The Cost of Time
I’ve been listening to Anna Karenina on an audiobook.
Anna Karenina is long.
Anna Karenina is very, very long.
For comparison, I recently listened to Jane Eyre. Bronte’s masterpiece is not very long, but it is not very short either. It took 18 hours. Over several weeks, the soothing and cultured voice of Elizabeth Klett followed me around as I washed dishes, folded laundry, and did my make up.
And reader, I enjoyed it.
The Anna Karenina audiobook is approximately 37 hours.
The thing is, I have really been enjoying the book. It is long in a very different way than, say, Les Miserables is long. Last year when plagued by jet lagged induced sleeplessness I would read Les Mis late into the night. It flits from soaring depictions of the redemption of the human soul to 100 page diatribes about the sewers in Paris. Hugo is a genius, but these passages can be trying to the spirit.
It is not so with Anna Karenina. There are few diatribes and rabbit holes. Each chapter is chocked full of character development, intrigue, and plot development. It is interesting. The characters are hateable, loveable, relatable, exasperating. (The bits about Levin ploughing do get a bit tedious).
It is very good.
It is very, very long.
This week, after listening for an hour, busying myself about some tasks, I looked at how much longer I had left! My Glory! I though, and then, Ugghhhh. I wish it would go faster. But why? Why did I want that? Haven’t I been enjoying it? Is it boring?
Lately I feel that way about life. Last year was oddly charmed, and this year is, well, just different. I truck away on my writing my dissertation, doing my best to make a life here in Scotland, and overall… it is good. It is lovely. I am enjoying it. Things are, slowly, blooming. There are moments of deep satisfaction and a sense of direction. But every once and a while I will look at my word count, or my years left in school, or the miles between me and my loved ones, and my stomach will drop and a deep, rattling sigh will rise from my chest.
Ugh. I wish it would go faster.
But why? Why do I want that? Am I dissatisfied with my life? Do I not want to do a Phd? Am I unhappy with the choices I’ve made?
And the truth is, I am happy. I do want a Phd. I want to teach. I want to know. This is what I want to do. And by golly, I get to do it in Scotland on the edge of a sparkling coast!
But sometimes I get tired of being en via, waiting for the next thing.
Up to this point in my life things have costed effort and money. And the truth is: I am very good at effort. I have finished everything in my life early, not through exceptional talent or genius but through teeth-gritted, brute effort. And, most of the time, you can buy money with effort. I’ve always had a trust in my own ability to hustle, work hard, and make things happen. I have not always been balanced, and I have not always been healthy about it. But that is for another blog post. It is enough to say: my main currency in life has been effort.
But there are some things in life that effort and money cannot buy.
There are some things only time can buy.
My sister is pregnant. Pregnancy costs time. There is no amount of money that can expedite the 9 months of nausea, dreaming, cravings, and stitch by stitch development of a new life. The waiting is inherent in the process. It is a part of the magic.
And other things cost time.
Close, intimate relationships.
Reading Anna Karenina.
Completing a Phd.
I my experience, most of the best and most meaningful things in life grow only in the soil of time. Yes, of course a good amount of effort goes into these things (and money), but time is the making of them. And time is not empty, the way we spend the waiting makes the things themselves. The trouble is that, so often, what our time is making is opaque to us. It seems that life is made in the faithful living of ordinary days, in one more step on the mist enshrouded path. So often I’ve looked back on periods of my life and thought “Oh! That’s what that was about. That is what those months meant.” The saying is true: hindsight is 20/20.
About a month after getting back to Scotland, I found myself waking up every morning at 5 AM. I couldn’t figure out why, but every morning my eyes would pop open, and there was naught to be done. Time seemed to drag its slothful feet, and everything was quiet and I was alone. Eventually, I reconciled myself to it. Morning after morning, I’d sit on our little grey couch, coffee in hand, candle lit, waiting, waiting, waiting for morning.
It was an accidental habit, something I didn’t try or want to develop. And in a time when I was already feeling the weight and cost of time, it seemed to make my days twenty times longer. But, somewhere along the way, I began to treasure those early hours. In the quiet, I found a space of contemplation and creativity, where my dreams percolated, and my preoccupations settled. Those extra hours of work became indispensable, I wondered how I got anything done without them.
I made my peace with time and it made me.
And so I'm making my peace with the cost of time in this chapter of my life.
I will finish Anna Karenina in good time.
I will plod away on this Phd.
I will not only endure, but treasure these Scottish years.
And though I can't see it now, I look forward to see what time makes of me.
"So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom."