A New Relationship With Time

I think it’s happening.  My relationship with time is changing, which if you’ve been reading this blog since the winter solstice, you may remember was my wish for the new season of increasing light.

For the last decade at least, my relationship with time has not been friendly.  Time would move too fast, which seemed deliberate to me, as if the actual number of minutes and hours in a day was accelerated just so I couldn’t possibly get as much done as I needed.  And not that I didn’t get a lot done, because I did.  But mostly I did what I had to do, not what I wanted to do, though it wasn’t that I didn’t want to be doing what I was doing,  just that there was so much else I wanted to do.  What I wanted to do beyond what I had to do — write poetry and stories, read novels and memoirs and at least get a peek or two into the New Yorkers that poured into my house and mostly went unopened on the coffee table for a month or so before proceeding to the recycling pile, walk, sleep, spend unhurried time with family and friends — got squeezed in around the edges.  And very tight edges, measured in minutes if not seconds.

I can remember countless days, driving in to work, when I would say to myself, “I’ll go for a walk at lunchtime and pick up a few groceries at the Coop.”  The next time I’d notice a clock, it would be after 6:00, dark and cold, the day’s sunshine long gone, and I’d be starving and want to go home but would be facing an inbox full of unread messages.  Then a race would start, a race between me and the clock and email, seeing how much of the mass I could get through before I would give up, go home, eat a quick meal, crawl into bed and not sleep enough, and then start over again.

No wonder I sleep almost 10 hours almost every night.  I’m still exhausted.  But I can feel the pace changing if only in the fact that I have time to sleep that much.  I’m writing, a lot, even finished a novel and now I’m editing the memoir I finished 3 years ago and haven’t touched since.   My next book of poetry is taking shape in my head and in a file in my computer, and soon I’m going to be holding my first full length book of poetry in my hands.  I’m reading whole issues of the New Yorker and book after book after book.  I’m going for walks and seeing more of my family and friends than I have in years.

Now when I look up and am surprised at how much time has gone by, I don’t mind, because I’m not always working on something that has to be done right now!  Or ten minutes ago!  That horrible urgency that was like a cinder block in my chest has lifted, and I can let minute after minute after minute go by and it’s okay if I don’t get something done.  I can breathe.



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David and I did a quick tour of a few Chelsea art galleries on Wednesday, before leaving the city.  We walked into one gallery called ET Modern, with Edward Tufte books and articles and signs everywhere.   A nice man came up and handed us a booklet titled “Seeing Around Edward Tufte” and a flyer titled “Multiplicity.”

About a month ago, after hearing me talk about some of my current research interests and how to present information most effectively, David and John made sure I had The Visual Representation of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte to read.  David has been a fan of Edward Tufte for years and has read two of his books.  A former professor at both Princeton and Yale, Tufte has been described by The New York Times as the “da Vinci of data” and by Business Week as the “Galileo of graphics.”

“Why all this Edward Tufte stuff?” David asked the two friendly men in the gallery.  “This is his work,” the man who had handed us the papers said.  “But what’s your connection with him?” David asked.  “This is his gallery,” the other man said.  “This is all his art.  This is his place.”  Delighted, David and I walked through the gallery, taking in the sculptures and video displays and installations.  I paid particular attention to the clear instructions on the wall.

Report From New York

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Kevin Spacey as Richard III, in a production by the Bridge Project out of The Old Vic in London, directed by Sam Mendes, was indescribably amazing.  As both the New Yorker and the New York Times noted in their reviews, Spacey is truly over the top in his portrayal of “Richard III,” and he pulls it off.  David, Anne, Steve and I were stunned by the brilliance of the performance and the entire production.  David and I cancelled our foodie dinner reservation for last night and went to see another play instead, because we were hungrier for more live performance than we were for fancy food.

Yesterday we saw “And God Created Great Whales,” a Culture Project production of a play created, composed and written by Rinde Eckert, who also stars in the play.  Eckert plays Nathan, an aging piano tuner/composer who is losing his memory while he’s trying to complete an opera based on Moby Dick.  The play was first performed in 2000 and again in 2001, 2009, and now.  Using a tape recorder to keep himself on track, and a muse embodied in a beautiful woman named Olivia (played by Nora Cole), Nathan explores music, memory, love, the meaning of life and time and space, and how art keeps us on track.  Not simple stuff, but layered through dialogue and music in a complex weave that made David and I clear we’d made the right decision to forego foodieness for another immersion in theater.

And then there’s the visual intensity of Manhattan, certainly different from Paris, but just as compelling.  The peeling walls and old plaster of the un-refurbished interior of the Brooklyn Academy of Music Harvey Theater revealed lovely old patterns, the NYC subway tile work is brilliantly decorative at many stops, the long avenues unfold into long views of what looks like endless city, Cafe Grumpy’s decorative capucinno is delicious, and the walk along the Hudson River Greenway yesterday was a grand reminder of the seaport origins of this magnificent city.

