Episode 16: The Space-Time Continuum
In the seventh episode of the “honoring your creative space” series, we examine why you want to slow down time so that you can create more deeply. If you spend time in your creative space the same way that you spend time during the rest of your day--in an unquiet, half-mad rush to get items checked off your to-do list--deep creating will elude you. What can you do to slow time down? Tune in and find out.
Today’s show is the seventh episode in a series called “Honoring Your Creative Space.” In this series I’ll be chatting about what you need to do in order to find, protect, and honor sufficient space in which to create. For convenience I’ll address you as a writer, but the same ideas apply whether you are creating novels, paintings, songs, or theorems. Today’s show, from an essay in my forthcoming book A Writer’s Space, is called “The Space-Time Continuum.” Let’s begin!
I have positive proof that the earth is slowing down and that soon we won’t have gravity to contend with. My proof is the following. Every Wednesday morning Ann and I have the following conversation. Ann says, “The garbage goes out today.” I say, “Right.” Straightforward enough; except that Wednesday keeps arriving amazingly quickly. We just blink and there we are, saying those words again. “The garbage goes out today.” “Right.”
Since Wednesday has begun to arrive instantly, this must mean that time has speeded up, which means that the earth is slowing down. Elementary physics. You will remember from that physics text that cost you seventy-five dollars (and was worth it as a paperweight) that as you approach the speed of light, time slows down. If you could travel at the speed of light, you would never age. As to whether that would be a good thing or a bad thing, and how you could get a cup a coffee at 186,000 miles a second, I don’t know. But that’s the physics of the matter.
Since everyone’s internal clock has speeded up, the earth must be getting ready to stop its rotating. Even if that’s bad physics—and I confess that it probably is—it’s still good cultural reporting. Why do writers dream of spending a few months in Paris? Not for the Parisians, the weather, the Louvre, or even the baguettes (well, maybe for the baguettes). They dream of spending those months in Paris because they see themselves experiencing time differently there: they see themselves on café time. They see themselves not in a rush, neither externally nor internally. They see themselves actually stopping.
They see themselves quieted, finally, not through rough discipline or by dint of will but because the European café culture fully permits that stopping. Your waiter grants you that permission by not returning, not until you make some large gesture and boldly summon him. He respects the fact that you are slowing down time to a meditative crawl as you nurse your double espresso. He presumes that you have nothing to do more important than this—without presuming for an instant that you are an idler.
The waiter makes no such judgment. For all he knows (or cares) you worked for six straight hours earlier in the day, selling cars or fomenting a revolution, and will return to that work for another three hours after you leave his café. For now, though, time is appropriately stopped, making the fourth dimension an ally and not a thief. In our everyday life we steal our own neurons and we steal our time as well, rushing here, rushing there, committing one felony after another, until we have nothing left but those last fifteen minutes before bedtime—just enough time to feel disgusted by our own thievery.
When did we start rushing like this? Around 1880, I think, with the blooming of the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of the conveyor belt. I think the conveyor belt is the culprit, coupled with that famous Lucy episode. Or maybe it began with Sesame Street and its style of fast cutting, which created culture-wide ADHD. Or maybe it’s a more contemporary phenomenon connected to video games and the global ideal of business at the speed of light. Whatever its precise date of birth, it’s been a hundred years in the making and now we’ve perfected it: perfected the rat race, complete with text messaging.
Today, even when we’re sitting still we’re speeding. We’re anticipating our next cell phone call, awaiting our next email, entering or leaving some chat room, and running a race that can’t be won. The finish line is moving right along with us, keeping perfect pace because the gods want us to feel ridiculous. I presume that you picture the same gods that I do, ironic ones who love to watch us meditate and then rush out the door to accomplish sixty-eight thousand things before dinner. Can’t you see them pointing and laughing: “As if twenty minutes of meditating is going to stop her inner rat race!”
When time has taken this nasty turn and begun speeding up, such that a walk on the beach becomes a jog and a week-long retreat in our rented Maine cabin becomes 618, 000 seconds of racing monkey mind, we are obliged to acknowledge that we are out of control. We are like the passengers on that bus in Speed, the bus remote-controlled by a fiend, and we are terrified exactly as they are, that if we slow down we will explode. What a place we have landed, to fear thirty minutes of silence.
If, because the week has sped by, it is always Wednesday, and you are always getting ready to take out the garbage, what does it matter if you have the perfect writing space? You are like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, able to grab a pill or a bite to eat but in no way able to write Wuthering Heights. Time is racing; you are falling; and just imagine—there is nothing necessary about any of this. This is nothing but an experience you are permitting. You could right your time ship by simply penciling in two hours and announcing, “I will experience this time as slow, quiet, precious, and full of my writing.” You could right your time ship just like that.
There is objective time of the sort kept at the Greenwich Observatory, muddled in Indiana (where neighboring towns find themselves in different time zones) and marching along no matter how we rail at it. Then there is our experience of time, which is a psychological, social, and cultural matter. We do not experience time the same way when we are depressed as when we are manic, when we are trapped in a duck blind as when we are crouched there of our own volition, or when we are typing away on our opus as when we are wringing our hands over a comma. As much as we want more time, even more than that we need to gain control of our experience of time. That’s the challenge.
When you have wrested that control, then you don’t mind if time races by, not if you are immersed and engrossed and, after three hours, look down to discover seven pages of your novel completed. That is good speed. What you don’t want is your life to speed by in the pursuit of nothing. Speed is not the issue; time is not the issue; the issue is the quality of your life. When you find yourself at home in your writing space, hush your mind, hold your dream, open to your work, and time will take care of itself. It may pass in slow motion, it may race by, or it may stop altogether: none of that is an issue, not if you are lost in the writing.
For things to remember:
1. Slow down time by watching the second hand of an old-fashioned clock for five full minutes. Experience the fantastic length and abundance of those five minutes. Isn’t it enough time to create a whole world, right down to the lampposts and the street signs?
2. Stop racing around as if someone had lodged a jet engine in your shorts.
3. Replicate café time at your own desk, from five a.m. to seven a.m. each morning, as you quietly create your masterpiece.
4. Take the time or waste the time. Your choice.
That concludes today’s show. I hope you’ll come back next week for another episode in the series. To subscribe to “the joy of living creatively,” please visit personallifemedia.com, where you’ll also find my blog. You can drop me an email at [email protected]; and I hope that you’ll visit my website to learn more about my books and services. That’s ericmaisel.com—(spelled out).
Thank you for listening!