Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?: Everyday Magic, Day 1070

Time continually befuddles me, so much so that my last book of poetry was called How Time Moves, and I’m still deep in the muck of figuring out what time is and how it keeps slipping through my fingers and surging backwards under my moving feet.

Being a little number-dyslexic, I also stumble mightily when it comes to scheduling things in other time zones. Since I have coaching clients in all four U.S. times as well as one in Ireland (we meet in my morning and her evening), I’m often adding and subtracting wrong directions. This last week, I met with the wonderful board members of the Transformative Language Arts Network, one of whom was in Dubai, ten hours ahead of this cushy chair where I type in Kansas, and occasionally I’m in touch with a dear friend in Macau, a full 14 hours ahead of me, and a friend in Japan, 15 hours over the cusp of the next day. It’s an amazement to Zoom and Facebook-message with people in future time or ones just waking when I’m way past a lot of strong morning tea.

But then there’s whatever we call time here (or wherever I am) and now (also relative). With the vanishing of daylight saving time last weekend, and with travels to Orlando, a time zone ahead, I was thoroughly confused when we landed back in Kansas City to drive home, arriving at 1:45 a.m., which was 2:45 a.m. ET, and 24 hours earlier, would have been 3:45 a.m. ET. Sometimes the arbitrary tricks of naming time spin my head; whenever we do a time change, I find myself thinking, “now a week ago, it was ___ time now.” None of it makes sense to my body which gets so wedded to that week-ago time that it takes a big stretch to transfer my allegiance to the so-called real time, which will be pulled out from under us come March 12.

Even as a teen, I had trouble with this, and once got into trouble with my dad because I arrived home on a time-change night (out of daylight savings time) for my 1 a.m. curfew either five minutes early, which made me 55 minutes late. He grounded me less than he had planned because he couldn’t stop laughing at how I screwed up by being a few minutes early, which made me late.

I believe in real time mapped out and punch-holed into existence all the time by the natural world. The birds start singing in the spring just past daybreak, the barred owl calls after midnight, and the noon sun is often just about overhead. There’s also the seasonal tilts. Right now, our usual happy bird feeder is lonesome, but soon enough, the winter flocks will surge and roost there. The temperature has dropped to what feels like ghastly lows for people living in too-warm days and, like my family, having traveled recently to tropical swamplands, but eventually I’ll step outside when it’s 31 degrees and think, “oh, it’s not so bad today.” The cedars tell their own time as well as the turtles, hibernating underground, who know when to emerge.

We live in time and time lives in us, but not the kind of time we can clock. Time is more an ocean, moving inland, then back out with its big waves and dangerous undertow. The only way to know what time it really is to step outside and watch, listen, smell the changes in the air from snow about to come to the garden thawing out. Still, because we work and meet and pal around in time, there’s time enough and not enough time to track while the real time tracks us.

Living As If We Know We’ll Be Okay: Everyday Magic, Day 1068

So a little dubious, plus the only person wearing a mask

In one of my favorite movies, About Time, the main character, who can time travel, hatches a great plan: he’ll live each day with all its waking up exhausted, rushing through big halls, and navigating crowded subways where some guy blasts loud music on his phone. Then he’ll live the same day again knowing what small or big annoyances await him, and now able to enjoy even the little setbacks. But after a while, he realizes he can simply live each day once, guided by the perspective that he’s going to be okay, so why not delight in the miniature of life instead of boarding the anxiety train?

I think of this movie often, especially when a free ticket to the anxiety train is placed in my hand. Yesterday, waiting for the bus at Kansas City International Airport, which was very late, then packed to sardine capacity, I started to worry, especially when the stopped at every station in my parking lot, then all the parking lots, stuffing and squeezing in more people. “Remember About Time,” I told myself, along with directing myself to take long, deep breaths. I would make my flight, I might not get an ideal seat (Southwest Airlines), but the flight to Denver was short. Besides, the sunset was glorious and people were making jokes about almost sitting in each other’s laps to accommodate more riders.

I needed to tell myself all this in triplicate when we landed in Denver, which I soon discovered was the third busiest airport in the world, plus I had no idea how to find the passenger pick-up exit where my friend would be waiting. I asked for directions, but in the rush of thousands of people walking vast distances through airport shopping malls and herding ourselves onto and off of the train to the main terminal, I kept forgetting where to go. Yet knowing there was a happy ending some time ahead, I relaxed than I would have in the past, which was helpful when I got our more times. I was also delighted to meet a United Nations of immigrants working at the airport who warmly accompanied me from one wrong place to another (although they meant well).

The thing is, that even if we take the wrong path, get off at the wrong stop, shlep our luggage to the wrong exit, or ride the wrong escalator, we almost always get where we need to be. Obviously, this isn’t just about travel.

