Time time time

In the month of Mary Oliver’s death–she of the question so often asked it’s become a cliche: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?”–my son showed me how I could get a weekly reporting of the time I spend on my phone’s screen, which apparently averages more than two hours a day (!). It was the same month news broke that leaving Facebook makes people happier, and that I had conversations with more than one friend about time and our deep desire to feel its passing more slowly. The convergence of these things gave me pause, and as the month that passed so swiftly closed I found myself taking stock of it.

On the second day of January–of the year–I shared here that I spent the first day of it immersed in human creativity at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and that I wanted many more such days in the coming year. I was pleased to spend a good part of one Saturday at a Portland museum with a dear friend, followed by lunch at a Japanese cafe where my tiny, perfect sandwich came wrapped with a simple paper bow that sparked a surprising amount of joy in both of us.

Amanda Snyder’s The Forest in Autumn, at the Portland Art Museum

The impulse to create that always follows immersion in other peoples’ creative work got me browsing through my needlework books and perusing embroidery designs on Pinterest and pulling out an old project I hadn’t touched in over a year. I used it to learn the techniques I’d long been meaning to try in Zakka Embroidery by Yumiko Higuchi.

I had a too-brief but sweet visit with my son, and found inordinate pleasure in being able to buy my baby new shoes. As he expressed reluctance at letting the old ones go (“I’ve got a lot of good memories in those shoes”), I caught a fleeting, surprising glimpse of myself.

Through her frequent Snapchat updates, I got to watch my daughter discover herself in a whole new country.

Speaking of Snapchat, the kids and I were one day able to find within our three different time zones a narrow window through which we could simultaneously communicate with each other. This also gave me inordinate pleasure.

I went for a few walks in familiar places and discovered things I’d never noticed before.

I read a good book that altered my view of Circe, a fierce (and touchingly human) goddess, and of mythology.

I got my hair cut. A lot.

“I want my outside to better match my inside,” I told the woman who cut it, an old friend who has known me nearly two decades. Sometimes I am still surprised when cold air chills my neck or when I pass by a mirror, but I’m getting used to it.

I started a different book after I finished Circe, one about a gentle middle-aged man who runs a barely-surviving movie theater in a barely-surviving town, and who, after barely surviving an accident, comes to feel “like a character myself, well-meaning but secondary, a man introduced late in the picture.” Of his life, Virgil wishes he could “spool back and watch earlier scenes, to scout for hints and shadows, clues as to what might be required of a secondary actor when the closing reel began.”

It’s a bit like “Gilmore Girls” with all the quirk and more heart and none of the fast, shallow humor.

I spent time with my tired old dogs, who force me to sit down and rest for part of each day so that they can have time on my lap. We tore through the new season of Grace and Frankie together. (Daisy reminds me of Frankie. She wags her tail a lot.)

It’s always the neck and chin that give us older girls away, isn’t it?

I discovered not only that I can hang a curtain rod by myself, but also that discovery’s corollary pleasure of feeling self-sufficient.

And on the last morning of the month, I noticed that it is now almost light again when I leave for work, and that there was a tiny scallop of moon hanging in the branches of the neighbor’s tree.

There were a few other things I didn’t capture photos for: working with some bad-ass school librarians, signing up to volunteer with a non-profit organization, twice weekly sessions with a personal trainer. There were the gifts of an evening with a best friend that included good food, smooth wine, and rich conversation. Driving to her took me through my old neighborhood for the first time since I left it, and the heaviness that settled in the pit of my stomach as I drove streets that were once the warp and weft of every day was both painful and joyful, a reminder of old hurt and validation that moving away from it was the right thing to do.

None of my days were very remarkable, and there were some challenges in this month, too. Still, looking back at it, I can see that on balance it was a good one, full of discovery and creativity and connection with people I love.

Although learning that I spend more than 2 hours a day on my phone feels a bit alarming, I am not going to give up any of the apps I use on it, not even Facebook. In most of those 2+ hours I am talking with friends and family, or taking care of business, or getting inspired or informed about things that matter. It might be a way of stepping out of life, but it can also be a means of entering in. Early in the month a friend I’ve really only known through Facebook shared with me that he begins each day by smiling and telling himself that it’s going to be an amazing day. This is the kind of thing I normally roll my eyes at, but the morning after our conversation I remembered his words and smiled. My smile was more about feeling silly and grateful for my happy friend’s presence in my life–but that made it real. I found myself smiling at the start of most days after that, and though some played out in decidedly less than amazing ways, each started with a genuine smile–a much better beginning to a day than reaching for my phone and scrolling through the (generally dreadful) news of the world.

It’s a tricky thing, this business of the phones. Of life, and time, and how we spend all of our precious things. Virgil Wander anticipates of a simple birthday party that it will be “gorgeous and lush and difficult,” which seems to me a pretty good description of most days, if we take the time to really see them. Looking back over the first 31 of this year, I’m understanding that it is not so much what we do with them that matters, but that we do, and how, and that I share Mary Oliver’s aspiration to be a bride married to amazement. I’m understanding that the way to savor time–which is really about savoring our brief existence–is not to pack more or better things into it, but to better notice the gorgeous within every 24 hour’s lush and wild difficulty .

