Life has a bow wave

Time. Marching on.

There is a kind of truism about the doctor who won’t see a doctor, a hairdresser who can’t get a haircut and accountants who don’t do their tax. Some of it is professional fatigue. After seeing sick people all day, or cutting hair or doing tax, why on earth would you want to do MORE of it? To me, it is also a professional snobbery. If you are good at your profession, it is hard to find someone else who meets your own professional standard.

What about a more esoteric example. What about a philosopher who is struggling to come to grips with time? Someone who has spent a long time thinking about the central questions of philosophy and who has read a large number of books on the subject by other preeminent philosophers? What about her?

Sometimes the closer you are the heart of a matter, the harder it is to come to grips with the practicality. Even with years of study and thinking about how to think, let alone thinking about what to think about, I still find myself battling with time. It is a battle that has never impacted on me more than it does right now. At this moment in time, at this point in my life, what is become the most important to me is making the most of time. Living well.

Most of the battle is fought on the grounds of ‘stuff’. The crap, the day to day administration, the shopping, the washing, the cleaning, the notes, the preparations, the bill paying. It takes time. It saps energy like nothing else. Even if it is a well oil machine you are using to fight the stuff, it still takes time.

My constant thought is, what if I can get it all organised so I can get ahead? How do I plan and do more efficiently, better to get to the point where the stuff is behind me and I am ahead?

I talked about this with my beloved. He looked at me, and put on a very serious face. You are a philosopher, he said, you must know you can’t get ahead of the stuff. It’s time you are trying to get ahead of. We talked about it for a long time. Here are his thoughts about time and ‘the stuff”.

Here is the non-philosopher on time

The tasks can never be finished, because they are embedded in everything. The task is everything, and everything is the task.

The progress of time creates a bow wave in front of it. The bow wave is constructed of the tasks, and administration and administrivia and the crap and all the things that go into making up life. The faster you go through life, the bigger the bow wave is and the harder it is to push. The only way you can stop it, is for time to stop. At which point, the bow wave goes away, but you are dead, because you’ve stopped.

He said it over and over. It has stopped, but you are dead! This is finally sinking in. I will never get ahead of the crap.

Now, of course, I know this. It’s impossible. Even when you live alone, you still make work for yourself. You still have to clean up, pay things, organise and arrange all manner of boring, time consuming stuff. Being competent at organsing and planning helps. It only helps it take less time, it does not make it easier. Or make the crap go away.

The faster you go, he said, the bigger the bow wave.

Finally, after years of struggle, I am learning to accept that I cannot beat the bow wave. I cannot start at one end of the to-do list, finish at the end and win, all in one day. There is no winning here. What I can do, that I haven’t been, is prioritise more ruthlessly. When it doesn’t count, when the task is boring, routine, requires little concentration, do it when I am already spent, already tired. When I have the precious moments of freshness of mind, of free time, don’t do the low level task, do the big ones. The important things. Like writing. Like reading. Like keeping myself organised. Never mind the floor, the washing, the piles of stuff to be done at that moment. Seize the time, grip it, shake the life out of it. There will be more crap, more of the stuff again later, but by then it will be too late to write if you haven’t. By then it will be too late and the day too spent to have interesting conversation, to make important decisions and all you’ll be good for is drying dishes, folding washing and sweeping floors.