suppose you could argue that we don’t have to be limited by some man-made constructs, time is definitely not one of them. Time is how we make sense of the world around us. God created the Earth in six days, but what is a day to God? Days have no meaning to God. Days are a man-made construct, but they were a necessary man-made construct for us to understand exactly how long it took God to create the Earth.[ref]Of course, some modern theologians argue that the six days in Genesis actually refer to the millions of years it took to form the Earth from nothing. I think arguing over the meaning of “days” in religion is largely pointless. It doesn’t matter, and it in no way affects your beliefs. Hopefully.[/ref]

Still, a part of 9th-grade Christopher exists somewhere in my head, and he is a persistent beast. Don’t give into society’s rules, man! And, when it comes down to it, 9th-grade Chris isn’t very smart. He still thinks Rage Against the Machine was in it to fight the establishment, and in no way financially benefited from the millions of albums they sold they sold in malls around the country.

9th-grade Chris is kind of an idiot.

I need to organize my time, or I’m going to fail in a lot of areas of life, but especially in school. In my undergrad days, I could B.S. my way through a discussion, without having read the material.[ref]At least, I thought I could. As a teacher, I now know that it’s impossible to hide a lack of reading. We’re just more forgiving of it for undergraduate students, who often have a lot more change going on in their lives than graduate students.[/ref] In grad school, if you don’t make at least an effort to read the material, and at least go into class having something relevant to contribute to the discussion, you won’t last long.[ref]Again, there are degrees of this. Along with this requirement comes a skill to read quickly, picking up the important information along the way. And, as with all skills, the more you practice, the better you become.[/ref] If I have things I have to do for school, and things I want to do in my personal life, then chunking my tasks is a requirement. I have to know what I need to do each day to stay on task, or I know I will drown in my todo list, and while I will more than likely ultimately be fine, relief will only come after a end-of-the-semester sprint, during which I will not sleep, only tearing myself away from the computer to teach, eat, and piss, and only then because not doing one of these will lead to unemployment, and not doing the other two will lead to my death, for which I’m definitely not ready; after all, I did just get a pretty sweet watch for my birthday.

And chunking my time benefits me in other ways, as well. As I write this section, I’ve finished my tasks from earlier in the piece, and I’m looking forward to spending a relaxing evening with my wife, eating some homemade macaroni and cheese and watching Deception, or as I like to call it, “Rich People Gots Problems Too.” Working ahead in my semester, which is what chunking my tasks this week was designed to do, will lead to a much less-stressful April. I can carve some free time out to read for pleasure. I can maybe work in some video game time. Heck, I might just take advantage of my new-found free time and get some work done.

3/20/2013, 3:00 p.m.

Justified came out in 2002. FutureSexy/LoveSounds came out in 2006. The 20/20 Experience came out in 2013. Three albums. Eleven years. That’s not a very productive ratio. But, have I done any better in my professional career? Not even close. Maybe Mr. TimberLake and I have more in common than devilishly good looks.

3/20/2013, 3:10 p.m.

I miss writing.

3/20/2013, 7:30 p.m.

Seriously. I miss writing.

Before I decided to go back to school, I wrote almost everyday. I wrote, and I submitted, and I got rejected. Since grad school, though, I’ve found my writing, as with all of my other hobbies, has all but disappeared.[ref]I’m sure a few writers are out there are now saying, “writing isn’t a hobby; it’s a job!” That’s adorable. Face it. You can treat it like a job all you want, but if it’s not providing you with a living, it will always be lower on the list of priorities than work/school. If it’s not, then your priorities are way off.[/ref] I still write, but I write for school. I write research papers and essays. In fact, the piece that got me a bit of notice a couple of weeks ago was actually written for a class last fall. Things like what you’re reading right now are the exception, not the rule. I needed a break from reading, so I chose to write a little bit. Even this section, which I’m writing in the evening, has only really come about, because I’ve put some heat on my lower back and am thus confined to my chair.

I try to wake up early a few days a week to get in a few words, but it doesn’t feel like it’s enough. I miss sitting down for long stretches, outputting thousands of words. I could finish an entire short story in a night. I wrote an entire novel[ref]A crappy, crappy novel.[/ref] in 30 days, and not a NaNoWriMo novel[ref]I’m not trying to disparage NaNoWriMo, by any means—I think anything that gets you to write is a good thing—but 50,000 isn’t quite a full novel; it’s definitely a start, but you’ll have to expand it to at least 75,000 words to publish it as a novel.[/ref], but a full-length, fantasy epic. My point is, when all I had to worry about was a full-time job, my free-time to write for pleasure seemed limitless.

If I can continue to “chunk” my tasks, as I’ve done this week, I might be able to work in enough free-time to get some real writing done, and I mean real writing. Not 200-300 words, but thousands. That would be wonderful. That would be so, so wonderful.[ref]Again, I’m sure there are people who are saying, “if you want to write, all you have to do is make time to write!” Again, that’s totes adorable. If you’re taking time out of your life to write/draw/create, then you are taking that time from somewhere. If it comes from “free” time, that’s great. If you’re taking it from somewhere more important, like work or school, you should again check your priorities.[/ref]

I want to be sure you understand that I’m not complaining. I made the choice to come back to school, and I don’t regret that choice in the least. I’ve learned more about writing from the past two years in grad school than I ever knew flying solo. If nothing else, it’s forced me to study the craft of writing, paying close attention to how other authors do things, and decide if I want to add those things to my toolbelt. Plus, I’ve learned more about the art of writing the essay than I’ve ever thought I wanted to know. Can you learn all of that without going to college? Absolutely, and more than a few people successfully do so.[ref]Anne Lamott, for example, dropped out of college at 19 to write for a living, which she eventually did. Countless other writers never had to drop out, because they never started; they just jumped into the writing deep end.[/ref] For me, though, it has been much easier to learn from people who have spent their entire lives studying this stuff.

At any rate, organizing my time has made me excited at the prospect of furthering my craft. As much as I love to write about late capitalism in Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, I want to write essays about video games and new watches.

3/21/2013, 9:10 a.m.

This is the reason I asked for a watch for my birthday: I think I need a constant reminder that time is moving, if I want to accomplish anything. Definitely.

I think we’ve lost the concept of time. Few people wear watches anymore; they rely on their phones to tell them the time. The problem with this is that our phones can be used for so much more. We use them to search the Internet, check Twitter, play games, and like pictures of lunch on Facebook.[ref]And, I guess, some people might make calls…[/ref] And, unless we need them, we hide them in our pockets or purses, away from our notice. A watch wrapped around your arm is always present. Sure, if you wanted to hide it away, you could take it off and stick it in your pocket, but a watch that is not telling you the time serves no function. It’s a wasted bundle of springs, metal and numbers.

I like to keep my watch on. I like that it sits at the edge of my view, reminding me that time never stops, and if I do, then it will keep moving around me. That isn’t to say I can’t have downtime. I had downtime last night, when we relaxed with some TV time after dinner. But choosing to take downtime to keep from burning myself out is still a conscious choice about how to manage my time. And I think that’s a good thing.

I’m sure that many of you reading this already get it. I’m sure I’m late to the game. I’m not surprised. As I said, I’ve never had good time management. Still, to all of you, who are reading this with a “of course!” look on your face, I say this: Better late than never, right?

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