It's About Time
I had barely noticed the peculiar smell in the house and the burning in my eyes when the piercing shrill of the smoke alarm got my attention. I hurried to the kitchen, grabbed the closest thing within reach, a plastic cutting board, and with it, fanned wafts of moving air toward the alarm.
I opened the windows and then the oven—where the charred remains of cookies lay in neat little black mounds. Twelve of them, lined up like torched soldiers, four rows of three. As I dumped them into the trash and considered making another platoon, I was reminded of the last time I had had a fire in that oven.
The first time I used my new oven, I saw flames through the glass door. The manufacturer’s instructions, “How to Use Your Whirlpool Appliance” had been taped to the inside top of the oven, presumably at the factory. The instructions caught on fire during the pre-heating process, but luckily, no cookies were lost.
Clearly, it wasn’t my fault. Although it happened several years ago, I remember the day because that was the day when I made, what looked like a sudden decision, to quit my job.
It was a sunny afternoon in July. I was driving up the California coastline for a weekend of writing at the “Beach House.” My intentions were to leave early in the morning, but I needed to respond to a few emails and to make a last minute phone call. Two incoming calls, both requiring attention, sneaked in before I could turn on the answering machine. As I was leaving I noticed that Tracy, who had used my car, had not left enough gas in the tank to get me over the high-priced mountains, so I filled the tank, and . . . because one thing led to another . . . was about two hours behind schedule when I pulled onto the freeway.
My mind has always been full of ideas. I knew that I didn’t know how to write, but there were things that I wanted to put down on paper . . . poems, myths, stories. I yearned to learn the craft, to get the skills of writing, but as a self-employed business owner, there was never enough time.
My thoughts took me mile after mile away from the beautiful drive. I must have been absorbing some of the waving pampas grass, the steep cliffs, the grassy hills dotted with black cows or the water dancing around the rugged rocks of Bodega Bay, because by the time I arrived in Gualala, I had already made the decision. “I quit!”
It took me no more than half an hour to take down my webpage, cancel my business phone, give notification here and there and scrape the advertisements off of my car. Then, just before opening a bottle of champagne, in a symbolic motion of finality, I took off my wrist watch.
No more appointments, schedules, deadlines! I’m going to learn to write!
Taking my watch off was a symbolic cutting of the umbilical cord that had tied me not only to work, but to time. It felt good. And then, I got some scissors (it may have been the champagne) and cut off the minute and the hour hands from every clock in our house – leaving only their second hands intact.
I noticed that the minute hand on the clock face was always trying to catch up to the hour hand, attempting to drag the past into the future. I’d better write that down, “. . . turning guilt into worry.”
It wasn’t long after I retired, that we moved to the “Beach House.”
One day, my friend Julian came over. We drank some iced tea and laughed and talked together. And then, after a while, she glanced at the clock on the table beside her and, not noticing that the clock had only a second hand circling around on its axis, said, “I’d better get going. It’s getting late.”
People don’t recognize that the clocks in our home don’t tell time. What the clock did for Julian, was what it did for most people, confirm the time message already in mind. I looked at the clock and thought, “I had better write that down!”
Al has made me a writing space in our home. I nestle into the comfy sofa with my keyboard, a good light and a view of the ocean. I’ve been sitting here, fingers poised above the keyboard, thinking about the story I am writing.
Not long ago, Al bought me a great book about writing. As I read the first two chapters, and then re-read them to underline the best parts, I realized that, yes, I had some good things to say, and I was getting them written, but it wasn’t a story. It didn’t have a plot. It didn’t have a crisis, much less a resolution. I was thinking about how I could start it in the middle, like the book said, or at the end.
I looked at my critical, armless clock and it told me I was getting hungry. I like a snack when I write.
Next to the clock on my table is my “If-I-get-an-idea-jot-it-down” notebook. The writing book suggested that I keep a journal, so my good, but random, thoughts would not get lost. I prefer to write with a pencil, a sharp pencil. While plugging in the pencil sharpener, I was repeating what I was trying not to forget:
“The minute hand on the clock face is always trying to catch up to the hour hand.”
That’s good, I thought. And I wrote,
“It might surprise you to know that a clock with only a second hand is not silent.”
You know that’s true. It clearly says, “Now. . . Now. . . Now. . .”
I picked up my pencil, “The key to hearing the sound of “now” is bringing your awareness to it.” And I thought, “That’s worth remembering.”
And I wrote, “The present moment, standing between the tick and the tock of time, is the only perfect, true time there is.” Poetic, right!
There I was, writing! I was on a roll!
And that’s when the cookies burned.