Time to Think

Last July, I moved to a small bungalow downtown and a month later my daughter went off to college. I am alone for the first time since I was a newly minted college graduate embarking on my first job as a newspaper reporter.

As a result, my life has slowed. Considerably. I am still busy with work every day, and my master’s degree demands are significant. Yet I feel as if my life has expanded with time. I often feel like I’m not doing much, but I am. I read, I write, and, well, mostly, I think.

For thirty years I moved at lightning speed, taking care of husband and child, mother and others. Full-time career. Freelance writing. Teaching. Pursuing, madly pursuing, something that seemed always to be just out of reach. So I stopped.

Now I wake and think. I read and contemplate. I write and ponder. I do not watch TV or listen much to the radio. I simply sit and think.

What does it mean to stop and just, well, consider? It’s a profound luxury, one that university and college professors, especially those with long tenures, often enjoy. When I worked at the University of California, Santa Barbara, several years ago, I came to appreciate the idea of simply thinking, creating new knowledge just for the sake of the discovery. Because UCSB is a research university, the professors are hired and paid to think, mostly. About why certain things happen the way they do, or do not. About innovative ways to combat cancer, or replicate the stickiness of a gecko’s feet, or design new models to measure climate change. Such pursuits require a lot of thinking.

Robert Grudin, a University of Oregon professor emeritus, wrote a book in 1982 called Time and the Art of Living. The book might best be described as a work of philosophical exploration. Grudin considers all manner of topics – love, relationships, politics, good, evil, morality, achievement, memory, art, growth, age – all in relation to time. He tackles what time is, how we relate to it, how we perceive it. It’s an elegantly written treatise on how to live, given the realities of space and time.

It’s also obviously the product of a lot of thought – philosophical musing meant to discover or uncover what we don’t know, or hadn’t thought of in a particular light.

I am doing that now. Reading books and thinking about how they were constructed. Reading books about writing and rediscovering ideas, but with a different perspective. Sometimes I sit at my desk and stare out the window for long periods. When I did that as a child I was reprimanded. That was probably your experience as well. But now it opens up opportunity for discovery; daydreams reveal old memories and foster new understanding.

I am relishing the time that has unexpectedly come into my life. I never imagined this would be one of the gifts, perhaps the most important, that have come from choices I made over the past few years. But I accept it wholeheartedly.

In Time and the Art of Living, Grudin says: “Good artists, even those who work very quickly, turn to every detail, every passage, as though it could if necessary be given an infinite amount of time. This readiness to delay paradoxically adds to their effective speed; for the awareness that they will never let pressures of time cheapen their efforts gives them confidence and hence pace. This fact stands behind the many adages which relate achievement to patience. Patience is no more than generosity with time; and the artist who is generous with time will be rewarded in turn.”

Oh, yes.

What – how – do you think?