MAKE GOOD AND
EFFECTIVE USE OF TIME
I would guard my moments better if I knew how. They slip and fall away from me moment by moment. I turn around and it is tomorrow...and then tomorrow again; and I've so little to speak to or lay claim as a good use of time. So, I sometimes hold my breath, or at least slow my breathing, to draw down the ticking clock's pace. To slow the moments. Then I have a good use of time, at least a little better than before.
But then I ask myself what does it matter either way? For bad or good use, time will slip away. Our deeds, efforts and actions will pass. The universe will cool. All will one day end. Why bother in the face of a universe without apparent purpose?
But remember I can decide my purpose. I have decided my purpose. And I will live that purpose. To be a father. And to be good–where good is the pursuit of the well-being of thinking creatures. So, I will say no to the futile conclusion of nihilism. No, to a life without meaning or purpose. And no to death without having first lived a good life. And for this reason, I strive to make good use of my time. I strive to live well. To be a good man. To overcome despair. And to make good and effective use of these moments as they come. Now, unto the end.
There is a small bridge under Route 66
There is a small bridge under Route 66 near Siberia where I would sometimes hide from the summer heat last year. It was a terrific place for writing about the desert, as I could peek out from the cool shade at the shimmering 115-degree inferno wastes. The rare car or truck on the Mother Road punctuated the silence from time-to-time as it rolled by overhead. I startled enormous lean jackrabbits sometimes, when they came bounding in from the heat, not expecting me. It was a good place to write, down there under that bridge. My own desert den and study. Just had to mind the rattlesnakes.
A drawback to social media
A drawback to social media is the fact that whatever life we choose to curate, and share is always only one part of the picture. The fact that we can so easily dilate or restrict the lens of sharing creates presentations of life of varying degrees shadow and light. Sometimes it simply makes sense to shut down the apparatus altogether in order to focus on the one life we really get to live.
Small Truths are used to assemble a weak fortress of certitude around the soft, vulnerable underbelly of doubt. Gather enough of these, and holler the fact of our assertion loud enough, and few will draw near. Our ignorance will remain safe another day, and in plain sight for all to see.
Since returning to America
Since returning to America I have always stopped at the ghost town of Bagdad to remember the community and people who were once here. All that remains is this single salt cedar tree, surrounded by a ring of rocks. A mystery of this place was the fact that the dirt within the ring was always nicely raked, as if someone had just been by to run a metal rake along the inside, forming perfectly symmetrical concentric lines, reminiscent of the rake lines I remember in the gravel of Japanese temples. The lines were always here, year in and year out. So fresh I thought I had just missed the person doing the raking. I imagined an old timer was behind this work. Someone very old, and who once lived in Bagdad–perhaps as a child–during the 1920s or 30s. Maybe they now live nearby, in Amboy or Ludlow? Coming out to care for the tree and the memories it enshrines. Stopping by again today, I find there are no rake lines in the sand. And the ground within the ring is cluttered with small stones, sticks and entropy. I wonder what happened to the ghost town caretaker. Are they gone? Is the town now truly dead?
Do we borrow from tomorrow when we live in an imagined better day? Maybe not. Perhaps this is how we make way into that better day? Isn't this what we do when we go to school? Or when we work hard to improve at our job? Or when we have children? Or write a book or tell a story or share a dream? In all these things we are borrowing some imagined future life in order to help ourselves or others begin to live better now. So, it seems we can borrow from the future just a bit. Just a little bit.
But the future is an intangible something that really isn't. We cannot truly go to or even know what will come until it is here. What is out there, possibly ahead, are just imagined mirage on the horizon which we make real through our efforts of approach. The wavy, shimmering dreams slowly materialize before our eyes as we get close. Others—those who have gone before—may tell us of some worthy dream oasis to be found in the wastes if only we go this way or that and provision ourselves sufficiently—and correctly—for the journey. They caution us to not miss our chance at discovery, warning that opportunity will pass like a desert caravan missing a sanctuary of life. Keep our eyes forward then on the wavy thing shimmering in the heat. March forward towards the dream. The safety of that dream. That place where dreams are real.
