To offer another slant on Blog 17, I’d like to again examine the impact of time on reading and writing. Somewhere in my late thirties, I began to shift in my sense of life from time lived to time left. Without a doubt, it had a bearing on selectivity, on the process of beginning to narrow what I would and, most likely, would not pursue. Graven by a sense of time allotted to us, I began to focus more tightly on what I hoped to accomplish. Concomitantly, came the necessity of shedding possibilities of lesser importance measured against time. Example: In my early forties, to concentrate on writing in my “spare” time, I put aside the guitar after eight years of lessons precisely at the moment my teacher indicated I was “good enough” to play in a band. Two pursuits, one direction, my choice was dictated by an inner drive toward some degree of mastery. I’ve always wanted to be good at what I do. Still do. Have I succeeded? I have no idea, but I’m still trying.
As I approach eighty (one year to go), the winnowing process, begun at forty, has quietly continued. Reading remains a primary source of ideas, but more than ever, a source of pleasure. A writer (possibly Isaac Bashevis Singer) said that fiction is to instruct and entertain. As a young reader, in my desire to learn, I plowed through a welter of what is considered classic literature. Rarely did I find it entertaining. Increasingly, I prefer to be entertained. Above all, I want a good story. Now, I’m more likely to close a novel if by pages eighty to one hundred, I’m not hooked. In general, drawn by the dust jacket synopsis, I’m hooked within the first few pages.
While my interests remain protean, I’m more closely gauging how much time I wish to devote to them. Examples: 1) Literary novels: I’m more selective now in terms of how much time and effortful concentration I wish to invest in them. 2) My lifelong pursuit of general knowledge: Though I retain breadth in my reading, again, I more closely weigh my choices against time.
As for writing, while I try to remain alert to the fragments of ideas that will stimulate story formation, they seem to be occurring less often. Is the flow lessening or am I less attuned to it or less able to attend to it? Then too, my days are necessarily bound by household chores I was freed from for almost forty years by professional duties, but now share in willingly to be fair. Though the chores tend to take more time now, I’m dedicated to them by choice as I’m dedicated to time spent with my wife, unbegrudged after fifty-nine years together.
I don’t experience time as a pinch, but as an assertion of itself. This helps me focus on the hierarchy of choice and what I consider more important at the moment. For readers no longer troubled by the conflicting forces of youth, what do you think? How do these thoughts resonate with you?
In the end, for me, fiction or narrative non-fiction, it’s the story, always.