People on the internet like to joke that 2016 was actually 2016-2020 and that 2020 was actually 2020-2023 (and maybe even 2024) and I would agree with that sentiment. There’s also those jokes about how 1998 is the same distance away from now as it was from 1988 to 1968, the time period the Wonder Years took place and aired. Nah, can’t be….and yet it is. I’m increasingly feeling like time is an amorphous thing, something ill-defined and increasingly circular. I remember on our Appalachian Trail hike that days would feel like months and months would feel like days. We might have been in the White Mountains but surely it was only yesterday we’d been hiking through Virginia, not two and a half months prior. It was easy to feel out of the realm of “normal” with society with regard to time when on the trail.
But now? I’m having a difficult time thinking we left Florida and hiked the Appalachian Trail 14 years ago. My niece Ashleigh would have been 14 last weekend. My niece Zoe will be 16 and nephew Grayson will be 13 this summer. Forest will be 10. 10. I was literally just in the thick of nursing and changing diapers. Didn’t he just start kindergarten? How is next year his last year of elementary school?
Someone explain it to me.
Time slowed during 2020. It stretched forever. The pandemic was never going to end. When would we get vaccines? Would I ever eat in a restaurant again? I turned 40 but, did I? I’m going to turn 44 this year and I’m struggling to figure out where the last four years went. I haven’t been able, or at least it feels like I haven’t been able, to enjoy my 40s. My 20s and 30s seemed to linger. But the 40s? They are zipping right on by. In 6 years I will be 50. What in the hell?
Needless to say, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night filled with anxiety and dread of feeling like there is no time to waste. Must travel. Must read. Must hike. Must write. Must spend time with kiddo before he flies the coop. Must, must, must. I am sure this feeling of impending doom just increases as you get older, or maybe some of y’all have been able to reconcile it. Maybe it’s just middle-age and coming to terms with it all. But it is hard not to ask a bazillion questions to myself or feel guilt for not having “it done” or something finished.
I think I’ve always had this weird relationship to time. I have time-space synesthesia and number-form synesthesia so I have always been able to mentally map out years and a calendar well in my brain but I’ve had a hard time reconciling it lately. Even back in my 20s, sometimes I’d take naps in the late afternoon and the south Florida sun would shine through the sliding doors and the blinds into our bedroom and it would somehow make me very sad and make me think about the passing of time. Naps still do that to me, too, though I feel more doom than I used to.
There’s just not enough time to do it all. And what is all? Well, that changes on any given day. Last weekend I thought of the mounting things that I could/need to help with at the preserve I volunteer at and realize some of it is just on-going and will always be a priority. I look at projects around the house and wonder when or if we’ll ever get to some of them and if some really even matter in the long run. Creatively, I look hard at projects I’ve sat on and kick myself for not being more proactive with writing 15-20 years ago, or taking my art more seriously when I was younger and developing a habit sooner. There are plenty of writers and artists who make the dedication in middle and older ages and it reminds me, I’m not behind, I’m not late, I just need to stay focused and do the work. I *am* doing the work but sometimes it is slow work.
And then my anxiety around time morphs into: Does it even matter?
Everything is ephemeral anyway. What I write and create today will last, what, until Forest’s grandkids are gone? Sooner? I stopped in a thrift store I like last weekend and saw a piece of art on the wall, a whelk seashell someone had painted that was well done and framed nicely, and I almost bought it but couldn’t think of anywhere to hang it. Who gave that art up? Why? It made me think of some quip I once said about coffee shop art shows to my sister in law that she likes to rag me about when it comes up occasionally, because I find them sad and lonely places for a lot of art to end up. I would always want anyone who had my art to give it back to me if they decided they didn’t want it any longer. It would always have a home with me. I think this is where the case for being a sketchbook artist comes in handy.
Anyway, I think all the impending doom is all just perimenopause…when in doubt, I blame perimenopause these days. And all of my complaining means nothing in the grand scheme of things when there’s gross human atrocities happening in Palestine and a famine in the Central African Republic. A lot of dark stuff and that doesn’t even begin to look at the 2024 election cycle, which I just…can’t deal with this bullshit again. And I’m not even touching on Greg Abbott’s unhinged border crap or the downward spiral of a post-Roe world. I love my IUD and when the GOP wants to come for birth control next (which they will if “we” keep giving them power) they can pry it from my uterus themselves. I mean, maybe the doom isn’t perimenopause…
Before I spiral more and get too ranty, I’ll share one of the best things I’ve read in the last few months. It’s an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert and I loved it so much I printed it out. And it made me want to dig out my copy of Big Magic to read again.
Like I said earlier, I feel comfortable here. I shaved my head recently because I wanted to do it. I’ve been dreaming for years of not having to deal with hair anymore. I was looking around at all these dudes my age, and I realized that they all had super easy, super cool, buzz cuts — and that they all looked great. I was at a meeting recently with all these men and women my age, and all the men had short or buzz-cut hair and all the women had longer, fussed-over, expensive-looking, fake hair — just like mine. I was looking around the room thinking, “Are we seriously still doing this? Who made up these gendered hair rules, and why are we still abiding by them?” I realized that if I were a 54-year-old man, I would’ve buzzed my hair off years earlier, and my life would be simpler and less expensive for not having to keep up the fancy blonde lady hair I’ve worn for decades. Around that same time, I also saw something online where they took magazine covers of famous guys in their 50s and 60s and photoshopped them just as they would have to do, had it been a woman of the same age. I know this kind of stuff gets talked about all the time, but something about seeing those cool dudes airbrushed to lose all their wrinkles, in order to make a point about the difference in male and female beauty and aging standards, really pissed me off.
Go read it.
And be sure to tell me your thoughts on time.