When we make the mark—when we reach the place we were after, or where we were told to be after—and we've caused the oasis to appear from nothing, from a simple dream into something real—what then of the journey? Did we live well along the way? Were we truly alive while we trudged through the sand in search of this place? Did we neglect the moments of desert travel? What unspoken treasures did we pass by along the way—scattered on the ground or glimmering in the hillsides of seemingly forsaken lands we never thought or knew we could visit—as we trudged along to the sanctioned lands? What mysteries and wonders of living did we bypass along the way, along a course we can never truly retrace, even if we followed our own footsteps back to the very places we once stood? And so, we sit at the blessed oasis and sip sweet water and eat honeyed bread and witness the approved life around us. There are others here as well. Others—like us—directed to this place by sage council of the past. We will talk with them and compare notes. What a place this oasis is! How splendid we all arrived. It is a pity those out there in the desert. Those who wander still. Those who remain in the wastes. The sun is going down now... Shall we sit together and watch the final rays disappear behind the sand and water? It is good we came here, is it not? We did the right thing, did we not? Never mind... Let us watch the sun go down.
There is a place I go to work. It is way out in the desert–almost two-hundred miles from my current home by the sea. It is a bridge over a flash-flood channel along Route 66 near the ruins of a railroad water-stop called Siberia. I found this place for reasons other than work, by way of adventure, never intending necessarily to return, let alone find work in such a place. Yet, find work I did. Work of a very good and useful sort. Work sifting and sorting thoughts and words and sentences and paragraphs. It is interesting how such a place is an aid to such endeavor; being both a retreat for a focused mind and a catalyst for improved perception and resolve. I find thoughts there below the bridge that might not come to me anywhere else. There's a subtle necessity and resolve there below the road, down in the shadows, in the thick heat of summer and the biting cold of winter, and the halcyon days in-between; a resolve which awakens something akin to necessity and an urgent need to create while there's still time. Time may be the key out there, where it is clear to me, we have so little.
Made it to the bridge
Very nice below
Like coming in from a storm
Now I can get to work...
I always come to the bridge in the same way; first at night, and then again by day. This is because I always arrive at Siberia at, or very near, sundown. And I use the waning hour of nightfall to set up camp and get situated ahead of the dark. I arrive on my motorcycle from the west, riding along Route 66 from Ludlow and always arriving just around 8:00 PM. In the summer, there's still half an hour of sunshine left above the horizon, and I watch the burning solar face dip slowly towards, and then into, the Bouillon Mountains while I pound in my tent stakes, eager for the coming respite from the heat which only nighttime or the deep shadows beneath the bridge can provide. Nighttime or shadow are my only shields and escape from the roasting summer oven at Siberia. Such intensity! Darkness, please come now. Sunlight, please go beyond the hills and give up, for a few hours, your murderous oppression of life. I cannot survive very long exposed in the summer desert. I need the darkness of night or the shadow of the bridge to stay alive. Perhaps this is the reason the writing goes so well then—in the shadow or after dark? Maybe it's the fact and reminder of my quite immediate mortality that causes me to choose my words very carefully after the sun is gone, and fosters the muse that might otherwise never speak. Perhaps this is the reason my muse lives there under that bridge... My grasping, lonesome sanctuary from what is truly real. My front-row seat to the awful spectacle of what is true. My face-to-face encounter with the fact of eternal death. The summer writing at Siberia and under the bridge is borne of the close proximity of death and made buoyant of my own animated will to live. My writing under that bridge at Siberia in summer is the perspective of a delirium of life against a backdrop of the sobriety of death. Summer is a very good season for writing at Siberia, though the heat does perhaps madden my mind and bring out words only a wounded and hiding thing might be driven to think.
I also write under the bridge during the in-between months of October and November, and April and May. These are the periods when summer and winter are in transition. And when life is given some chance to rest and come out and live even for a while in the light. The sun is always just passed when I arrive on my motorcycle at these times. And I hear crickets and see the first stars appear and the moon come up all brilliant and cold sometimes over the black volcano to the east. This is a good time. A restful time. A time to remember and love life. A time maybe even to forget about death which is otherwise the desert's perpetual theme and subject of study. I go then to the bridge after dark, and then again during the day, to write like a living mortal. I write of animated promise. I write of the good which can be pursued and performed and completed while we are yet alive. My focus then is more on the living. My writing is more sane. It is a good transitional time to remember what life is and to forget for a short while about the isn't which creeps everywhere in the desert and always sits just beyond the sanctuary of the bridge. The isn't which somehow is. The isn't which might always have been and might always be.
