Where does the time go?

For those who know my blog well, you might think this is going to be another apology for a lack of posts. Surprise... it isn’t. No, honestly, I’m just pondering the nature of time and complexity again, or at least how it applies to this thing we call life. It seems like we’re obsessed with being on time: hurry up and wait; walk, don’t run, but aren’t you supposed to be there by now? Sounds stressful. Yet, if there is anything I’ve learned about life, it is that stress is a waste of time. Are we all caught in some fantastic Catch-22? Or is there a way out?

All right.... this isn’t really a post pondering the philosophical implications of time, either. I mean, I could also be asking "where does the time go" in a more literal sense, like Stephen King did in his story the Langoliers, i.e., what happens to a moment once it has passed... but I’m not. (Not now, anyways.) I’m always thinking of time in the philosophical sense, whether I’m thinking about science or my own personal life. In this case, it’s the latter... here’s why:

  • Two days ago was the 2nd anniversary of this blog. That’s right, Chaotic Utopia is two years old now. I started blogging on January 6, 2006, and have since settled into my own little groove. It may have taken me two years to figure it out, but I have set a nice pace, creating a dozen or so interesting posts per month. (It has always just seemed like I should be posting more often.... hence, my constant apologies for the slow rate. I’m finally realizing that isn’t necessary... It’s my blog, my pace, and works just fine.)
  • In 16 days, it will be my 10th wedding anniversary. That one just blows me away... I’m amazed we made it this long. At the same time, I wouldn’t trade my marriage for anything. It’s been a wild ride and a massive amount of work, but we’ve created a relationship that suits us. It is so hard to find things that work like that, that can endure the ages. They say the traditional 10th anniversary gift is tin... pliable, yet strong. I think it is quite fitting. (Not that I can think of any suitable gifts made of tin... we may go the non-traditional route there.)
  • As Chris Willis discovered in the comments last week, I’ll actually get a birthday this year (in 52 days or something), as 2008 is a leap year. Unfortunately, it won’t be my 5th, as Chris predicted, but rather, my 8th. While my upcoming birthday isn’t really affecting my views on time, it does make for some interesting trivia: since December 12th, I’ve been the same "age" as my son... he had his 7th birthday then.

Ok, so, while these dates may call for various celebrations, or maybe a little renovation (not only do I have a few updates in mind for this page, but I’m also planning to paint the inside of my house this year) they don’t really seem to mean a whole lot, in the long run. The one that gets me is simply a 6th anniversary.... it was about six years ago that I starting wrestling with the subject of chaos and time. I’d thought about them long before that, but it was in 2002 that I started to form philosophical theories (without really knowing they were philosophy!)

2002... six years ago, I saw the drive toward entropy, the inevitability of time, and began to see how it all fit together in this harmonic way... and how easy it was to get caught up in the chaos. I didn’t begin to use the term "ride the waves" in terms of chaos for a couple of years, but I had the principle in mind. I understood it... but that doesn’t mean I was able to apply it. I found this bit that I wrote in 2004, after two years of trying to adapt my ideas to my own life. I had titled it, "Am I Still Insane?"

My life is spinning slightly out of control; it’s difficult to focus on patterns and dimensions and time when they’re throwing themselves in my face. It’s sort of like everything I planned on doing needs to be done, but the resources aren’t there to do it, and other things come up, and I’m running out of time. {There’s that ubiquitous "time" again; no one knows exactly what it is, but only that they never seem to find enough of it.}

This week, for instance, I’ve got my in-laws coming up for a picnic next Tuesday, and my carpet needs shampooed, the house cleaned and arranged right, food preparations made, the family all clean and happy and ready... But that of course is far from what’s happening. I try to start simple things... {admittedly, putting in a flagstone path isn’t as easy as some things.} ...but as soon as I start, the chaos sets in.... all I can think of is "Time" and impending deadlines of in-law doom.

The thoughts in my mind, about meanings and paradoxes, become mingled with feelings of doubt and frustration, and I feel the overwhelming feeling of spiraling downward. The mood swings set in, and I’m oscillating between feeling hopeless sadness and violent anger. There seems little I can do to stop it... I can’t walk out the door and leave my son unsupervised... I can’t forget about the chores and the plans and the smelly carpets. I’m stuck in the middle of it, and only in the back of my mind does a small voice tell me that I’ll be able to get through it all.

Ok, so, one of the hardest lessons for me to learn is that wasn’t insanity... that was just life. Here’s what is astonishing me now, years later... it took me this long to listen to that small encouraging voice. Years! And that’s why I’m asking, where did the time go? How could it take so long to see that stressing about time and expectations was exactly what was holding me back? (I should note, the essay that I clipped that from also contained quite a bit of the philosophy that has become the root of my studies, discussing the asymmetry of time and the dimensional structure of our universe... but this personal bit was more applicable here. It’s funny what becomes important in the long run.)

