Still swimming.

February has worked its way under my skin like a splinter from a Nazgul blade. But even in the cold, dark times, there is beauty.
February has worked its way under my skin like a splinter from a Nazgul blade. But even in the cold, dark times, there is beauty. And even under the ice, the water is moving. Fish are swimming. Spring is coming.

Feeling like some bizarrely meta anthropologist in the field, I spent two weeks recently tracking myself–writing down what I did, when, and for how long. The short story is that if you are inclined to observe something in the wild, I would not recommend me. A cheetah would be interesting. A wombat, maybe. Heck, even a sea cucumber. I did not find myself particularly fascinating. Perhaps I’m too close to the subject matter. In any case, I like to think of it as a good thing that I do not inspire in myself a constant sense of unadulterated awe. The purpose of this endeavor was to figure out in some sort of vaguely objective way how exactly I am spending my time, in an attempt to make better use of it, as per my Best Day project. I’ve been sitting with my findings for several days now, mulling them over, and I think the most notable thing about my days is that they don’t tend to have a great deal of shape. They’re rather loose and baggy monsters. Herein lies the rub.

This Monday, Jeffrey Davis of Tracking Wonder offered the following prompt:

#LiveTheQuest – 7: How can you change your relationship to time? #shapingtime What one thing could you do this week to shift your relationship to time? Having too little time is largely a matter of perception. William James observed this over 100 years ago, and psychologists and anthropologists alike are confirming that sometimes depending upon our economic level, our nation of origin, our experience of awe, and more, we might perceive that we are busy or not. Take a look at the video in which I recount a study on experiencing awe and its relationship to time abundance. What one thing could you do this week to shift your relationship to time for the better?

SCORE!!! This is like that time in 8th grade when two of my friends and I started drawing maps and writing stories about an imaginary world, and then our English teacher gave us the following assignment: Create an imaginary world. Except–oh, no–tricksy Jeffrey–I hadn’t quite gotten to this notion of my relationship with time. I’ve been thinking about sculpting time, shaping time–but the truth is that what needs to change isn’t time, but me. And lately I’ve been pretty stiff and lousy clay, drying and cracking around the edges in the sere cold of a February world.

Ossified. I learned that word from a smartypants novel once. It sounds pretty spiffy, and more importantly, describes exactly how I’ve been feeling. Tired. Dry. Brittle. Inflexible. Calcified. Time isn’t like that. It’s fluid, elusive, sometimes swift or slow but always, always moving, bending, finding its path. If you resist, you either stand still or get unwillingly swept away.

This has been a rough week. A friend died, much too soon at the age of forty-three. I’ve been snowed in with a sick husband and a sick little boy. We rather impulsively adopted a new dog, who’s been a blessing, but transitioning during times like this is tricky.Fortunately the new dog is a model citizen, and has even managed to perk up our little cancer-dog.

But still. My writing has ground to a halt, though I did get a rejection from a literary agent on Valentine’s Day, so, you know, that was romantic. I’m thinking of something my granddad once told me. If ever an old white guy was an untrained master of Zen philosophy, it was my granddad. I’ve never known anyone more even-keeled, more deeply loyal to family, more profoundly loving and optimistic. And it was this Zen granddad who once got his thinking look on, looked me earnestly in the eye, and said, “People say, ‘go with the flow.’ Only dead fish go with the flow.”

At the time, this struck me as wondrous and deep, if distinctly un-Zen. But in this moment, with my boys singing raucously in the dining room, a dog sleeping beside me–in this moment, grieving the premature loss of an unbelievably good man and rejoicing in the great news that an unbelievably good woman has just beat the cancer the doctors said would kill her–in this moment, I realize, Granddad, that what you meant was more complicated, more nuanced. You, like all great sages, had a way of speaking that took a handful of words and from them, exploded infinite possibilities. Refusing to go with the flow doesn’t mean constantly fighting the current. It means striking a balance–not getting pushed along, but not simply resisting for resistance’s sake, either.

At the time, I was surprised that my grandfather would say such an un-Zen thing. But I think there was a world of meaning in those words. So I’ve realized that what will improve my relationship with time is flexibility. I need to be open to possibility but also to interference. As a type-A oldest child perfectionist kind of being, this is easier said than done. I also tend to resist schedules, as does my part-time job. But I need to strike some kind of balance–to find a way to make the most of time while not getting totally derailed when things don’t go as I’d planned.

This is going to take some work. Some habit-stacking is probably in order. As well as a lot of other skills and strategies of which I’m as yet unaware. Ultimately, the question leads to more questions. I will keep swimming my way toward the answers.

Further reading: 

Find out what all this wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff has to do with the terrors of the time ambulance and the magic of sparkle practice on Vanessa’s blog.

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11 thoughts on “Still swimming.

  1. I can so relate to this and I think you’re on to something Brenna that I need to pay attention to: my attitude about not being fully present to my family, or my work – as if it’s all black and white as opposed to a murky, muddled gray – is holding me back from getting into that flow and then I’m grumpy about all of it, too much of the time. No more (at least I hope! Only time will tell! Tee-hee!) As always, love your writing and I would have loved to meet your Zen-Grandad. He sounds super rad.

    1. Thanks, Barb! It really is muddled, isn’t it? I’m sort of grieving the fact that the wonderful phrase “fifty shades of gray” will forevermore have funky connotations. 🙂 I get so grumpy about the presence issue, too, and then grumpy at myself for getting grumpy, and then it’s just this big ol’ grouchy spiral of which only Oscar the Grouch would be proud. But it’s always good to know that I’m not alone! Thanks so much for your comment and commiseration.

  2. “As a type-A oldest child perfectionist kind of being, this is easier said than done.” Here! Here! to that.
    Thanks for sharing this, it is beautifully written – and your sage Grandad really offered something valuable. Thanks for articulating it so clearly. And happy swimming!

    1. Colleen, thank you so, so much. It’s incredibly gratifying to know that it brought you smiles. I think that may be the best possible result a writer can hope for.

  3. Brenna, “splinter from a Nazgul blade” is exactly how I feel about this cold, cold February. I try to forgive myself at this time of year for slowing down – I focus on renewing my strength. Sometimes just sitting and relaxing is the best thing to do. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 🙂

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