If I regret anything besides any time I hurt anyone (knowingly or unknowingly), it’s the wasted energy, overwrought anxiety, and stupid fretting I spent on the wrong things. Even worry about the right things — impending loss of a loved one, a cancer diagnosis, a car accident — isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, as almost all of you dear readers know, when the shit hits the fan and the bottom drops out, what we feel, think, discover, and go through is often beyond our imagined response. As a connoisseur of anticipatory anxiety, I’ve found tensing up and freaking out ahead of time is highly overrated and bears no fruit.

But when it comes to the here and now, I want to continue acting as if I’m living this day a second time, relaxing with all the mishegas that comes while telling myself to calm the fuck down because in the end, it’s going to be okay. To quote another movie, this time The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not yet the end”

Reversal of Fortune and the Wonder Wheel of Life: Everyday Magic, Day 1065

In mid-July, everything fell apart from air-conditioners to phones to cars and more. A growing river of money and time surged out to sea. I pulled out the credit card, tried to get some sleep, shrugged, and made dinner. I also took extra headache meds when needed and freaked out in tiny bouts in between reminding myself that this happens sometimes. As someone without a steady paycheck or a salary for that matter, I know well the hamster wheel of feast and famine that suddenly doesn’t just stop, but flies off and hits the hamster in the head.

We brought to the car to the shop, installed the new a.c., buy a phone, and went on our long-awaited vacation where our credit card continued to get an extreme sports workout. When we returned home, reversal of fortune! All the checks I was waiting on slowly landed while my phone made that delightful cash register ringing sound it does when people enroll in classes or pay for more coaching. Meanwhile, the prodigal car returned home from weeks in the shop finally fixed, I finished setting up the new phone, Ken replaced a bunch of light bulbs, and we did lots of mundane household tasks because before, during, and after reversals of fortune, there’s the laundry (and dishes).

Daniel & Ken show grace in going upside-down

The world is made of metaphors. On our vacation, when we got to Coney Island, Ken — to my surprise — said, “Let’s ride the Wonder Wheel.” I thought it was an ordinary ferris wheel, but no. Half the cars that hold riders are the love children of roller coasters and ferris wheels, suddenly rushing and tilting wildly at high speed before calming the $^%#& down again.

Not knowing any better, when we were asked if we wanted a tilting or stationary car, I chose the tilting one, thinking it would rock gently as we ascended and circled back now. Quite obviously I’ve chosen a life with roller coaster cars, but then again, it’s not a matter of choosing. This is what life does. While I have miles and lifetimes to go before I take life with greater equanimity, there’s a lot to be said for reminding ourselves that sometimes life goes upside down. Sometimes it rights itself, but be calm, anxious heart when it flips or surges again. It’s just another tilt of the ride.

We Never Leave You, You Never Leave Us: Everyday Magic, Day 1064

I left because it was making me sick, the “it” being the job I had loved fiercely and believed I would give my heart and time to until I was well past retirement age. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was one of the bravest. But my decision also meant I was parted from beloved land and people in and around Vermont who altogether were another home to me.

That was close to four years ago, and illness, cancer, and the pandemic being what they were, I didn’t have the chance to return to Goddard College, and more to the point, the places and people of my heart, until very recently. As soon as the plane touched down, I was surprise-flooded with ansty sorrow and sad urgency, something I would later realize was grief. It turns out that sometimes there’s only so much reconciliation and healing you can do from a distance. The first thing I had to do after we got our rental car was go to the campus with Ken, ferret out Jennifer, the woman who has holds together the college for the good over decades, and hug her a long time.

In 1996, I fell in love with the hills, mountains, woods, valleys, curves, and weather of the Green Mountains through the grounds of Goddard College. The smell of the air (pine, fir, humidity, and old wood) then, the mission of the college, the intense comradery of the faculty, and the life-changing work with the students filled me with a sense that I had found my place….at least for a good long while. I adored the intense, one-on-one teaching—more facilitation of what people wanted to learn and how they could best explore it—I did with students as well as the deep-dish connections with fellow faculty, talking late into the night about whatever made us laugh hardest.

The possibilities felt wide open, and it was there I developed Transformative Language Arts, founded and coordinated a MA in TLA for twenty years, and dug in to spin out out thousands of pages of proposals, plans, handouts, handbooks, and more for other projects, most of which crashed on the shores of we-fear-all-change in its many guises.

I persevered even when the signs billboarded sickness and anxiety, stuckness and despair. In my last decade or so of teaching there, the faculty in my program played a lot of go-on-leave-or-get-fired roulette because of the scarcity of resources and poverty mentality. We took pay cuts. Repeatedly. And we were getting paid way under value in the first place. Bad things happened, including the college, because of poor leadership and other issues, being put on probation. Infighting escalated. Then, for me, some big revelations.

