Discordant, Dancing Sprites

Like a fallen leaf twirled about upon the chaotic eddies of a gentle mountain stream, I spent the evening today grasping — and mostly failing — to draw a coherent, unified insight out of several discordant sprites dancing chaotically at the margins of my imagination.
The spark that lit the pyre of introspection was … well, it was odd. I was enjoying a premium hand-rolled cigar at my local tobacconist’s smoking lounge. I paired an lovely Alec Bradley Nica Puro with a can of cold, refreshing diet Coke. And I sat in a soft leather chair, my tablet in hand, reading the various news of the day while some sort of extreme sports program played silently on the television. Two-thirds of the way through the 1,100 or so headlines that had queued over the last 24 hours, I came across an article in one of the politics-slash-gossip blogs I read, about the frenzied speculation that British diver Tom Daley, an Olympic bronze medalist who’s not yet 21, is dating American writer Dustin Lance Black — a man twice his age so therefore a contemporary of mine. Apparently the Internet was abuzz yesterday with Daley’s YouTube confession that he’s bisexual and has been dating an unidentified man, so of course the tabloids went into overdrive and Black’s the theory du jore because Instagram. I’m not sure why the story struck me, or why, but it did — swiftly and viscerally, but incoherently; I thought something but I didn’t know quite what.
So that was the first dancing sprite. The second was a reflection, on my way to pick up a gift certificate, that the lion’s share of the reason I sometimes can’t get done what I need to get done is because I am apparently pathologically incapable of declining the pleading of others to help them solve their own problems. As I obsessed over all the stuff I’ve meant to do lately versus what actually got done, I realized that a major time sink wasn’t that I can’t deliver, per se, but that I have so little time for myself because I’m doing something else, somewhere, for someone. Nothing heroic — don’t infer a humblebrag — but more like the assumption that I’m everyone’s tech support hotline or personal document editor. No one really abuses the system, I guess, but when enough people want something, and each request in itself is reasonable, the calendar overflows and the bulk of my personal docket gets shuffled off to another day. A day that, increasingly, gets shunted ever more distantly down the road.
The third sprite was a flash of irritation over a well-intentioned question about my hair. Yes, it’s long. Yes, I have a reason for it. Yet I cannot fathom why people feel impelled to comment about it. And my family is the worst of all; I almost want to let it grow down to my ass because I absolutely do not want to have it cut and then listen to them coo about how much better it looks, as if I were some wayward child who finally saw the light.  (I believe Tony’s wife calls this attitude oppositional defiance, except in my case, I’m quite happy with it.)  I’m getting to the “last straw” point with them, a conflagration that’s been smoldering, ready to ignite, ever since my grandfather, St. Frank the Peacemaker, died eight years ago.
Other sprites jigged ’round the noggin — lamentations about dating shared over Bloody Marys with my friend Julie; questions about portfolio diversification as a freelancer; the aggressiveness of my 2014 annual goals; realistic prospects for my novel — but those three took pride of place.
Perhaps the Grand Unified Theory of these discordant threads is time. One of the most fascinating courses I took as an undergraduate was a grad seminar in the philosophy department about the nature of time. Taught by the brilliant but somewhat erratic Quentin Smith, the course reviewed the major logical ways of characterizing time as a thing-in-itself and therefore an object of independent perception. Although we argued mightily about whether we live in A-, B- or C-series time, the notion of time as a companion — a fellow traveler, if you will — stuck with me.
The clock waits for no man. I’m still young — 37 is hardly elderly — but it occurs to me that many of the things I really want to master require the vitality of youth. I really do want to do a marathon. I really do want to dive the Great Barrier Reef. I really do want to hike Denali. But the window of opportunity doesn’t stay open forever, and when I examine both the professional and personal success of someone like Black, and I stress over having to dance to everyone else’s drummer, it occurs to me: At some point, I’m going to have learn to say no, so I can enjoy the privilege of saying yes to life’s Meaningful Things.

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