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.
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.)
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 .