So, here’s a bit of what I’ve learned over the years, and how I’ve actually learned to practice it in life... rather than obsessing over the way things should be:

  • Emotions, while strong and seemingly uncontrollable, are perfectly natural. They are never a problem unless they are translated into actions. In fact, that’s where most of the problems I’ve encountered in parenthood and marriage have originated... acting on my emotions without thinking. There is another side to that coin... I’ve learned that it is foolish to be suspicious of someone else’s emotions when they are not acting on them. (That’s the sort of confusion that can end a marriage.) It takes a painful amount of practice, but it is possible to act on reason, not an emotion. I’ve found that voice of reason is usually there, but the emotions try to drown it out. That isn’t to say we ought to suppress all emotions. On the other hand, when finally listening to that voice of reason, it usually turns out that the emotional issues get addressed as well.
  • There is no sense in focusing solely on what needs to be done. This seems to be the root of most of my stress... I’ll look around and see everything that I have to do, and the panic slowly sets in. I’ve learned that I have focus on what I have done, too. It seems obvious, in retrospect, to notice one’s own accomplishments, but once again, it gets drowned out by emotion... in this case, panic about what hasn’t been done yet. If anything, this is the one I’m still learning... like with this blog. I’m never satisfied with my posting rate, and I end up spending more time worrying about it than doing the writing that I want. But I’m learning... I take a little time to see that I’ve already been surpassing my own standards, and the confidence begins to build. I’m not behind... I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Acknowledging that is the hard part. Again, this takes practice.
  • Life is complex, but it can be faced with a simple approach. Ride the waves... take each moment as it comes. In order to do that, obstacles in the path need to be taken out of the way. They can be emotional obstacles, as I just described, or they can be physical obstacles as well. I had no idea how much "stuff" could cause stress until I started to get rid of it. Our strip-mall culture encourages it: you gotta have this, and the accessories to go with it, and while you’re at it, get this thing because it looks cool. Never mind the fact that you already have three of them, and you never needed it in the first place. But don’t throw any of them away, because you never know... Talk about formulas for chaos. I followed those sorts of impulses for a long time. Recently, I’ve realized how futile that is... no matter if something has been saved for later use, if it is buried under a bunch of crap when needed, we’ll go out and buy a new one! Now that is insanity. But once again, with practice, I’ve learned to reverse this habit. I’ve simplified my home, gotten rid of literal tons of stuff that I didn’t need, didn’t use, didn’t like, but didn’t previously throw away. Now that I’m left with only the things I love, my consumer habits have changed automatically. I don’t really feel the impulse to hoard stuff anymore, because I know... simplicity is far cooler than any "thing".

I figured these things out on my own, but it took hearing them from multiple sources, and encouraging others to follow such advice before I learned to practice them. Maybe that’s why it took so much time. That isn’t what’s important, though. See, it doesn’t really matter where the time goes... it only matters that we’re here now. Things are put together well enough to get by, with just enough chaos to keep it interesting... you know, a "chaotic utopia."

More like this

{Theres that ubiquitous "time" again; no one knows exactly what it is, but only that they never seem to find enough of it.}

Time! Oh boy, don't get me started! LOL! I was hoping it was going to be this century. I guess I will have to wait until the next one before those physicists finally get it all figured out and get some control on it! LOL!
Dave Briggs :~)

Control on time? From what I see going this century, I wouldn't be looking forward to such a state of affairs. But I don't worry: sweet chaos is there and the more they zoom in the more problems they'll imagine.

Hi Karmen.

Thanks for this very open, retro- and introspective post.  I think I heard something inside go "Piinnggg" while reading it.

First of all, congratulations on your anniversaries!-Two years of blogging, and going strong.  Considering the rate and quality of your posts, that deserves a thumbs up in my book.  Since I found your old spot, your blog has certainly evolved, mostly in a good way (More coherent philosophy, some very nice series, like the historical/nostalgic one about your home-town, and your own Friday-sumpin' among others.)  I do kinda miss your fiction-stories though. (But hey, it's your blog, so...)-Ten years of marriage! Wow! Finding someone and finding a way to live together for ten years (and more to come) is ...Wow... And having a lil' gunslinger around to teach and be taught by, to love and be loved by, to recognise yourselves in and yet also see a new person emerging...  Wow...-So, you're a leap-year-child.  Hmm, said the pseudo-psycho-astrologist, well that explains everything doesn't it?...Happy 8th to come!

And a great big congratulations on the sixth anniversary of developing your philosophical thoughts on life, the universe and everything.  Er, I mean on chaos and waves, and how to deal with them.  It's great to read you've wrapped your head around it somewhat, and that you can apply what you've learned in practice.On the "What I've learned" section, I can only say: You go girl!  Everything you said I can relate to, but I guess you're at least a step ahead of me in bringing it into practice. I'm still at the stage where I realise these things, but have no idea of how to actually act on those realisations.
It's slowly getting better though, with relaxation- and mindfullness-techniques I've been practicing and applying during the last few months. It has helped me use reason to consider which emotions I should/will act (reasonably) upon, and which I should/will let go.

Thanks again for this post, and as I said:
You go girl! Ride that wave, and pull off a few jumps while you're at it!

Best wishes, Kim

By kim boone (not verified) on 13 Jan 2008 #permalink

Darn!  My carefully layed-out layout was mangled by an evil digital mad scientist.  Sorry.

By kim boone (not verified) on 13 Jan 2008 #permalink

(Mental note: make sure to say everything in one single comment, to avoid crowding the comments, especially with a mad scientist you have to apologize for afterwards in yet another comment.)
Loved the reference to "Langoliers". One of the best King-shorts I've ever read. Great theme for a story. Hint-hint:)
'Till next time.

By kim boone (not verified) on 13 Jan 2008 #permalink

I do kinda miss your fiction-stories though.

Kim, at first when I read that, I was sort of bummed out... I haven't done much creative writing lately, and I miss it. Unfortunately, it's one of those things that comes on its own. Then I realized I have old "unfinished" projects that I could bring out, polish up, and post. One in particular is a longer piece that I'm now considering posting as a serial. I really liked it, enough that I wanted to (someday) turn it into a novel. In case someday never comes, I'll play with it now!

(I still owe you a kitty picture too... Otto is just so indifferent, I haven't wanted to bother him with the flash!)