But the isn't, which is also the nothing, always returns. The creeping thing of the desert comes home soon after the gentle months of fall and spring have passed. And it's not the summer nothing that speaks loudest, but the cold and quiet empty of winter that tells the more terrible story of empty and night. It's the winter solitude there at Siberia, and beyond Siberia in the surrounding mountains, which leaves an impression requiring no words, which cannot adequately be put to words, which cares not for words, which is incapable of caring even, or of being, or of every existing, ever. This is the thing I go to the desert for. This is the thing which I do not want but which I can no longer not perceive.
My approach to Siberia in February is fear and grief. The cold onslaught of night is well underway, and my departure from Ludlow a chill and shivering mad resolve. I do not want to go then alone into the desert; and on the motorcycle no less, upon which I have no refuge from the night. There is no place to hide. The big bike leaves me utterly exposed, and blown in the wind, and miserable before the adventure even begins, and doubting my every reason for being there. And yet I never turn back. I would have turned back twenty-years ago, when I was younger and stronger yet weaker and less resolved. I would have turned back then, making up some excuse to tell my family why I came back to their warm embrace. And I would have been glad of my decision to go back then. And yet I would have known that I had made the wrong choice. What a fool I was to give up so many times in my youth...
But I never give up now. It is my age, you see. There's so little time left. Far too few summers or winters to explore. I can't miss this one unique chance to go and see. And so, I depart Ludlow in the dark. And I shiver and quiver in both cold and fear as I ride alone through the biting night. I ride and ride and fear the night. And I think about all the things that could go wrong. I could crash on the highway, or I could drop the heavy bike in the soft sand at the ghost town road, or my fingers could be so cold and frozen after I arrive that I cannot set up my tent and will suffer exposed upon the open face of the desert winter night; cold starlight staring down with deep indifference; such depth of incapable empty as only a universe without God could possibly muster; a yawning universe of indifference watching with screaming mute eternal night while I shiver alone at the edge of its impossible sea. Stranded, alone and without shelter. These are the thoughts which always occupy my mind between Ludlow and Siberia in the desert winter night; and which I struggle and fight to resist as I move like a cold-burning candle through the dark.
And then I arrive... I know my trial is almost done when the bike and I descend the gentle Mojave grade and make the long left-ward turn to the east which leaves just a few miles between where I am and the dirt road turnout to Siberia. Soon, I pass the ruins of the gas station once run by Sal and Ruth, and then I spot the writing bridge where I always slow as I pass over, imagining the words to come after I soon find my way below its darkened scaffolds. And then there is the tire at the side of the road marking the way into Siberia. And I turn on my left blinker—a silly habit of mine out there in the empty–and then stand up on the big bike's pegs, and then I'm off the highway and onto the sand. The fear then suddenly begins to depart, starts to shed, must go as my resolve to come here has won out and I've almost arrived. I ride then very carefully, and with the cautious sense of an aged champion, through and over the sand and up to the place where I always stop and park the bike. It is a short distance, yet a long way coming. It is a place and a thing I need to fifty years to do. I then stop the bike, unwind the wires which connect me to the machine, walk to the sand berm at the eastside of the dirt road and drop my backpack. And then I walk back and maneuver the enormous, heavy bike–still running–around to my familiar parking spot, with the nose of the bike facing the road, ready for escape should I need to fly. Remember, it is winter now. And my everything is freezing. My hands are shaking in the cold. My teeth are chattering, and my limbs are sore with the killing chill. And then I lay the bike over onto the side-stand which I position upon a piece of scrap metal I once found in the desert and always use now to hold up the bike. The engine has been running all this time. The headlights cutting a ridiculously weak beam of light into the dark cold. I am about to do the thing that marks the end of the fear and the true start of my winter adventure in the desert of Siberia. I pull off my glove and reach my shaking hand to the bike's starter, grasp the key, and turn it to the left, shutting off the engine and killing the light. Immediately everything goes black. My vision, not yet accustomed to the dark, compounds the night into utter blackness. I'm blind. And I'm cold, so cold. There's a cold wind blowing which I feel on my exposed hand and face, and only the promise of still more cold deeper and longer into the coming night. I'm blind. And I'm cold, so cold. But I'm no longer afraid... The fear is gone. The fear is utterly gone. I've made it back to Siberia swimming upstream of my fear. I've arrived again to that place I should not want to go. There is no warmth here. There is no family–I have those still behind me at my home and I will return. But for now, there is just the cold, and the empty, and the solitude and the echo of something that once was fear. And there is the darkness, now becoming clear. And there are some cold stars now I can see twinkling with chill light. And there is the outline of the mindless mountains to the north and the south. And the mindless universe begins to become clear. And the indifference is apparent again to me. The thing I come here to see. The nothing which is best found in winter–when I am alone, and cold, and in danger...and I came anyway.