23 thoughts on “Time time time

    • Rita says:

      Thank you, Bethany. I really liked Virgil. A quiet read with people I enjoyed getting to know. I’m looking forward to checking out the author’s earlier books now.

  1. writer553 says:

    Oh Rita… Where to begin, dear lassie?

    I am now starting each day with a smile – thanks to you – and ’tis no mean feat for me, doing anything before my first coffee, and/or before noon. Mae West said nothing good happened before midnight and a large part of me agrees.

    I love the wistfulness and unadulterated wisdom in this post. I’ve reread it and I feel smarter somehow. imbued with that elusive magical moment of understanding that all good art can deliver to us.

    I leave you with one of my poems, “Falling.” And there’s a smile on my face.


    We fell into bed then.
    It mattered not the time of day
    Or how inconvenient.
    We were young and beautiful
    And the light from your loft windows
    Was always kind.
    It was no effort to give everything I had to you.
    Nothing could have stopped me.
    It could never have been otherwise.
    We were young.
    It seemed the light fell on us beatifically.
    We were beautiful then.

    Warmly, Tricia McCallum
    writer553 recently posted…1/120th of A SecondMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Thank you, Tricia–for the response to my words and for the sharing of your own. I think I especially like “And the light from your loft windows/was always kind.” I remember being that kind of young and beautiful. It was so lovely, wasn’t it?

  2. Hillary says:

    Oh Rita – I so love how your craft a way with your words to bring the internal world to the outside. Thank you!
    Let’s visit another wing of the art museum soon!

  3. Susan Provost says:


    Another beautiful and thought provoking piece. It really strikes home with me. Thank you for sharing yourself with us all.


    • Rita says:

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to write back. I hope we can reschedule that visit before too long. I would so love to sit and really talk with you.

  4. Kate says:

    Rita, I just love the embroidery. So cheerful and bright. I love the contrast of the embroidered flowers in the tree in what looks like a very wintery scene on the fabric! I was also glad to hear that you read/enjoyed Circe. I’ve gotten it from my library two different times but haven’t been able to read it before it’s due so I finally bit the bullet and purchased it for my kindle to read while on vacation. I didn’t get to it then either, but at least it’s waiting for me.

    As for social media, I’ve been off Facebook since after Thanksgiving and between cutting back on that and putting myself on a news diet of one (credible) newspaper a week, I’m actually feeling a lot less Henny Penny. Today, I finally bit the bullet and deactivated my Instagram account and then deleted the app from my phone. I know social media is a useful and valuable tool, but the more I take these breaks, the more I realize that I function better without it. I’m glad it’s helped you find smiles this week!!

    • Rita says:

      Hi Kate,
      My book tells me that zakka embroidery is a combination of Japanese and Scandinavian design. I thought it would be fitting to practice it on my piece of Ikea fabric. :-)The color schemes are usually simpler–only one or two colors. But I like this cheerful mix of colors better.

      I really did like Circe–it grabbed me from the beginning. As for FB and other social media: I’m still on, but in a different way these days. Seeing that 2+ hours/day did stop me short. I’m now more conscious of what I’m doing when I reach for the phone, and I’m clicking on far fewer things than I once did. Also choosing not to engage so much. I just scroll on by, especially when I see things that get my dander up. It does no good and, like you said, can make me feel all Henny Penny. I do miss seeing you there. Glad I get to here.

  5. Kari Wagner Hoban says:

    It’s so funny you mentioned Facebook because I took it off of my phone as well as Messenger and while yes, it does make me feel lighter, I do miss being interactive with people. It is way more interactive than any other social media form, for me, that is. So not sure how I feel about leaving completely especially during winter which is sucking my soul.

    Side note- did you cut your hair or is it pulled back in that picture? Either way, I love it.
    Kari Wagner Hoban recently posted…I’ve Been Using Karma Incorrectly and I’m Guessing Tori Spelling Has As WellMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Well, this week’s usage report shows me down 14%, and I was conscious a few times of just mindlessly scrolling FB and made myself stop. Too many of the people I like best in the world don’t live in my time zone or zip code, so I’m not going to get off–even though my hours of use on FB still make me pause hard (6+). I think the trick might be to just be more conscious of what I’m doing and why?

      And yeah, I did get a major haircut. I’m loving how much easier it is to get ready in the morning!

  6. Marian says:

    This is such a lovely, meandering post, Rita. I feel as though I’ve just taken a long walk with a dear friend. I love that you’re taking the time to go to art galleries, and to visit with friends, and to look at familiar things closely, and in new ways.

