Sunday, September 8, 2013

Savoring Time

We all have somewhere to be, something due, unfinished business that nags us before we fall asleep. We have pressing deadlines.

During my mathematics studies at Idaho State University, I was also a single mother. I didn't want to miss a single moment of my children's lives. I spent quite a lot of time pondering Time.

This is something I wrote during my pondering in 2001.

Savoring Time
by: Nanette South Clark

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. 
                                                                Thomas Merton, 'No Man Is An Island'

I was playing my saxophone with a blues combo at the Backstage Bar in Pocatello, Idaho--A bar about the size of my living room, so smoke-filled that one has to open the door to get "second-hand fresh air."

Dan was playing the guitar and John was playing the fretless bass for my solo, Harlem Nocturne, by Earle Hagen.  Dan plays blues because he has lived the blues.  Dan's son was murdered some years back and now Dan drinks whiskey every night until he passes out.

Wherever I play, John shows up with his bass.  He has a monosyllabic answer for most questions and rarely speaks during the night.  John was standing in the corner holding his burning cigarette in his left hand while never missing a note.

I have played my Selmer Mark VI alto saxophone for so long that it has become a part of me--like an arm, a lung, or a voice.  The door was open this night and the notes drifted out to the sidewalk, luring passersby into the den.

Two men wandered in holding oversized cans of Budweiser.  The first man walked to the middle of the room where he stood swaying like a charmed Cobra.  Aware only of the music and the man in the middle of the room, I played--a moment that could have been ten minutes or an hour.

***

Away from the music, in the cold light of day, I run a race with time.

Congratulations!  Today is your day.  You're off to Great Places!  You're off and away!  You have brains in your head.  You have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself any direction you choose.  You're on your own.  And you know what you know.  And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.
                                                                 Dr. Seuss, 'Oh, the Places You'll Go!'