This was all swirling in my head as we left the theater yesterday.  I stopped and looked at the piano where Nathan had sat, fringed with sticky notes like a shawl of memory and music and bounded by a rope to help hold in his tenuous connection to the present.  The piano grinned like a secret from the stage.

Next Stop Chelsea

We’re in New York City for a 5 day big city treat, with big qualifying both city and treat.  Yes, we were just in Paris.  Yes, we are very lucky to be able to have these experiences.  Yes, we are aware of our great privilege and are savoring it.  We’re renting an apartment in Chelsea through AirBnB, and we have a private terrace, we can see the sky, hear the city roar out the windows, and are about to go check out Cafe Grumpy, arguably the best coffee shop in Manhattan.



On top of all this, we spent the morning with Emilio.  Life is good.


One of the other poets in my Yogurt Poets group brought a poem to our workshop recently, in which a woman rises from her coffin at her wake to ask for a recipe.  Jennifer said, when we talked about the poem, that she’s come to think the only real way we live on after we die is through the perennials we divide and distribute and the recipes we share.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how people live on, have actually thought a lot about it since Eric died, but it’s been closer to the front in the last six months, as I helped to dismantle David’s family’s home.  A few things from David’s parents’ house ended up here, but mostly their possessions went to auction and Goodwill and the dump.

When I first started cleaning out the house in Lancaster this summer, I noticed a small bulletin board made of wine corks in the kitchen.  “Ah,” I thought.  “Alison would like that.” She’s been collecting wine bottle corks for years, maybe even decades.  She plans to someday make a table with a top of wine corks, or some sort of cork-sided object.

This winter when David and I were doing the final clean out of the house, while the auctioneers were there carting away room after room of furniture and decorations, the cork board was still hanging in the kitchen.  I took it down, took the old papers and tacks off it, and put it at the top of a box I was filling.  When Alison came to my house a week later to help me move some rugs into our house, we opened a box looking for scissors and there was the board. “A cork board!” Alison said and I lifted it out and handed it to her.  “It’s yours.  I brought it back for you.”

When I was at Alison’s this past weekend, there was the board, hanging in her kitchen by the table.  So now there is a bit of Betty and Baird in a corner of Alison’s house, a sweet and simple legacy.

The Truth About Death

It’s getting close!  The page proofs and cover of the book have gone through multiple sets of corrections and checks and are all done.  Soon, the book will go to print.  I have readings set up and just added a page to this blog about the book, am changing over to my own domain (www.gracemattern.com) and will be figuring out (not easy!) how to make this blog into a website that can support both my writing efforts, and my consulting business, when and if I decide I want to expand that.

For now, check out the book tab.  And mark your calendar for one of the readings, most especially the Book Launch Party at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord at 7:00 on April 26.

Burgers on Ice

What do you do with hot charcoal from a grill after cooking burgers to eat while you skate and walk around on a frozen lake on a full moon night?  All of us on Pleasant Lake tonight agreed we shouldn’t dump the charcoal in one place on the ice, where it would melt through in spring and make a mess on the lake bottom.  What if we spread it out across the ice?  We scooped a few coals from the grill onto the ice, and Peter swept them away with his hockey stick.  Each chunk flared up into a small firework of flames, breaking into a spray of light in the wind, sparkles scattering across our line of vision. What a great show!  Over and over, we tipped a few more chunks of charcoal on the ice, and Peter sent them on a flaring journey into the muted night.  Then the grill was empty, the orange light of the coals flickering out fast in the wind and cold, the lake shining silver in the moon.


Today’s prompt on the NaHaiWriMo Facebook page is grief.  “Good grief,” I thought, “I’ve certainly had my share to say about grief.”  After all, the title of my book is The Truth About Death, which is that we all die, and that for almost everyone, that causes a good number of people a lot of pain.  “Grief is a tough beast,” I now write often to people, when I write sympathy cards, because it’s a beast I’ve wrestled with myself and I know its toughness.

And then I thought about that expression, “Good grief!”  Where does it come from?  Answers at Yahoo rated this as the best answer to that question:  “Euphemisms are words we say that are more socially acceptable than what we would otherwise choose to say. “Good grief!”, is an expression that means we are very irritated or upset about something. The “…grief” part of the expression refers to the emotional sense of being irritated or upset; grieving about what has happened. The “Good…” part of the expression is a reference to God which is intended to add emphasis and impact to the expression. Many people do not like to say the word God in public conversations so they often substitute the word “Good” instead.

Regardless, here is today’s haiku:

Unusual softness
Winter air brought down by sun
Your bones still cold.