    The embroidery is beautiful, and maybe has a bit of a double meaning, too, what with Grace in Sweden right now. (You know I’m a sucker for small coincidences.) Speaking of which, the cover of Virgil Wander (and the author’s name) made me think of Minnesota, and our eleven years there, and sure enough, the Goodreads intro mentions Lake Superior. Putting it on my TBR list…

    I’m curious: what is the non-profit organization for which you’ve signed up to volunteer? I recently “signed up” for one, too, in a bid to get myself out of the house and *actually* making some sort of difference. Murphy’s Law happened, though, so we’ll have to see if I keep going with it or if I need to look elsewhere.

    I think I, too (like Kate), need to just keep myself away from FB. With the exception of you, when I *do* engage, my dander is up for hours, and when I choose *not* to engage, my dander is STILL up for hours. This particular Henny Penny cannot win. Or maybe I could, if I de-friended everyone except for two or three actual friends…
    Marian recently posted…#TenYears of Reusable Produce BagsMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I so wish we could take a long, meandering walk together! I guess this will have to do.

      It makes sense that the embroidery reminds you of Sweden. Pretty sure that fabric came originally from Ikea! 🙂 (I found it in a thrift store, I think.)

      The non-profit is called Write Around Portland. They bring writing workshops to community organizations serving folks who generally don’t get access to things like writing workshops. My daughter volunteered for them about 5 summers ago, and I’ve had them in the back of my mind ever since. I love their values and what they do, and I’m looking forward to learning more about them and seeing if we might be a good fit for each other. I hope the times work out so that I can do that.

      As for FB–well, I engage differently there than I did a year ago. I HIGHLY recommend de-friending anyone who isn’t an actual friend. Some of my friends are friend-of-friends (and that is how I’ve made a few genuine new friends), but I’ve learned how to use the “unfollow” feature and do so easily! Life is too short, and it’s not the medium to change anyone’s thinking about anything that matters–unless, maybe, you are already real friends.

  7. TD says:

    Dear Rita, “None of my days were very remarkable” as you reflect, yet I see your 31 days as highly remarkable of a value of life! As I was reading, there was so much variety from one topic to the next topic and a lot that I could easily happily relate.

    Especially needlework books and embroidery. In my youthful years, I worked at two specialty needlework stores during high school and while earning a Bachelor of Fine Art which eventually lead me to become a national hand-painted needlepoint designer owning my business for over a decade. I sold my business as I transitioned into that next career into the computer world. Curiously, I googled. I learned that my work is still up for sale as “Vintage”. Vintage!?! Makes me giggle. And your interest in zakka embroidery had me wondering if anyone actually spent passing time with creating things of fabrics and fibers, such beauty and talent to behold.

    Your thoughts on “I’m understanding that the way to savor time–which is really about savoring our brief existence–is not to pack more or better things into it, but to better notice the gorgeous within every 24 hour’s lush and wild difficulty.”

    Considering what I read on your blog, I wondered if you might find this of interest?
    “The Art of Noticing, a book about noticing & attention, coming May 2019 from @AAKnopf.”

    Anyway, I just love all that you share here and look forward to your next post!

    • Rita says:

      Hi TD,
      Thank you for your kind words and for the point to The Art of Noticing. It looks interesting. I can’t imagine giving up a career in textile arts for one in computers! I suppose there could be some really good reasons for doing so, but I’d so much rather spend my time with needle and fabric than with a keyboard. 🙂 When I was a kid I spent quite a bit of time sewing and embroidering. Those crewel-work kits were hot in the 70’s. I have one hanging in my house that I made for my grandma for a Christmas present a long, long time ago. She kept it through 3+ moves, and when she died it came back to me. Once my kids were born, that all fell by the wayside. Now that they are both living far away, it’s something I can return to. So many people are doing really cool, creative things with embroidery. I’m just trying to re-acquaint myself with the mechanics of it.

  8. TD says:

    I think that if we grew up on the same street, we would have become friends! My very cool grandma visited from a far away state. During one visit, she gave me a crewel-work kit. My mother didn’t do these types of activities as she always preferred reading or figuring a jigsaw puzzle and other types of interest. I was probably too young for such a crewel project, but it certainly thrilled me and influenced one of my career paths which grew into many lifetime endeavors.

    I also loved to sew. My mother had a sewing machine setup in the corner of our formal dining room that she only used for mending purposes. In middle school, I was encouraged to study home economics such as sewing, cooking, typing and record keeping to groom me to become a wife (not a career person).

    I have fond memories of a brother who saw Hawaiian fabric at a store and really wanted me to sew Hawaiin shirts for him. I loved sewing for him and I loved sewing my own clothes as I could enhance the patterns with my own creativity.

    After the crewel kit, I embroidered denim shirts of my own designs. There are some many different types of stitches, fibers, textures and colors!!! What an influence a grandma may have in our lives.

    Beautiful story to hear that one of your works was valued by a loved one for so long and that it made its way back to you!

  9. Ernie says:

    Well this is very thought provoking. I love how you are able to connect with kids from so far away. That embroidery is incredible. I find Facebook to be a time suck. I wonder how much time I spend on my phone, but it is very useful to be able to accomplish something while I am not at home. Seems you have accomplished a lot in the new year! Well done.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.