Time Well Wasted

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

There’s nothing quite like the flustered culmination of another school year to give a student (and probably their parents!) both the thrilling and frightening sensations from the passing of time. All good things must come to an end, but it’s especially tragic when that good thing was service & studying abroad in the Dominican Republic. On the other hand, when I lift my eyes to the future, I feel like my gleeful 10-year-old self trying to sit still and be patient the minutes before a birthday party– a nearly impossible feat when there is such an exceptional summer beckoning on the sunny horizon. How wonderful it is to have so many things to look forward to! Playing with this theme of time, last night I quickly jotted down some good habits of time “well wasted” that I’ve collected over the years and especially this past semester. They’re the sort of things that I usually have to push myself to do but that I have never regretted. At it’s core, growing up is mastering, through trial and error, the art of spending this precious currency, our funny gift called time.

The note-to-self:

  1. Give more hand-made presents: I can trace back my fondness for giving crafty gifts to watching my Grandma Noesen lovingly sew quilts for my newborn cousins as a little girl. Ever since, I have gradually taught myself to sew, crochet, knit, make jewelry, cards, and create various other items that are ideal for gift-giving occasions. Although the pieces usually emerge embarrassingly divergent from the original concept (still waiting for practice to make perfect), hand-made gifts represent beauty, utility, and a prized investment of time. It seems a little childish to spend hours upon hours making something that I could easily purchase, but I’ve decided that it’s a piece of childhood I want to hold onto. Those grandmotherly skills also hold their own across cultures, as my little sister in the campo and I are currently in the midst of weaving friendship bracelets for each other. 🙂
  2. Carve out time to read poetry: I can’t quite put my finger on the time when I first discovered the way in which words can share an experience through poetry, but I have been drawn in by  time and time again ever since. Even when I try to become swept away with the more comfortable tangibles of the world of business, my little poetry books seem to tap at my shoulder until, yet again, I fall in love with a vivacious poem. I have even acquired the pleasing habit of rising early some blessed mornings to read a few poems aside a steamy coffee. If that is something you have never tried, you absolutely must give it a shot tomorrow morning.
  3. Say yes to late nights turning into early mornings: “You can sleep when you’re dead” has become the guiding star to how much time I am willing to invest in my relationships. You never, ever lose when you invest hours in important conversations (or silly adventures), as late nights often lend themselves to, with another human being. As much as I love to read stories, I love being a part of one infinitely better.
  4. Embrace the dirt: Take off your shoes. I recently had a funny dinnertime chat with a friend bemoaning the fact that we can never seem to keep our feet clean in this country– but afterwards I realized that I’m really a fan of this deep down. It means I have been places, done tangible things and they left their little marks on me.  While I don’t mean to encourage actually embracing the dirt, this point simply is a reminder to revert back to that carefree, messy childish mindset that allows us to revel in the little things. So, go on weekly bike rides to get ice cream with the little kiddos in your life. Life is too important not to spend time with your family. Life is way too beautiful not to adventure into nature and breath in the fresh air. And, life is way too short not to buy that dripping ice cream cone and stimulate the local economy through your devoted patronage.
  5. Keep in touch with old friends: Lord knows that we’re all busy and stressed, but I know that I am always filled with gratitude when I receive a surprise “hey just checking in” kinda message. It’s caring enough to actively care for people that sets the great apart from the rest. Plus, it always feels fulfilling to make someone’s day.
  6. Acquire art and spend more afternoons in museums: As I graduated from the various embarrassing fads and fashions of my girlhood (if you want a chuckle: gauchos, aero shirt, and pigtail buns was the uniform) I have thankfully learned to refine and edify my tastes. I recently read a marvelous passage about such from The Economist’s View of the World, “Economists of the past thought it was part of their task to remind their readers that there are high and low pleasures, that many of the high ones require reason and the sometimes-painful acquisition of knowledge, that we aspire to tastes better than our current ones, and that such aspirations are sometimes hindered by profit-seeking businesses that cater to vices and over-emphasize the importance of what money can buy.” In other terms, it is our duty as consumers to signal the market to produce these “elevating” goods. Surrounding yourself with beauty reminds you to make something beautiful of yourself and your life– which is a very, very good thing.
  7. Eat and converse slowly: Here in La República Dominicana, I have really embraced the more relaxed, people-focused culture and my friends and I are fond of taking our sweet time when we go out to eat. This includes pre-cena walks, then drinks, appetizers, the main course, more drinks, and plenty of rich conversation. There’s always something to celebrate with each other– it’s just our job to seek it out 🙂
  8. Start and end each day with a prayer: I’ve been on and off with this one over the years, but I’ve recently resolved to get better. And that resolution began with a little story: One fine evening on a mall bench in Santiago, an old man with a baguette in one hand and bag of groceries in the other eased himself down next to my girlfriends and I.  We instantly struck up a lively conversation with this funny character. Several pleasantries, travel tips, and Shakespearean soliloquies later— he had been a professor for many years— our sentences began to drift upwards towards the divine, perhaps because it was Semana Santa. This old teacher leaned in towards us and confidently spoke of his unending trust in Him. He confided in us that he recited Psalm 23 each morning. Sometimes all we need is a little nudge in the right direction, and I have taken to reciting Salmo 23 each morning, simultaneously thanking the Almighty while practicing my Spanish pronunciation. Strangers have the funniest ways of teaching us what we need to know— which brings me to my next point…
  9. Always talk to strangers: There is not a single habit that has changed my life more– be open, be open, be open. Whether in the check-out line, on a train, or enjoying an neighborhood stroll, I have never been disappointed every time that I’ve surpassed my nervousness (or pure unawareness) in order to open myself up to a new face and conversation. In fact, that is how the majority of my best friends came to be. “How are you today?” and an engaging grin works wonders on us human beings, without exception.

