Time and spending time

For those of us living in post-industrial/digital societies the central question now facing us, and it is one that faces us daily, has become: How do I spend my time? For nearly all of us the daily struggle simply to stay alive has been removed as a topic of concern, in one way or another and to a dizzying array of varying degrees. Some of us are just barely getting by, but getting by, while others of us have so ridiculously much that King Midas would faint right off of his golden throne. Every minute of every day does not need to be spent towards obtaining enough food, water, access to shelter, etc., that many of our forebears had to pursue. The twelve-hour, six-day work week is a thing of the barely studied past, let alone the remembered past. We are healthy and wealthy but not, at least in this one regard, wise. That “one regard” is, again, time. What do we do with all of the time that we find on our hands? How do we use it? How do we prevent it going from a blessing to a burden, openness to boredom to ennui to…? Time, when noticed – and noticed by either its abundance or extreme lack – is only ever now, always now, an ever-becoming, ever-transforming. It is the one thing we can be sure of, certain to have because it’s right there – this moment, this great blank I face and must fill. This now. Only, ever, always. What I do with it is what I make myself, make of myself. It defines and creates the me I face daily in the mirror. I am my time.

This of course goes doubly for our characters. As creations of our imaginations they are people squared, human beings driven into the corners we craft for them, and forced to deal with their worlds as made entirely for them, without the choice to bend themselves in relation to it because we bend them for them. Maliciously or graciously as we determine, with beneficence or meanness in what we give. What then do we make of the worlds that we plunk them down into, and what do make of them in those worlds? A few months ago I wrote a post called “Boring crap about nothing” that considered the differing structures of stories with an external or internal focus and the fact that all characters, as people, have issues of identity, enjoy experiences and must react to those experiences, that feelings play just as central (or ought to) part in their lives as they do for us. To those ideas let’s now add time.

We could take the lowest-common-denominator, most-mainstream-of-mainstream approaches and have our characters running from one event to the next, never a moment to spare and never a second unaccounted for, leaping between car chases, explosions, helicopters spinning out of control, fisticuffs on a precipice where a well-placed branch tips the villain over the edge at just the right moment and the hero immediately celebrates in a long-postponed passionate kiss with the other hero; cue ending them, zoom out, fin. If we are very good we might be able to make a story like that mildly entertaining, maybe even a page-turner, but it will be instantly forgettable. And that because it will be so far from life as we actually live it, escapism in the absolute worst possible sense. Opposed to this we could keep many or even all of those elements (though I for one wouldn’t) but, considering time, we present our characters as confronted with the same conundrum that we all face: Here I find myself with minutes or hours to spare and must decide what to do with them. What our characters do then decide will tell the reader volumes about them as people, and will fill out our stories with a realism and vibrancy that all of those action-packed rolls of toilet paper lack in spades. Truer to life is truer to us, and all the more impacting for it. A story like that would be something that sticks with you, a story like that would be worth telling. And re-telling. A story like that would be worth spending your time on.

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