No, not Time magazine, which is not merely reporting news but making it this last week or so with a cover that sensationalized a topic--extended breastfeeding--that need not be sensationalized at all, but time--that tick tocking force with which we all wrestle. When I was much younger, I listened to all the adults in my life yammer on about how fast time passes and thought that they must be exaggerating if not outright delusional. Obviously anyone who had ever sat through an eons-long geometry class with Mr. Edgecomb couldn't argue that time moved swiftly--those stifling hours spent in that poorly ventilated second-floor classroom stretched out behind me and before me in a seemingly unbroken line so infinite that I would not be at all surprised to find myself sitting there still.
Even then, though, I noticed that time was an elastic thing--stretching and springing sharply back to its original shape--depending on what I was trying to do with it. The summer between my junior and senior year of high school, crammed full of daily swimming and viciously competitive nightly games of cards and weekly trips to the ocean, zipped by in the time it took to belt out a couple of choruses of Wham!'s "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go."
As predicted by my elders, it has only gotten worse as I've gotten older. I read somewhere that one of the reasons time seems to go faster as we get older could be a matter of proportion. A year to a four-year-old is a quarter of her life, to a forty year old it is only one-fortieth. It makes a certain sort of sense, though it's little comfort in the face of the fact that I am stunned to find myself very nearly halfway through the month of May 2012 and a little uneasy at the thought that a few minutes from now, I will likely be stunned to find myself in the middle of June 2012.
A few weeks ago, Daughter-Only, not normally a morning person by any stretch of the definition, called down from upstairs in a perky, upbeat voice, "Mom! It's 8 o'clock and I've been writing in my journal since 7:15!" Her tone of voice said it all--she was a renewed person--an example to her mother if her mother would only take it.
I have thought about that moment practically every morning since then. Here's a girl who usually communicates in moans and grunts in the mornings--who grimaces so often that I am afraid her face might freeze like that--whose first waking (or nearly waking) words are very often, "Five more minutes?" and on this morning, something, somehow, has pulled or driven her from her bed an hour early and what she has done with that hour has overhauled her entire early morning persona.
Granted, she likely didn't plan on getting out of bed early to write, but the end result was inarguable. What I have been thinking, and not for the first time, is that it would serve me well to get up early and write for forty-five minutes before trying to face the world. Every morning, when my alarm goes off at 6:45 (a full hour and fifteen minutes before I actually HAVE to get up), I tell myself sternly that I should get up NOW, get up and write in my journal, and feel better than I have before noon in years. And then there's this tiny grumbling voice that says, "Five more minutes?"
Ann Patchett's newest novel State of Wonder opens with news of the death of Anders Eckman, a researcher for a Minnesota pharmaceutical company who was sent to the Amazon to check on the progress of a company financed field team. His coworker and friend, Marina Singh is soon sent in search of answers regarding Eckman's death as well as the status of the field team, which Eckman had not satisfactorily reported upon. Singh is swept from the safe confines of the lab where she long ago ensconced herself after a devastating error during her obstetrical training drove her to change specialties to the alien world of the Amazon rainforests, where more questions than answers await her.
Singh's journey, like all great literary journeys, is both internal and external. We are with her as she struggles to come to terms with her past, her present, her possible futures. We suffer her disorientation as she tries to adjust to the claustrophobic and sometimes threatening landscape around her. Patchett does an astounding job bringing the natural world of the Amazon alive on the page--rarely does a scene pass without mention of the teeming insect life, the presence of deadly reptiles and amphibians, swift and violent changes in weather, the vegetation so dense and all-consuming that it seems at times to be sentient, maybe malevolent. Just as Singh is utterly immersed in her setting so, too, is the reader.
Patchett's ability to bring such a hectic and diverse place alive on the page without a hint of heavy-handedness is reason enough to pick up the book, but she brings an equally deft touch to her characters and the themes playing out in their lives. This adventure story touches on the topics of corporate greed, personal ambition, cultural interference, medical and scientific ethics. How do we measure the value of a human life? Where is the line between exploration and exploitation? Who decides? Are there ends which can justify any means? Is there a limit to the moral transgressions we will overlook when in the presence of true brilliance? What happens when it becomes clear that arrogance and altruism are not only not mutually exclusive but may in fact be interdependent?
State of Wonder is a lushly written book that left me with lots to think about.
Tonight's Spiral Notebook selection is something of a teaser for a forthcoming post that is written in response to the prompting of our talented taskmaster TangledLou, who recently asked us all to write of first loves. I have written of Mr. High School here before, and will again, at least once more since Lou has provided me the excuse I'm always looking for.
This entry was written not quite two years after his death.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
...All this time, I had clung to that notion--how grateful I was to have had that sliver of time with Mr. High School as an adult and how gratitude overshadowed any remaining questions or unresolved issues in my mind. And, last night, I saw that notion for what it was--a delusion.
A delusion born of self-preservation no doubt, but a delusion nonetheless.
How could I have thought, even for a moment, even under the duress of there's nothing to be done about it in any case, that our renewed contact resolved things in any permanent way? How could I have imagined that the questions it answered could somehow outweigh the questions it raised? Perhaps most foolish of all--how the hell did I trick myself into believing that his death was any kind of resolution at all? Wasn't my Mr. High School thing always as much in my head and heart as it was about him? All his death means is that the "facts" can't change--but my perceptions of them are as unlikely to stand still as ever.
Who is that Masked Mom? I'm the mother of four children, ages 21 to 28, grandma to one, employed full-time in the chemical dependency field, writer in personality if not always in practice,married twenty-eight years, waiting less and less patiently for all the hard-earned wisdom to kick in so I can relax and coast a while....