Let the winter writing begin...
Teaching children to live well
What is the end pursuit of virtue? And for that matter what is virtue? I define virtue as the improvement of well-being. Where well-being is whatever does oppose and reduce suffering. Clean drinking water, better education, improved communications, medical care, safe city streets and international diplomacy. All of these things are examples and venues where well-being and - in turn - virtue may be pursued, discovered and produced. And this is just the start of the list. In a more personal sense, I also define virtue as being achieved through the good use of time.
The very best use of time
Is enabling more of us
To make good use of time
An exceedingly good use of time is helping others to make good use of their own time, which then compounds virtue through the amplification of general well-being. The very best way to facilitate this worthy end is through example, especially with children.
There is no need of an audience to model the good use of our time. In fact, it is better if our best efforts go unnoticed, as we then gain the quite worthy habit of living well for its own sake. And this cannot help being noticed through a thousand daily incidentals. Our children will then pick up our good example through the very fact of our worthwhile existence, and our constant, seemingly mindless, will and action of living. And though they may not model our virtuous behavior right away, the example will be with them nonetheless, to be reflected on later in life, when their own experiments of living perhaps yield bitter fruit and they begin to search for something better. They may remember then what they saw in us, the little details of how we lived, the quiet focus on thoughts, decisions and activities that were good, that led to good, that facilitated well-being—not just for us but for the many—that, in fact, wore the face of virtue without that face ever quite being seen. Our children might understand us then through our example and begin to emulate our living as their own discovered better way.
This is how we may teach children the good use of time.
Maturity beyond the teenage years brings opportunity to change and become the someone we might set out to be; or to become the someone we've settled for; or perhaps the someone we think others imagine for us. Our demonstration of success in this endeavor of becoming is made evident through our portrayal of life by arrangement of the artifacts we collect within the context and circumstance of our living. We decorate and adorn ourselves and our surroundings with outward messages of who we are, or who we want others to think we are. And we use these same messages to remind ourselves to be and become the person of either our settling or of our dreams. This is the life we live...and the life we portray.
The life we live
The life we portray
But it is easy to become so hung-up on the life we portray that this effort of display becomes our living more than the life we might actually live. This occurs when the impression we seek to make becomes more important to us that the life from which the impression should be but an artifact. Like a homeowner obsessed with their yard at the expense of the family within their home. Or a student aiming their energies so squarely at a prestigious degree that they fail to make broad use of their time at school. Or a senior citizen who curates the safety of their golden years at the expense of their last chance to live. Such endeavors are energies towards the impression of an end rather than the end itself; and while such work and focus may certainly contribute to the successful achievement of such desired results, their engagement alone should not become the end itself.
An urgency to life
Every time I go to Siberia I can sense my diminishing capacity to withstand the world as it is and always will be; harsh, raw, deadly and indifferent. Each year my advancing age offers less feign resistance to these facts, less vain protest to the truth of degradation and entropy, and death and dissolution and an end to all this energetic and animated activity, promise and hope which is life. The desert will not support this fiction I was raised to believe, and which I teach myself and others daily from the safe confines of the social sanctuary. Out here there is no such lie. Out here there is nothing of peace. Out here death stalks the inferno wastes. Out here I venture into the sandy sea with a timer running against my quickening heartbeat, and a promise of a quick end should I just take a few footsteps more than I did. And so, I hide beneath this bridge. I cower in the hot shade mere feet from the killing inferno daylight. And I sit on the sand and look out across fifty miles of deadly lands where I am not only not welcome, but incapable of being received. For the desert does not care for me. The desert cares for none. The desert is incapable of caring beyond the mute smothering embrace of death. Gamble if I will and I will lose. But I know from my time here that I must always lose. It is only a matter of time, and of filling the moments between with some distraction worthy of fooling ourselves there's something more.
