Three thoughts I’ve picked up on this topic which have been helpful have been (i) how slowly time would go if you were sitting on a hot stove (thanks Gay Hendricks in The Big Leap) (ii) how you’d find time to deal to deal with a flood in your house, whatever was happening at work (thanks Laura Vanderkam at TED). These thoughts are both about priorities and pain – it hurts if you don’t attend to either of them, and so they shoot to the top of the list of priorities. Time management isn’t about time so much as what matters most. You can’t do everything. Unless perhaps your name is Tim Ferris but even then… from Tim Ferris I picked up the third thought: (iii) it matters how you start your day. I used to know this once, but somehow over the last twenty years had forgotten. Writing this blog every day is helping me remember. I’m giving an hour a day to reading, and writing about a poem. That’s seven hours reading I wasn’t previously doing. This choice has made me happy (and only a little bit late on a couple of occasions).
Perhaps some of our inability to manage time comes from the refusal to accept the necessity of choice, and the subsequent inability then to act on such (unmade, perhaps unacknowledged) choices. Time management might be more helpfully called choice management. No poem does the simple sums about time, life and choices better than this, from A. E. Housman:
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
I do hope to live beyond 70, but everything now frankly feels a blessing: I know quite people of my age who have died. So I’ll stick bravely with Housman’s computation and recast it for myself: Now, of my threescore years and ten, / Sixty-one will not come again… only leaves me nine more! Ouch and aieee! Why the hell would I be doing anything that wasn’t vitally important to me? Have I seen the cherry blossom?
I run out into the garden for another look.
Last time I read this poem was in an NHS addiction service centre, sometime in the last ten years. I thought then it was a bit of a risky poem to take, given quite a lot of us in the room were over 50, and I guessed that like me, quite a few people might feel (a little) frightened by the poem, after all we’d all wasted quite a lot of time one way or another. But I thought you might only be a little frightened by the poem. And indeed, there’s something so tender and quiet in its tone, something so strong in its resolve, that no one was scared, and everyone agreed they would go for a walk and look for cherry blossom this week. Does making that choice affect one’s chances of recovery? I think every strong choice affects one’s chances.
I find the poem’s sums strengthening. You could ignore or not notice the first stanza, yeah, yeah, blossoms, again, so what. It’s a normal verse about normal blossom. you are in a normal state of mind as you read it. But the killer second stanza, quite unexpected – yet not really unexpected, is it? Because the key thing about cherry blossom is its transience, it’s there and gone. Fifty chances to see it? That’s not enough!
I’ve always liked that Housman poem and of course it has been going round in my head at this time of April blossom. I also like Walter de la Mare’s, Farewell: ‘look thy last on all things lovely’. But actually, the idea in Linda Pastan’s not so good poem, Imaginary Conversation, is the one I aspire to, even if sometimes I am too grumpy. Angie
You tell me to live each day
as if it were my last. This is in the kitchen
where before coffee I complain
of the day ahead—that obstacle race
of minutes and hours,
grocery stores and doctors.
But why the last? I ask. Why not
live each day as if it were the first—
all raw astonishment, Eve rubbing
her eyes awake that first morning,
the sun coming up
like an ingénue in the east?
You grind the coffee
with the small roar of a mind
trying to clear itself. I set
the table, glance out the window
where dew has baptized every
Thanks Angie, I didn’t know this one, nor do I know the de la Mare poem, so will look it up. Very much like the idea each day being the first – better angle of perspective.
Thank you both. I have just described, to a friend, how I wake up to Jane, and her thoughts that nourish my mind, whether I agree or not, through the day. Actually, looking at Jane’s blog is often the first thing I do ( no pressure …) before breakfast, before dressing, before anything. So I start the day with a sense of anticipation and excitement. So every day is a new day. The thoughts occupy me whilst driving to work – after shouting “no. No, NO!” at the Today programme, and turning it off, I’m able to return to these thoughts. And recent thoughts, from this blog, have helped me make significant life changes.
Here is the text of the poem Angie mentions.
– Fare Well
When I lie where shades of darkness
Shall no more assail mine eyes,
Nor the rain make lamentation
When the wind sighs;
How will fare the world whose wonder
Was the very proof of me?
Memory fades, must the remembered
Oh, when this my dust surrenders
Hand, foot, lip, to dust again,
May these loved and loving faces
Please other men!
May the rusting harvest hedgerow
Still the Traveller’s Joy entwine,
And as happy children gather
Posies once mine.
Look thy last on all things lovely,
Every hour. Let no night
Seal thy sense in deathly slumber
Till to delight
Thou have paid thy utmost blessing;
Since that all things thou wouldst praise
Beauty took from those who loved them
In other days.
Walter de la Mare
Thank you Helen for this repky and for posting the de la Mare poem. Much appreciated, jane