Time. It flies. It flees. It keeps on slippin’ into the future. It’s the fire in which we burn. It’s an arrow forever pointing toward the unknown. And it’s the only thing we know for sure we have in an exhaustible quantity.
I have a little note to myself saved on my computer. It’s a Word doc called Reminder, and I open it up and read it now and again, when I feel my circadian rhythms waning and I’m unsatisfied with my day’s work. Reading it never takes long. Would you like to read it? It won’t take you long either. Here it is:
Your time is growing short. You know that, right?
When my next birthday comes around, I will be 36. I say that not because I feel old (I don’t) or because I’m trying to generate some authority based on my wizened years; I know there are plenty of members in our community that have decades on me, just as I have a good number of years on a few of you. I mention my age simply because I have no idea what that means in terms of my life span. Statistically, I’m just short of the halfway point in my life, but that doesn’t mean much. I have a great-great aunt on my mom’s side who lived to be 106. On the other hand, no male on my dad’s side has made it to 50 for at least three generations.
These are just spikes on the bell curve, anomalies without representation. Without context, they mean nothing, and when you add up all the factors…you don’t get much more than nothing. Trends and possibilities, and it still doesn’t tell me how long I have. Nothing will. Forecasting and futuregazing is all well and good for the large strokes, but it’s the details that get you. Minute changes in the road’s coefficient of friction on a rainy morning, the tiny spot in the blood vessel wall that didn’t get enough protein growing up, the innocuous bacteria at the emergency room that dreams of being MRSA. You never know how much time you have, so you pick and choose what you do with it, and you soldier on with your life.
I apologize for the gloomy digression, but we’re approaching the point rapidly. As artists, we grapple with big ideas and broad themes in our work, even when we focus on the little stuff—scratch that, especially when we focus on the little stuff. At some level, to write effectively and well, or paint or create music or do any of the arts, you have to fully engage with your life, or at least a passable simulation thereof. When you do that, it becomes easy to put off the idea of time ticking away from us, to put it out of mind and leave it be except for certain rare occasions.
You could argue that’s what most people do, to avoid the crushing stare into the abyss that we dance around so gently. That’s probably true, but I have bad news for you. We don’t get to do that so much, not and be honest. Art is many things, and one of those things is wholly consumed with life: portraying it, eliciting it, capturing it in all shades of feeling. Death, the stopping of all clocks, is inextricably part of that, and so artists must engage with it too. We don’t get to run away, though we mightily try at times.
As such, death is part of our subject matter, our work, but it’s also the timekeeper in a race where we can’t see the scoreboard. By committing art, we flout death, cheat it of its grasp, even if just for a little while. Time ends for everybody, and we must be aware of it trickling by, and commit as much as we can of ourselves to the struggle against the last tick, every day.
Am I saying you must write/paint/sing/whatever until it fills every hour of your waking day? Hell, no. Life is the fuel for art and vice versa; you can’t improve one by ignoring the other. What I am saying, in a bit more baroque and Bergmanesque way than I originally intended, is that you’re never going to have more time than you have now, so don’t put anything important off. Live your life, make your art, give the Reaper the finger one more time than you originally planned. Make your plans and hope for the best, but put one more sentence down on the page before you go. One more brush stroke, one more note.