And yet I persist. I push on to The Good Life.
I have gone quiet on social media... I have stopped a few times in the past, usually for roughly the same reason, feeling like the effort was consuming too much of my time. This time there is a little of that... But mostly, it was my reading something in a book that caused my current retreat. It was Seth Godin's wonderful "Marketing Now," and in particular a passage near the end where he described our activities on social media as a "performance". That really hit me. I think he is right. A large part of the reason we share on social media is to present a highly curated presentation of the life we want others to think we live. We share only select pieces, and then tailor these to present a particular image or message, usually the image or message we desire others to think of us. The clincher was when I asked myself if I thought such an activity was a good use of my time? And I decided it was not. And so, I simply stopped posting.
The very last time I did this I produced a book called Going Alone. Leaving social media at that time proved to be a very good use of time. I rejoined social media when the book was done, perhaps to promote the book. That was in December 2018. I have left again.
In the few weeks I have been off social media lightning has struck twice, and I again produced another book, this one called "Freeway Bible Study." The completion of this second book was indeed another result of making better use of my time. I had been writing the book for a year-and-a-half, and the content was in good shape and ready to be produced into formal book form. I think most of the editing was done. I should receive the very first physical copy tomorrow! I am excited to see it for the first time. Getting a physical copy of one's own book is a thrilling thing... It is almost like seeing one's new child for the first time.
Finishing the new book at roughly the same time I have left social media was not a coincidence. And though my Bible study book is done, I have not stopped reading the Bible, which I continue to do every day, one chapter a day. My formal and very public Bible study stopped because I had reached what I now call the end of the Bible, Exodus 21. But more about that perhaps tomorrow.
Retire at age twenty
Mostly, we think of retirement as something to do at the end of a career. For some, this may turn out to be the end of life... For though we may live on another twenty years or more after we stop working, we may find that we haven't enough life left in us to make good use of this ample time and opportunity. And I am not just talking about health...as age brings upon us other forms of infirmity, some of which are quite subtle and stealthy, being more absence than presence. This absence is the loss of who we once were, or the potential of what we might have done, or become, during a time of our life when our energies, time and resilience were more than a match for almost anything life could throw our way. I am referring, of course, to our youth. To the decade of our twenties in particular. To a time when the world was ours. When the only thing stopping us was propriety, convention, sanction, and our own fear of what we did not know. And we can never get that back. Once the decade of our twenties is over, that opportunity for early life adventure is gone for good. MAKE USE OF IT WHILE YOU CAN.
There is no second chance. The person you will become in your old age–or in any decade of your life after youth–can never be the person you once were. And though succeeding decades may prove more bountiful for you in other ways, there is something about the twenties you can never, ever reclaim. Do not wait for money and security to buy you safe and comfortable passage into retirement. Take that passage now while you've the ample and quite perishable commodity of youth, which you can only spend while you are young. There's time enough after your twenties are done to secure other–far less valuable–forms of fortune.
Notes from my muse
If my desert outing this week was a fishing trip then I’d say the catch wasn’t so good. Lots of heat. Lots of sweat. Some mild delirium. And a burned and sore body. However, this wasn’t a fishing trip. And the catch from journeys like this may not appear for days, weeks, months or years. That’s what I call good fishing.
After a productive hour of philosophy beneath the bridge, I’ve hoofed it back to the bike for a cup of coffee. There’s a blast-furnace wind blowing, sucking all the water out of me. I’m gonna hide for a while in the shade of the ghost town ruins before hiking back to the bridge.
The good use of time is compensation for no time left to live.
Going to the summertime desert alone to think is like harvesting pistachios. One good jolt to the system and ideas fall everywhere on the ground.
If you ever want to really appreciate and enjoy the experience of a crowded Walmart on a Saturday, just spent the day and night prior alone in a summertime desert ghost town.
I will henceforth refer to the state, condition and experience of Going Alone as a “solitude.”
The desert wind has grown gossipy as the sun goes down. So much to say.