#373: On Time Scales

Sun setting on native prairie, beam over grassy labyrinth rings.
Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Ann Arbor, MI

To shore up some book research a couple of weekends ago, I visited a meditation center near Ann Arbor on what happened to be their tenth anniversary. At the bell-ringing ceremony, one staff member talked about reflecting on their planned five-year renovation, which led him to ponder longer time scales, both for the center and for himself.

“What five year projects do you have in your lives?“ he asked us in the audience. “What fifty-year projects? Or five-hundred?“

I’ve been thinking about those time scales—and ones shorter too. I just turned in the penultimate draft for my own five-year project, and feel myself noticing the scale of Book Time. Though when I’m actually in it, writing line by line, scene by scene, my sense of time is much narrower. If not Direct Time, then an Almost-Direct Time.

There’s also the slightly wider Admin Time, usually between or after writing sessions. I eat, look over my calendar events and list of daily tasks. I plan meals and grocery shop. I maintain the systems that keep my life going week to week.

Now I want to catalog all my other usual time scales:

  • Meditating outside on sunny mornings, then walking around in the backyard finishing my tea and checking plants and garden veggies: Seasonal Time.
  • Working on the house, going on pup walks in our neighborhood of hundred-year-old houses: City Time. Or more specifically: Rust Belt City Time.
  • Reading news sites and blogs is Virtual Time, a kind of distorted now—but also not now. A faraway now.
  • And reading books—it depends on the book.
  • Same goes for friends.

Part of the reason that travel lends perspective, I think, is that you get to experience different—sometimes vastly different—time scales than what you’re used to. Visit an older American city like New Orleans or go to countless places in Europe, and you (or at least I, a Detroiter) gain an extra century (at least).

Go for a walk in the mountains like Craig, and you’re oscillating between Direct Time—that of a body in motion, of attending to your next physical step—and Geologic Time—of getting smacked in the face with eons’ long tectonic projects.

I can hardly think of a more extreme time scale shift than trekking in the mountains. Except maybe seeing the Earth from space.

All this is to say that I’ve promised myself to more regularly and intentionally expose myself to longer time scales (ie. travel and retreat). And also to think about how new or existing projects can touch every scale. How can I connect with that Direct Time, but also attune to seasons of working, and angle toward longer, enveloping goals and projects spanning five, fifty, five hundred+ years?

I unexpectedly made good on that promise this weekend, when Julia and I drove to Chicago to see some friends who are expecting, toward the end of the month, their first child.

Talk about a project on every time scale.