September 20, 2000 
I was listening to the annoying heavy machinery next door backing up..."beep, beep, beep, beep, beep," and grumbling to myself about the math building renovation, when I realize the sounds are coming from my very own kitchen.  Traitorous alarm clock! (If I keep it in my bedroom I won't get up...I know this.  I've lived with myself for a very long time.) 
I stagger into the kitchen and shut off the alarm.  Three hours of sleep is just not enough.  I wake my son, Matt, and send him to the shower, then flop onto the couch. As I sleepily stare at the bumps on my ceiling, the phone rings.  Yahoo!  It must be the answer to all of my questions!  Sarah! 
I jump to my feet and answer the phone.  Sure enough, my very own math "Dear Abby" is calling.  She sounds cute.  Her math students have stressed her out so much that she got sick and now she sounds a little reminiscent of Minnie Mouse.  I ask Minnie about some function compositions and homomorphisms and then she has to go.  She's like Glinda on "The Wizard of Oz," orbing in with her magic wand to fix everything and orbing out, leaving all lesser mathematicians in awe. 
Matt cooks us Thai style sticky rice with hot pepper dipping sauce for breakfast and then he catches the bus to Jr. High.  I quickly shower and drive my other son, Kaleb, and my daughter, Erika, to the elementary school, drop them off and then speed to the math department. 
The math department is on the 7th floor of an old dormitory.  I push the elevator button and wait...and wait...and wait... Nothing happens.  Of course the elevator is broken.  That's ok.  I need the exercise so I run, (I am late now), up the stairs.
I pass the 4th floor (Nursing) where there is a sign on the door that says, "Neck Pain Study Room 435."  I continue running up the stairs and expect to see a sign on the math department door, "Leg Pain Study Room 782." 
I run down the hall to my appointment.  Dr. Kriloff looks at me like I might possibly expire at any moment.  We talk about some grading I'm doing for her and she shows me the exciting publications I get for joining the MAA.  I ask her about elements that commute with everything in their group and think to myself that it actually sounds like a mooch...someone who bums rides everywhere.  Mooches = Center.  Got it.   
I realize it is 9am and I have a class that starts at 9am way down at the bottom of the hill.  I bolt away, pushing the elevator button as I run by. 
I parked in the 15-minute parking zone so I have to move my car.  I am now in a parking bind.  I know the Parking Gods will have deserted me by now and even though I don't have a reserved parking permit, I drive to the bottom of the hill where I park in the reserved lot.  I figure I'm late already and surely they won't catch me in the 40 minutes I'll be parked there. 
I know, I'm late.  Probability and Statistics.  I try to sneak in unnoticed, but it never works.  I stick out like a sore thumb.  The class consists of Dr. Lang, Kent (a D.A. student), Amy (a Masters student), Jason (who I lovingly refer to as "Wunderboy" as he is a math genius) and moi...the blonde mom. 
Dr. Lang is lecturing about independence in probability.  He proves that, contrary to our intuition, disjoint sets (sets having nothing in common) are not independent.  I know I haven't had enough sleep because I keep thinking, "Independence.  It's Independence Day.  Independence Day in probability."  I then wonder, "If disjoint sets still affect each other, does that apply to people?  If I live in Pocatello and have nothing in common with a guy, say, in Mongolia, do we still affect each other?" 
Class is over and I turn in my homework.  (I was stuck yesterday in a proof and Glinda orbed in, so everything is ok.)  I dart out to my car and, yessiree, a ticket!  So I say to Jason, "The probability of me moving my car today, given that ticketing has already occurred is zero!" and I go to my office in Colonial Hall. 
People are jealous of my office.  From my perch on the stairs, I can see everyone who comes and goes in the building. Everyone says "hi" to me and I, in turn, must say "hi" to everyone. Dr. Ellis walks by the stairs and once again threatens to find me a desk. I laugh. I know he never will. Dr. Sadid tried to convince me that I would be more comfortable in the broom closet they pass off as an engineering office with two secretaries, two telephones, a copy machine and professors in and out all the time.  I thank him for the offer and do not give up my stair office. 
Dr. Fisher comes in for office hours in his real office. I pounce. Dr. Fisher is the professor for the nebulous, cryptic topic of Abstract Algebra. We also talk about centers/mooches for fifteen minutes until a beautiful blonde pokes her head in and asks if he has a minute. I am dismissed. I go to my office and work. 
Eleven o'clock, Real Analysis, Dr. Laquer. I get out my beloved blue Rudin. It has answers to many questions but one must know the code. I must find a decryption algorithm and catch up.  
Dr. Laquer tells the chalkboard all about metric spaces and topology. He tells it about arbitrary unions and finite intersections, then turns around to his class of five women, puts his hands in his pockets and furrows his brows. I can see his wheels spinning, "Do they really understand? Should I explain it again? Should I draw them a picture?" 
He draws us a picture. It looks like a kidney. He calls it X. He puts a little kidney inside the big kidney and calls it E. He is comfortable again and resumes lecturing the board. He comes to a proof out of Rudin and pauses. He is very disturbed...the proof is wrong. He laughs and asks if we noticed. I am disturbed because I was never disturbed, not even for a moment...disturbing. 
Noon. Charles, Sharon and I are supposed to man the Math/Computer Science Club booth for the fair at the student union building. We wander over, panic-stricken because a precious hour is being taken out of our homework time and 1 o'clock is zero hour--Abstract Algebra is due. We take our places at the booth to try to show how fun Math/Computer Science Club is and recruit new members. We all pull out our homework and scribble furiously. Nobody thinks we are fun. 
Ten minutes until one...I shuffle my concrete shoes toward Colonial Hall once more. I know my homework is substandard. Class begins. Dr. Fisher lectures meticulously and carefully. I take meticulous, careful notes hoping ability will be transferred to me. 
My pager goes off! I forgot to put it on vibrate. I do not recognize the number but am sure it is my kids in terrible peril. Dr. Fisher stops lecturing and jokes about me ordering pizza during class, cracks a few "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" jokes and continues. I am embarrassed. 
I bolt out after class and call the number. It is the pager company telling me to pay my bill. 
Everyone wants a copy of my meticulous, careful notes so we walk to the library where they run my notes through the copy machine and then I'm off again. I retrieve my ticketed car, drive to the elementary school and park out front. 
I have fifty minutes to compile notes for my Vector Calculus exam. I roll down the window and write as many helpful hints as I can while I sweat. I try to anticipate all the various insane things I will try to do on the exam...trying to integrate elephants, graphing x^2 + y^2 as a square...you just never know.  The point is, I just never know. 
Fifty minutes scream by, or am I hearing children? Ah yes, school is out. Kaleb and Erika try to find a comfortable position in our car. I am now hauling a laundry basket full of dirty clothes, a scooter, three pairs of inline skates, a CD player, two stools, backpacks, math books and many Dr. Pepper skeletons. I tell myself I will clean out the car when I catch up in school. I feel better, not because that means I will clean out the car, but that reasoning implies I will eventually catch up! 
I drive as fast as I dare across town to our apartment and let the kids in.  They settle in to play Nintendo and draw fairies while I take my exam. I eat some cottage cheese out of the carton and then race out to my car and drive back across town. I park in the reserved lot and put the ticket back under the windshield wiper. I feel I am entitled to continue parking there after receiving the fifteen dollar certificate of achievement. 
Before I take my Vector Calculus exam, I buy another future Dr. Pepper skeleton for my car. I enter the exam, first one of the semester. I think hard. I am the exam. I am mathematics. I am confident. I finish. I am sure I have done everything right. I give the exam to Dr. Stowe who looks at it and smiles. I walk out the door and instantly realize I have drawn the only graph on the exam completely wrong! Sketching level curves...I drew hyperbolas. I am angry at anything parabolic now. I will not even look at the telephone wires. 
What a relief! This math day is done. I plop down on the beautiful grass outside the library, take a deep breath and notice there is a sky. The sprinklers turn on and I have to gather up my pencils, books, backpack, purse, calculator, etc. while being doused. I am very wet. I take a drink of Dr. Pepper and suck it down into my windpipe. Choking and gasping, I look up to see laughing people. They are probably business majors. 
I drive home. I open the door and there are three adorable people happy to see me. One is a cool seventh grader, one is a skate-boarder and one, at the moment, is a ballerina. (Yesterday she was a princess, the day before--a hippie.) I call them Yakko, Wakko and Dot.
***

