where does the time go? I’ll tell you

We’ve all heard—and used—the excuse, “I would’ve done x, but I didn’t have time.” Indeed, I was tempted to trot this one out to explain the infrequency of my blog posts.

But I don’t believe in that excuse. I think it might be OK if it appeared in a final note by someone who has been executed—that person really did run out of time. But for the rest of us, there are 24 hours in each day, and we each get an exactly equal allotment. Day to day, none of us has any more, or any less, time than anyone else.

Where we do differ is in our values. You value gardening more than I do; I value looking at my Gil Elvgren calendar of pinup girls more than you do; each of us budgets his time accordingly. So “I didn’t have the time” is technically a euphemism, or, in the words of my Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, “the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant”. The offensive or unpleasant but truthful statement would be something more like, “I didn’t value that highly enough to do it.”

But don’t I value making posts to my blog? I do. When I set it up last year I had the intention of posting to it every couple of days, and at least every 3 days. Now I see it’s been 10 days since my last post. There must be things that are pushing themselves higher on my priority list. What are they?

A quick mental inventory sorts these activities into three broad categories:

  • creative works
  • study
  • administration

Under the creative works heading, I have my ongoing, indeed seemingly endless, work on The Mission, part of my epic of the events leading up to the birth of Christianity, which I have given the overall title of The Age of Pisces. I’m working on the notes to chapter 42 (so called; it is actually more like the 47th or 48th chapter I will actually have drafted), and my “notes” document itself runs to 23 pages so far. In my notes I kick the can about what will happen in the chapter and what it will mean. As usual, this chapter presents topics of study for me. An important one here is the festival of Passover. The action will not be happening on or even near Passover, but the fact and meanings of Passover seem to be part of what it’s about. I expect my characters to be talking about Passover, for instance. I’ve discovered that the New Testament and the Christian tradition generally is not univocal about whether the Last Supper was a Passover seder. Apparently the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke regard it as such, while John sees it as the supper of the preceding night. Interesting.

But right now I have another creative work in the pipes: I’m about to publish as an independent e-book my early short story “The Hermit”. The writing of this hitherto unpublished story coincided almost exactly with my university career: starting in September 1979 and ending in January 1980. To help me with this I’ve acquired a new software package called Jutoh, an e-book authoring application produced by Julian and Harriet Smart, a literary couple in Edinburgh. So far I’m very well pleased with it: it is exactly what I was hoping to find after the fussy, tedious fiddling I had to do last year to publish Truth of the Python. Among its excellent features is a relatively simple facility for producing your own book cover; and I accordingly have come up with a cover for “The Hermit”—a very good one if I may say so, and which you’ll soon get to see. But it took time to do—”creative works” time.

As for study, this is my other great love after creating. In fact, I’m not sure which I love more. I suppose creating is more like a passionate love relationship that has sudden ups and downs, joys and sorrows, while study is more like an abiding friendship that, though it may have its difficulties here and there, is mostly a solid structure and a steady source of benefit and pleasure.

My day begins with study, as I type extracts from books I have highlighted. The book I’m currently typing: The Great Code by Northrop Frye, which has the subtitle The Bible and Literature. I received it as a present from Harvey and Dorothy Burt in June 1982 (I’m not sure why that particular date—maybe as a delayed birthday present since I had been out of the country for several months), but only read it a couple of years ago, when I realized that it pertained closely to my project. Books can sit for years on my shelves as moles, waiting to be activated by a shift in the wind of my interests.

Under “study” I also include my program of self-directed liberal education, which in practice means reading the Britannica Great Books of the Western World (right now I’m reading volumes 26, Shakespeare I, and 50, Marx), and trying to familiarize myself with the liberal arts of the so-called trivium: logic, grammar, and rhetoric. My main text for that right now is The Trivium by Sister Miriam Joseph, originally published in 1937. I’m only 74 pages in, but I can tell you right now that it’s superb: a whole education in the covers of a single paperback.

I also “study” material for my own philosophical inquiries. I’m passionate about environmentalism and about the quality of life—human and other—on Earth generally, and I hope to make a contribution to the thinking in this area, which I think of, using a phrase by Peter G. Brown, as the Commonwealth of Life. So right now part of my reading cocktail is Prosperity Without Growth by Tim Jackson.

And I “study” to improve my own writing chops. Toward this end I’m dipping into the fascinating 1,000-page tome Garner’s Modern American Usage, and I continue to imitate and analyze high-quality writing, following up with techniques I learned in Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student by Edward P. J. Corbett. I keep a 3-ring binder by my chair in the living room to make my notes during the reading period at teatime.

Another form of “study” for me is guitar. Having first picked it up when I graduated from high school in 1977, I have played it off and on since then. In 2008, after what was essentially a 20-year gap, I decided to take it up again: that is, work at improving at it, instead of simply fooling around with it occasionally has I had done during the gap. I got a few guitar books and have worked with them almost daily since then. In terms of liberal education, music is one of the four arts of the so-called quadrivium: those more specialized arts (the others being arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy) that in medieval times one went on to study after one had completed the trivium. Proficiency in the trivium earned one the bachelor of arts degree; proficiency in the quadrivium earned one the master of arts degree.

That’s actually not all the study I do, but I’m running out of, um, time here, so I’ll move on to administration, which is the term I’ll use to embrace all my various day-to-day activities and responsibilities, from eating to exercise to paying bills. (I don’t really do too much of any of those things, but still, it all adds up.)

So all of the above is how I prefer to spend my time. Writing “blog posts” would fit under “creative works”, but it has to compete with the other creative works. Now, in general, it seems to be fighting for its place at the teat of my time. But today, on this cool, overcast Sunday afternoon, while Kimmie toils in the flowerbed outside my office window, it seems to have found a window of opportunity.

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