What influences our perception of the passing of time? It would take a mere 12 hours and 45 minutes, in addition to layover times, in order to fly the 4,822 miles which separate me from my home in Anchorage, Alaska. Depending on my mood and that with which I occupy myself in transit, this could feel achingly slow or quite surprisingly fast. If there is a crying child in the seat behind me it will most certainly feel like a tortuously long time. However, if I am caught up on a fascinating project, book, or conversation, I will hardly be aware that time has passed.
Generally speaking, we are optimistic when we estimate future time, expecting that our calculations are accurate and that time will be there when we need it. When I eventually make my return trip, will I be gaining back some of the time which I lost in traveling eastward two months previously? More significantly, will I know what to do with it when I get it back? During this little month of semi-solitude, I have rediscovered the preciousness of time.
This realization in turn makes me more keenly aware of how I have taken time from others. Strange effect, that in traveling, I want to make myself so small that I take up hardly any space or resources at all. As I move through new places, I experiment with methods of self-reliance in terms of food, clothing and transportation, but time can never be exchanged, substituted or re-acquired. I attempt to find ways to slow down the passage of time. As I photograph and write more than ever, each conversation, each encounter seems more lustrous and more potent in memory. I have more ideas than I have time to act them in, and all the while I consider how many of my friends feel the same way. Each time the ideas come, I sift them for my audience, putting this one aside for that person, that one aside for this person. As I write, I include and discard details depending on whom I hope to give the text. This is not an easy set of decisions, and even when I do finish something, I hesitate to require the attention of others. I am torn.
Lately, when I wake up in the morning, most of my dear friends and family, some 5,000 miles away are just going to bed, and while I sleep, they live out the time that for me is already yesterday. This makes communication disjointed, beats out a strange rhythm, and despite my attempts to remain connected, I believe I have disappeared off the radar. I start to feel the drift of time pulling me in a different direction. I anticipate the coming change of pace, when I will leave one set of parameters behind and adopt another. Factors enter and depart like players on a stage, and my world shifts in kaleidoscopic array. In moments of wild creativity, I long to connect, but I hesitate to take from others that which I myself have come to prize. I try to learn patience, and build up my efforts in secret, hoping to unveil the results in finished splendor. But I anticipate that my ideas will die in infancy, as I return to the demands of my working schedule back home. That my stories will not be written. That I will forget the ideas for my novel. That my poems will lose their potency. For despite all my ardent visions and quick-handed effort, the curve of time and space blurs past me, refusing the reins, ignoring my appeals, hurtling towards infinity.
Even now I ask myself what is the better use of my time? Sleep or writing? A new adventure or the contemplation and documentation of recent endeavors? Communication, creativity or correspondence? Living for others or for myself? Is it possible that in honoring the gift to embrace my freedom, in accepting the offer, I am also giving back? It’s not the moments of beauty that confound me, it’s the quiet, understated little potentialities that undergird possible futures.
Time does not wait for me to make the decision. The train has already left the platform and now is the moment to make the next move. In a sense, to quote a line from the film Mr. Nobody, “Every path is the right path. Anything could have been anything else, and it would have just as much meaning.” Perhaps life works itself out in the end after all, but I suspect that the truth is more complicated than that.