The other day, someone said to me, “I haven’t seen you in a few weeks. And I’ve been thinking about you, thinking how two weeks can go by quickly or slowly, depending on your current situation.” Then she kept looking at me like she wanted an answer, wanted to know the rate at which my weeks have been passing. I smiled and said, “It depends on the day.”
One of the hardest things in the world for me to do is be still. You should see me when I write–up and down, up and down, into the kitchen, into the bathroom, stare out the window, back to the laptop. I had to buy what is technically a dining room chair for my desk because I needed something big and without arms for maximum position variation. I marvel when other writers tell me they sit down to their work and don’t get up for like five hours. I’m impressed if I stay in the chair for one–and granted, just because I get up doesn’t mean I don’t come back. I do. But I have to move. It’s one of many reasons why I’m a runner.
So when you are a person whose very being seems to cry out for movement, and then one day, life swoops in and puts you on full-stop, handing you one task and one task alone, your adept-at-multi-tasking self will look at this one thing and say, “But what else?” And life will say, “Nothing else.” And you will stare long and hard at this one thing, and even though it’s something you’ve always wanted, you will find it difficult to sit with this simplicity, this stillness. Time will swell and morph and multiply, and you will find you have at once have far too much of it and also never enough. The length of an hour depends on what it’s filled with, and how many you’re looking forward to that will be filled with the same thing. And when you simply don’t know either of these factors, well, that’s another matter entirely.

When I was in grad school, I wrote an essay on the art of avoiding sentimentality while still retaining power in emotional scenes. One of the stories I discussed was by Andre Dubus, from his collection, Dancing After Hours. I’m excerpting a few paragraphs from the story in this post because they have to do with this mysterious thing called time. And also because I no longer know how to measure my hours, my weeks, my days. Because I have fallen into a particular kind of melancholy, and when this type of mood overtakes me, the only thing that makes sense to me is Andre Dubus.

From “A Love Song” by Andre Dubus:

“These words in the kitchen, these smoked cigarettes and swallowed brandy, were two hours of her life. What began as the scent of perfume on wool, then frightened and sorrowful ratiocination that led her beyond his infidelity, into the breadth and depth of the river that was their sixteen years of love–its falls and rushing white water and most of all its long and curving and gentle deep flow that never looked or even felt as dangerous as she now knew it truly was–ended with not even two hours of truth in the kitchen, for truth took most of the two hours to appear in the yellow-white light, and the gray cirrus clouds of blown and rising and drifting smoke, or perhaps took most of the two hours to achieve. Then it was there, unshadowed, in its final illuminance.

“Two hours, she figured with pen and paper and numbers, sitting at one in the morning in the kitchen, weeks later, adding and multiplying and dividing, smoking and drinking not brandy but tea: one hundred and twenty minutes that were six ten-thousandths of one percent of her life from the day of her birth until her husband turned his pale and anguished face and walked out the door, into the summer night.

“She never again perceived time as she had before.”