P.S. The cover photo of this post is the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. If the trade-winds ever blow you to Minnesota during the 4 months that it’s not buried in snow, spend a lazy Sunday roaming around their paths. It’s good for the soul. 😉

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3: A Calming Relic

Scarcely an English class goes by in which I don’t harness a portion of the wisdom imparted to me by one of my favorite English teachers. If you’ve had the pleasure of seeing the Dead Poet’s Society, you most definitely know the type. He was a larger than life character, who had the humility to behold and welcome the daily miracles of life, but even better, he taught his students to view life with those same thankful eyes. It was one fine morning, probably in March since these kinds of people have a sixth sense for fitting circumstances, when he encouraged (nay, forced) our class to march around the school chanting this melodic, seemingly foreign hymn. We assumed that he was once again teaching us the vigorous lesson of not taking ourselves too seriously.

Later, we would learn that our incantation was the very prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales:

WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes,  and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages:
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmers for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke.

2: The Morning After

Last night’s elections shambled on into the wee hours of the morning, as ties were loosened and un-heeled feet were stretched, but this morning has been unfolding slowly with the sweet savor of success.  Though, the celebration will not progress past the consummation of a piece of red velvet cake for breakfast, as it is time to capitalize on the fresh energy. But first, a complex poem to stimulate the mind:

Pathedy of Manners

by: Ellen Kay

At twenty she was brilliant and adored,
Phi Beta Kappa, sought for every dance;
Captured symbolic logic and the glance
Of men whose interest was their sole reward.
She learned the cultured jargon of those bred
To antique crystal and authentic pearls,
Scorned Wagner, praised the Degas dancing girls,
And when she might have thought, conversed instead.
She hung up her diploma, went abroad,
Saw catalogues of domes and tapestry,
Rejected an impoverished marquis,
And learned to tell real Wedgwood from a fraud.
Back home her breeding led her to espouse
A bright young man whose pearl cufflinks were real.
They had an ideal marriage, and ideal
But lonely children in an ideal house.
I saw her yesterday at forty-three,
Her children gone, her husband one year dead,
Toying with plots to kill time and re-wed
Illusions of lost opportunity.
But afraid to wonder what she might have know,
With all that wealth and mind had offered her,
She shuns conviction, choosing to infer
Tenets of every mind except her own.
A hundred people call, though not one friend,
To parry a hundred doubts with nimble talk.
Her meanings lost in manners, she will walk

Alone in brilliant circles to the end.

Poetry, and all language for that matter, requires interpretation. The careful reading and understanding of a poem is a silent conversation between the poet and the reader, transcending time itself. “Pathedy of Manners” is a modern twist on the relatable and classic “what might have been” story; it even serves as a cautionary tale. The language is pregnant with connotation and double meaning thus more effectively painting the linguistic portrait. The overarching meaning of the poem is to demonstrate that lack of personal conviction, simply going through the motions of your given life, makes for a long trip alone.

The title itself, “Pathedy of Manners”, is loaded with meaning. With the Greek parents of a dramatic form “comedy of manners and the prefix “path-” (think pathetic, sympathetic), the title draws upon the comical yet pitiful storyline of the poem. It sets the stage for the tone of the author, which is one of hilarity yet also empathy as the subject of the poem falls into the trap of society. The subject seems to do everything ideally in the eyes of the culture, yet “she shuns conviction,” and therefore the ending is unhappy, and we are pulled in to pity her.

There is a spring of the subject’s life story which occurs from line 1-16. One instantaneously gathers that the subject is an “it girl” or social butterfly, “brilliant and adored,/Phi Beta Kappa, sought for every dance” (2-3). “She learned the cultured jargon of those bred/To antique crystal and authentic pearls”; she was privileged with a remarkably good education and really lived for the worldly things of this life. But following the classic blueprint, we catch hints of foreboding folly: “and when she might have thought, conversed instead.” Finally, she comes back home from her international outing, and settles down for “a bright young man whose pearl cufflinks were real” who was most definitely approved of by her well-to-do parents. The second appearance of “pearl” is significant. Not only does it call to mind the previously mentioned well-breeding of her company, but additionally the pearl may act as a symbol for the bride and groom themselves who are glossed over and polished up but whose souls are naught but a humble grain of sand. Ideal, ideal, ideal and then the reader notices the “lonely children in an ideal house” (16). Not only are the parents caught up with their own social life, but the cycle of going through the motions and loneliness is passed down. The innocent children will undoubtedly be affected by their parents’ emptiness.

And then, when the perfect little showcase family is stripped away, the reader gets a first-hand account of the sad subject, “toying with plots to kill time and re-wed/ Illusions of lost opportunity.” In short, she chose the easy way. She chose to life the life that was handed to her; now “she shuns conviction”, as her meaning and purpose were lost in her manners. All that she lived for, the dances, the childish things, are long gone, making old age a burden rather than a blessing. She put all her efforts into ephemeral appearances and failed to find meaning in them. “Her meanings lost in manners, she will walk/ Alone in brilliant circles to the end,” the last part of the poem follows when all the pretty little building blocks fade away and our poor friend is left with fake, fluffy surroundings.

The poem is not about radical change, but rather about building up nice things and then peeling them away. How familiar we are with this pattern! The ironic, circular aspect of the poem is emphasized by the repetition of the word “brilliant” in the first and last lines. And yet there lives on hope in this pathetic comedy, as she may escape from her self-imposed prison yet and live to pursue a deeper life.