Out Of Time


I tried writing my first novel when I was 21. I didn’t get very far with it because I had no story idea other than that the protagonist (me, more or less) was obsessed with time. I had just broken up with a girlfriend. Our relationship had been maddening and consuming enough to distract me from the fact that I’d quit college a year before and my life was now stretching out before me without the clear path of school or career. I started the novel the day after we broke up. The book would be my career path, my life’s path. It wasn’t. But I believe my obsession with time was, though I had no idea how you made a career out of something like that. I didn’t even know how to bring up the subject in conversation without boring whoever I was talking to.

To be boring is a writer’s most unpardonable sin, so I was conflicted. Plus, whenever I talked or even thought about time, I’d quickly become depressed. Time seemed like death’s score keeper and I hated it, was obsessed with it the way Ahab was obsessed by his whale. I didn’t want to bring everybody down. Yet I also couldn’t quite get my attention off of it the same way I became acutely aware of a ticking of a clock when I was sitting bored and lonely in a quiet room.

In those days I also believed in despair, had an almost romantic attachment to it. It seemed like a beacon pulsing with life’s aching beauty. I had it half-right. Despair is life’s way of saying, “You’ll never find what you’re looking for here. Turn around and head in the exact opposite direction.” And what is the exact opposite of time? Love, of course, what cannot be measured, changed, begin or end. 

If this doesn’t seem obvious, don’t worry, it doesn’t always seem obvious to me either. I’ve got clocks all over my house; I even strap a little one to my wrist every day. I consult them frequently, though not when I’m writing. The surest evidence that I’ve found a story I want to tell is when I look up from the page and am surprised how late it is. For a moment I experience a brief panic, as if I’ve lost track of something vital in my distraction. Until I remember where I’d just been, and where I can return anytime I choose.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.