First, I realized I needed to go on leave. Just a semester off, I told myself, after teaching continuously at Goddard or other institutions for 63 semesters straight with never a break. Once on leave, I decided to take off a second semester because I couldn’t make myself come back. Then the dreams started: night after night of seeing myself leaving my job. I’d wake up the next morning to tell myself I loved my job, but then I’d hear a voice in my head ask, “Do you?”

I didn’t anymore. I also had to reconcile myself with the immutable fact that after each ten-day or longer residency, I’d fly back to Kansas and promptly get sick for at least six weeks with chronic sinus issues, migraines, digestive hell. The body never lies, so they say, and this body rang clear as a bell. When I told close friends and my therapist I was thinking of quitting, they replied, “of course you are,” “it’s about time,” and “thank God.”

Since I left, most of my fellow faculty and the director of my program also departed. We’ve stayed in touch, speaking our leaving or needing-to-leave stories, the grief over what was no longer enduring, the dashed hopes and lost people along the way. Yet for me a searing bitterness lingered, blocking out all the good I experienced there, all the ways Goddard grew me up and blew open my understandings of places and people. I felt a sting when I ran into old photos of the place or picked up a cloth bag and found it had the college logo I once so proudly displayed. I had some reckoning to do.

When I returned to Vermont, it was also to wander with Jim across fields bordering Canada while watching ospreys in their nest. To laugh with Ruth over lunch in a quintessential Vermont charmer of a town. To make quinoa tabouli (so good!) with Suzanne we would eat outside surrounded by mountains beyond mountains. To meet the new goats at Sara and Joseph’s place in between hugging them repeatedly. To talk about our lives with Bobby. To connect with past students I’ve missed so much. To listen to so many others I carry with me in my heart from afar. It was a trip full of long hugs and overflowing delight in each other’s presence.

The woods on campus

But there was also this place that carried me for so long. I returned to campus a second time, leaving Ken to nap in the car, and went to the woods. When I was last here in 2018, I left little love notes in the woods, tucking them between branches or under rocks, thanking this place and saying goodbye just in case I didn’t return. It was over six months before I would decide that, but some part of me knew. Now I faced the woods, sitting against a light post on the path between the dorms and the library with my journal open. I was ready to write more notes.

Instead, the wind, the tall trees, the slow-motion falling first autumn leaves, the occasional acorn dropping, the soft late afternoon light told me to take dictation. The place was writing back to me, but no wonder. We are in reciprocal relationships with the land and sky we listen and speak to over time.

“You never left us. We never left you. You never leave us. We never leave you.” This, in so many words, is what I heard and recorded. It chimed through me as truth, helping me see that this place was and still is a healing ground underneath it all (and there’s a lot of “it all”). It turns out I only left a job because it’s impossible to actually leave what’s embedded in you.

Since then, I’ve been thinking of a Mary TallMountain poem I love, “There Is No Word For Goodbye” (which you can see in its entirety here). She writes, “We just say, Tlaa. That means,/ See you./ We never leave each other./ When does your mouth/ say goodbye to your heart?” It doesn’t, and we never leave each other.

Traveling Woman: Everyday Magic, Day 1059

Suddenly, I’m on the road a lot after the time-bending months of the pandemic. I went to Wichita for a night to visit with an old friend I hadn’t seen since B.C. (Before Covid), then to the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow Eureka Springs, Arkansas for another kind of travel: into the memoir I’m writing for deep-dish revision. I did a side trip to Fayetteville to see several long-loved pals. Today, I’m preparing to go a few hours southwest to the Symphony in the Flint Hills (free tickets arrived to compensate me for a poem in the field guide), and in a little over a week, we do a longer road trip to Minneapolis to help our daughter.

It’s a little discombobulating. It’s a bit exciting, and at times, on long stretches of monolithic freeways, a bit boring. There’s the old annoyances of drivers cutting us off or having to stop regularly to make my way through junk food to gas station bathrooms. Sometimes there’s a whiff of danger, like when part of a tire flew into the car yesterday somewhere on I-44 in Missouri. Often there’s great music to sing along to, good conversation (even when I’m alone because I can’t stop talking to myself), and astonishing skies. There’s also the memory games of what to pack and the hauling and sorting back into drawers and onto shelves after each trip.

Like many of us, I’ve been more wedded to my home after these years, so whenever I walk out the front door toward the car for such a trip, I feel a magnetic pull to go back inside, curl up on the couch with the cat, stay put. But June is, to quote the Oscar and Hammerstein musical, “busting out all over,” despite gas prices, rising temperatures, and a banner year for chiggers. The call to be with people and in places I love propel me to the car, and the car seems happy and jaunty on the road. So I’m a traveling woman lately, craving stillness and loving the journey all at once.