A Few Fish: An Essay on Time

by Elisabeth Adams
Copyright 1998. All rights reserved.

It is 16:52 on my watch and it is Thursday, which means that in another hour I will eat dinner and in two hours I will get ready for my meeting and I will return home at about 21:30 and I will go to sleep. Tomorrow will be Friday, the best day of the week because it holds promise of the weekend to come, and I will wake up at 7:25 (on my bedroom clock, which is seven minutes fast so that I can gain a few psychological minutes of time each morning) and I will push the snooze alarm once or twice, and at around 8:15 Cristin will pick me up for school, and I will be in my seat at 8:36 for English class where I will turn in this essay. I will not notice the passing of the rest of the day; it is only school, and the interesting things happen sporadically if at all and cannot be predicted. When I get home from school, I will do nothing because nothing will be urgent, and although I will tell myself that I should really do one of the myriad procrastinated things I will not do anything, because it will be Friday afternoon, and the couch will feel comfortable and the paper will be interesting and there will be my cats begging to be played with and some book to start or finish and something on my computer to work on; on Friday afternoon there is little time for being busy.

I know that time is passing me by because I watch the numbers change on my watch, an oversized black thing that was an expensive technological marvel when I was ten but which now needs a blue rubber band hold the band together. It is equipped with alarms and timers and stopwatches and buzzers and other things I use only occasionally so as not to wear out the battery (which has lasted six years so far), and fortuitously it is shock resistant, or else my natural lack of grace would have reduced it to plastic oblivion long ago. It is set in 24 hour mode because that is the European way of doing things and because I decided in French class last year that I wanted to become familiar with what is really a more logical system. I write my time and my dates in this fashion as much to be different as to be logical; it is a little thing, but so is much of what we call life.

On the weekend I will be busy with many little things, errands and service and shopping and housework and more lounging around and everything I did not do during the week, save only homework (unless I have a big project that I have already put off several weeks, which I might consider breaking routine for) which I will not start until I return from the meeting on Sunday at 18:30 or so. Then I will go to bed and I will wake up at 7:25 (less seven minutes) and I will go back to school, and Monday will drag, as Mondays often do, and I will go home and I will go to the meeting and I will go to sleep, and I will settle into the endless routine of classes and boredom and tests and busywork and procrastination. Then it will be Wednesday and I will be gone that afternoon and I will waste two hours of my evening and my life in Driver's Ed and when I finally get home I will have a scant hour to read the paper and catch up on all the loafing around and reading I missed that afternoon. Then it will be Thursday and I will go to school and come home and read the paper and one of the several magazines I subscribe to (Newsweek, La Tour de Garde, Awake!, National Geographic) and then around 17:00 I will start thinking about schoolwork, and if I have any, like today, I will do it, and then I will eat dinner and go to the meeting and look forward to Friday, and the weekend, and thus will pass another week of school, and another...

In my mental conception of the year there are three equal parts: summer, and school after summer before winter break, and school after winter break before summer. In my mind they are the same, although I know that two months equals neither four nor six, and they will remain the same until my life changes, and perhaps not even then, for it is easy for me to place myself in a rut. It is either summer or it is not; my 1600 SAT does not mean I like school or the endless parade of busy nothing spliced with brief moments that tease me with promise of real learning and challenge only to disappear as quickly and unexpectedly as they appeared. In school I do nothing because I am forced to; in summer I do nothing of my own volition.

It is 14 May 1998 and that means that it is test season, full of AP Exams and Golden State Exams and standardized tests and whatever sort of other tests that some educators in their great benevolence decided to inflict upon high school students in this one month window. Soon it will be June and we will be busy with final projects and final exams and final good-byes for those who are leaving school at long last, and for those of use who merely have a two month reprieve. Then it will be summer, where time drags and races and life is a flurry of friends visiting and visiting friends and going on vacation and sitting around the house and learning new things and repeating old and more service and more reading and more activity and more writing (the fun stuff, not the stuff we do in school, which is only amusing half the time), and also more worry and wonder and wariness about the future: when I will get my license and when and whether I should get a job and what I will do as a senior and where I will go for college and what I will study and what I will become and who I will meet and what I will do with myself for the rest of my life, and everything else that crams that last summer before reality.

I know the seasons pass by because I watch my cats sprawl out in the living room in the giant sunbeam that appears every winter and disappears when the sun is in abundance in the summer. It has a great pull, that sunbeam, and I have several times on lazy winter mornings curled up there myself with something to read, to the great consternation of my cats. I know the school seasons and all their various phases: back-to-school hysteria, holiday distraction, new term confusion, spring anxiety, summer desperation to be free. I know that summer is close when I pet my cats and large clumps of fur come off in my hand and I worry about cat fur clogging critical components of my computer, and I find myself envying them lounging on the couch as I dash off to events great and small and always, always time consuming.

All too quickly June will give way to July will give way to August will give way to September, and then I will be caught up in the whirlwind of anxious nothing and the worry of grades and homework and college applications and more tests and before I know it it will be December and a third of a year will have passed me by in a flurry of learning both more and less than I ever wanted or needed. On the last day of the year I will be seventeen, and with a chapter of my life irrevocable sealed and placed on the shelf forever I will begin a new year of a new wrinkle on the same old issues, classes and essays and tests and projects and people and events, and there will be the added issue of graduation and whether I will have to give that valedictory address or whether someone else will inch past me and gain that ambivalent honor (for how can it mean that much when there are graduating classes with 42 valedictorians?) and which college I will finally settle on going to and what I will do with the rest of my life and whether I will have enough time to do everything I want to do.

In Ursula LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness, every year was Year One, and time adjusted itself accordingly. Their system is natural, living, for we live and work and play and sleep in the now and only note the passage of time by what changes along the way. I watch the little indications, the change of activities and classes and days and weeks and months and seasons and years with bemused resignation and all the while time is rushing past and people change and things change and ideas change and the world changes and I change and suddenly I will find that a year has passed me by, and I will try to stop and catch the time that now is gone, and all I will get will be a few fish.

"Time is but a stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it: but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains... "
- Henry David Thoreau

© Elisabeth Adams. Hand-coded since 1998. Universal Rights Reserved.