When sound bytes time
Our lives have become so accelerated. But our perceived passage of time is always accommodated, reconfigured as the ever-present “normal”. But really– how is it that we have come to expect a response to an email query within two days? I’m sure I’m even more “patient” than most people because I’m still on a stupidphone; I only have access to email when I’m at my writing desk. Maybe some folks expect a response within a couple of hours?
Not only confined to the speed of email response (we will not speak of texting!) we are also meant to speak very quickly. Especially in an interview situation. Writers are frequently interviewed and live radio and, heaven forbid, live tv sets up a strange and hyper-accelerated venue where silence (wherein one is thinking) is called “dead air”. When political candidates are on tv in debate or interviews situations I feel really bad for the ones who need more time to gather their thoughts (Also, I’d far rather vote for a leader who takes the time to consider before expressing his views.). But the demands of acceptable time interval is shrinking continually. In the debate/hotseat situation, taking time to think is construed as dull-wittedness.
The relativity of perceived “acceptable” duration of time between question and response was neatly and dramatically illustrated for me when I was asked to go in the stead of a writer friend who was not able to follow through on an invitation to read at Lasqueti Island. This was several years ago.
I looked up cursory travel route info and understood that I’d take the main ferry across, drive to another smaller port, and catch a second ferry. I was bemused to discover that I couldn’t drive my car onto the second ferry– I had assumed this was the scenario. It was a passenger-only, and it was, to my eyes, a very small boat. Holy smokes! I thought when we hit the strong current of the Georgia Strait. The boat pitched and rocked like a drunken horse and the horizon swung in and out of my world. I began feeling nauseous and knew I wouldn’t make it if I stayed sitting inside. Ohhhh, don’t let me disgrace myself like a sad-ass city-slicker, my former rural heart muttered. I lurched onto the back deck, stood with my feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart and rode out the waves as I grimly kept my eyes on the horizon, where is ought to be when the waves rose up again. Salt spraying my face. So cold. Stinging.
I made it to Lasqueti Island without disgracing myself though it took a little time for my inner ears to settle down. My lovely and generous hosts gave me a tour of their amazing acreage, their carefully built vegetable gardens, a small generator powered by a small stream. People were laid back. There was no where to rush to….
The reading was held in their small community hall. It was dark by then and the roads muddy. I was feeling self-conscious, worried that my stories wouldn’t be of much interest, that I was a back-up reader because my poet friend couldn’t make it.
I’ve read so often and in so many venues that I’m no longer traumatically stressed about reading publicly. But being able to perform isn’t the same as being a desired guest. I read one of my stories and it was time for Q & A. I waited for someone to ask the first question. Everyone gazed at me, not unkindly, and no one said a word. I could feel heat beginning to creep up my cheeks and a dampness growing beneath my arms. Oh no, I thought. Uh-ohhh. And still no one said a thing. I think I piped up some comments, and then unhappily waited for someone to tell me the evening was over. Then someone asked me a question. Slowly. Thoughtfully. I smiled with relief and whizzed off a response. A heavy silence settled over the room once more. Whoa, I thought. This is so awkward. This is so weird. A second person asked a question. And I responded, with relief, once more. The still heaviness grew again. And with the silence something began to expand inside my head.
The audience wasn’t disengaged or stand-offish… they were thinking! They were taking time to think about what was said, and what they’d like to ask me. It was me who had been off, me with my frenetic pace, like over-caffeinated electrons. There was space and time to take as much time as I wanted to really think about what I would say! There was no need to hurry. And suddenly I was free.
Such an enormous relief. I had never so consciously examined my relationships to social pressure to respond so very quickly to everything and everyone. But it wasn’t “normal”! It was relative. And I didn’t have to do it on Lasqueti Island. I could have wept with joypleasurerelief upon this understanding. It was a generous gift.
I slowed down. And it felt very good. It felt very right. We talked long into the night.
In the morning there was stone-ground organic wheat flour pancakes with home-made jellies and maple syrup. My hosts took me to their beach where I got to harvest oysters, digs some clams. The rocking horse ferry was a milder beast.
As I drove toward home I clung to a small seed of Lasqueti Island time so that I could have it with me no matter where I roamed.