Art of Living" by Robert Grudin. Specifically, it will contain a critical, philosophical essay on a major theme or idea from the book. Robert Grudin's book expands on time as a way for us to make our lives more meaningful. We tend to become "impoverished in time" as we run helter skelter through our lives, and Grudin's book encourages the reader to think more about their goals and aspirations, rather than their day-to-day existence.
TIME AND THE ART OF LIVING
The author states his premise early in this book, in the Preface in fact, and he carries it throughout the text. "My premise, which is quite traditional, is that the acceptance and appreciation of nature are the only channels to its elusive bounty, the only valid foundations of boldness and achievement" (Grudin Preface). This is not a book about how to organize your time, or how to make more time in your daily life; it is a book about how we co-exist with time, and what it really means in our lives. One important theme Grudin talks about in the book is how we are "impoverished in time" (Grudin 6). This is an interesting and compelling thought, and bears deeper investigation. Literally, all we have in life is time, and yet, there is never enough of it. Grudin explains this phenomenon in a variety of ways, but ultimately breaks it down between people who look toward the future, and people who can only see their day-to-day existence. "Similarly, people with great projects afoot habitually look further and more clearly into the future than people who are mired in day-to-day concerns" (Grudin 6). This philosophy explains much about our society, which is so time oriented that we never stop to "smell the roses," we no longer have time. However, if we do not have time, what is it that we do have?
In fact, everything we do is mired in time. It takes time to fall in love, time to develop lung cancer, and time to grow old, and yet this time seems to pass in nothing more than an instant. Time is a constant shaper of our lives, and perhaps this is why time is such an important theme carried through our lives. There are hundreds of witty sayings about time, from "Time heals all wounds," "I don't have time," "A time to weep, and a time to laugh," and "Time rushes by and yet time is frozen." Time is everywhere, and time is nowhere.
Grudin talks about moments frozen in time that remain in our memories long after other memories have faded. Some of them are based on outside events, such as where we were and what we were doing on September 11, 2001. That memory will be frozen in time for decades to come, just as are many other memories of the past. Grudin says, "One of the most mysterious operations of time is they way in which things silently divorce themselves from us and slip into the past" (Grudin 37). We can hold on to the past through our memories, but we cannot hold on to time. "So in the same moment there are two seasons, and you can glance back and forth at visions deeply suggestive of past and future" (Grudin 9), but there is really no "now," it is gone in an instant, replaced by another and another "now," yet moments in the past stay brightly alive in our subconscious.
Part of our preoccupation with time comes, as Grudin believes, in our inability to appreciate and interact with nature. Nature can illustrate how time changes things, from an acorn to an oak, or a row of freshly planted spring flowers. Nature can also illustrate time standing still just for a second, such as a snapshot of our lives that just occurred, they take up more space in our minds than many events from long ago. Not allowing ourselves to stop and enjoy nature for just a moment is a real and all too common affect of our hurried modern lives. Grudin notes, "The extent to which we live from day-to-day, from week to week, intent on details and oblivious to larger presences, is a gauge of our impoverishment in time" (Grudin 6). He continues, "Unless we are careful, we tend to slip into an attitude toward time which is rather like that of a passenger who sits facing backward on a speeding train" (Grudin 12).
As the book continues, Grudin gives some exercises to help the reader shake off the shackles of time, and look back differently, so the future can also be altered.
You have a day to spare and wish to use it well. You see yourself in a kind of compartment of time whose immediate walls are last night's and tonight's sleep. Look beyond these walls and back at the present from imaginary mirrors place in the past and the future. Think of the choices and events which brought you where you are; think of what you once whished or expected to have achieved by this point. Imagine what you will think of this period some time in the future. Will you think or do anything today that is worthy of future memory? (Grudin 30).
What a valuable exercise to use for any time in our lives. However, how many of us have a day to spare, or would choose to use it so introspectively? There are carpools to drive, offices to hurry to, schoolbooks to study, and laundry to wash. It seems there is always something to keep us busy and bogged down in time, and far less time to discover how we really feel about time and space, and how to make our lives more meaningful, and that is the point Grudin is trying to make. Those of us with the most time may not choose to use it effectively, and those of us with the least time often do the most with it. The author gives us the tools to change if, pardon the pun; we will only take the time.
What is the real significance of Grudin's thoughts, and how do they apply to our lives today? This book was written twenty years ago, and yet it seems even more "timely" today. Our lives are so full of "things" there seems to be little time left for us, and who we really are. This is directly opposed to how our ancestors lived and worked. They did not live to work; they worked to live, whether it was the hunter-gatherers of the African plains, or the farmers of the Midwest. They worked hard, reaped the benefits, and had leisure time to spend with family and nature. They had more time to ponder who they were, and had more time to create, invent, and philosophize. Today, everything we do is "multi-tasking." We drive and talk on the phone, work at a computer and talk on the phone, eat lunch and read a book, watch the evening news while eating a hurried dinner, and go to sleep with the next day's tasks on our mind. People often complain of not having enough time in the day to complete all their tasks. Grudin believes this altering our society. I believe it is destroying our society. We no longer have "time" to spend with our children because they are so busy imitating their parents' lives - filling their days and nights with soccer practice, homework, school, ballet, Girl Scouts, skateboarding, video games, surfing the Internet, and a myriad of other day-to-day activities. We are so compelled to fill up every second of our day, lest we "waste" time, that we have no spare time to waste. Grudin blames part of this on habit, but in contrast, I believe it is partly keeping up with everyone else in society. That is what modern people "do." They pencil you in on their calendar for next Thursday, and are lost if they lose their PDA or planner. This is the ultimate example of those who are "impoverished with time," and it is not disappearing in our society, it is proliferating.
It would be extremely interesting to see what Grudin said about how we manage our time today in an update to this book.
Amusingly enough, it is not these days spent in frenetic activity that stay with us in our memory. Those days that fill up our thoughts of days gone by are usually the days were we stepped away from our "normal" lives and did something abnormal, if only for a few moments. A late night walk on the beach, a high school graduation, a special dinner at an extraordinary restaurant - each of these things are unique, and stand out in our minds, giving us pleasant memories. Therefore, most of what we do during our lives is really wasted time. It is only those precious special moments that mean anything, and that remain with us forever. Grudin addresses this near the end…