For the times, they are a changin'.
                                                                 Bob Dylan

I got up from the table to play my sax at the First National Bar on Main Street in Pocatello, Idaho. A man with long, gray, unwashed hair was sitting across from me. "Damn, can you really play that thing?" he asked. I replied, "Wait and see." "I think you need something for good luck," he slurred as he took off his brown, weather-beaten hat. "You'll see. You wear this and you'll play better than you ever have." I took the hat. What the hell, it couldn't hurt. "Thanks," I said.

I was playing with the same blues combo plus Pam, or Pammie, the lead singer. "We gotta really give 'em a show," she said. Pammie owns the Backstage Bar and wouldn't sell it to the people who are now leasing the First National...she has something to prove so she sings hard.

We  began with Harlem Nocturne. I forgot the people in the bar. It was just the music, my Selmer and me. There was a blinding flash. A photographer from The Journal, the local newspaper, was directly below the stage taking pictures. I became aware again of my surroundings. I became aware of my breathing, of the notes coming out of the sax. I was acutely aware of the harsh angles the photographer chose to shoot. Suspended time became real time again.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time.
                                                                 Sir J. Lubbock

I tried to explain to the reporter in a previous interview that I play my music and write my music for me. It is my avocation...my passion...my rest. Some have argued that I am "wasting my talent" in Pocatello, that I should "move to Nashville," "make it big." I wonder if I pursued the dream of a musician with religious zeal, if I could make it big. And I wonder if I would lose the passion and the truthfulness of the songwriting, trading it for marketability? Would I wait and wish for success until my life was wished away?

First I was dying to finish high school and start college.
And then I was dying to finish college and start working.
And then I was dying to marry and have children.
And then I was dying for my children to grow old enough for school so I could return to work.
And then I was dying to retire.
And now, I AM dying--and suddenly I realize I forgot to live.
                                                                 Author Unknown

Lyrics. Melodies. Thoughts given life. I wrote these lyrics in the fall of the year 2000 as I was pondering living, life and time.

Time passes,
Slowly it seems...
Like a hot summer day for a child,
But I see how the years fly by.

And I wonder if we'll ever do
All the things we meant to,
See all the places we wanted to see,
Realize the dreams that we wanted to be.
Or will we sit in our rocking chairs,
Asking ourselves, "I wonder how...
This story ends?"

Time lingers,
Long in our minds...
While we reminisce, soon it's gone,
And we find how the years fly by.

***

As I grow older, I wish to savor life. I love to listen to my children whisper their plans to each other as they pretend to try to sleep. I inhale the smell of leather whenever I can...it conjures up memories of riding horses. I sip. I taste. I listen. Only then do I feel the present.

Sensual vitality is essential to the struggle for life. It's as simple--and as threatened--as that. To have no love for the taste of the water you drink is a loss of vitality. If your appetite is embalmed in prescriptives, you are weakened for the struggle.
                                                                 Adrienne Rich, 'A Leak in History'

***

And finally, I sleep.

There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.
                                                                 Homer

Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.
                                                                 Thomas Dekker

Clarity and perception are heightened when we are rested. We are only rested when we get enough sleep. How can we truly experience the present, the now...Time...without sleep? I was so frustrated by mathematics at one point, by not being able to write the logical proofs I so wanted to write. During this time I wrote in my journal:

What is this feeling? This feeling of elusive ideas and half-baked proofs?

I asked Dr. Stowe, a math professor at Idaho State University, what I could do to improve my proof-writing. He said, "Let me ask you a personal question. How much sleep are you getting each night?" I answered, "About four or five hours at the most." He replied, "Then how can you expect your mind to be fully functional? You must get at least eight hours of sleep to be a good mathematician."

So now, I sleep and can live more fully in the present--savoring time.

2 comments:

  1. So profound, descriptive, evocative and wonderful. You really are a great writer!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I really appreciate your kind words, Jenny! Very flattering to hear from you, being a writer I admire very much.

    ReplyDelete

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