At least once a day now, I find myself making the following lament (or a close enough variation) to anyone who cares to listen: “I wish each day had 36 hours in it, and that I could make do with only four hours of sleep! There’s so much to DO that never gets done!”
It’s become a motif of my life, this obsession with time -- with trying to get as much as possible done, fast, while simultaneously feeling crippled by the hopelessness of it all. I empathise with Pink Floyd’s madman – how CAN you expect to hold your own successfully in a race against the Sun?
Why this despair? To begin with, I’m lucky compared to many others, in the sense that I don’t have a high-stress job. I work for the weekend (Saturday) section of a newspaper and don’t have daily deadlines. Friday is the one indubitably tough day in the week; during lighter weeks, there’s little of substance to do on Mondays and Tuesdays, and it isn’t even that tough to conjure up an appointment and sneak away early. (Reminder to self: do NOT send site URL to senior colleagues.) Certainly, I don’t have the excuse available to millions of working professionals, who leave for office at 8 in the morning, work hard all day, return home at 9 pm and consider themselves lucky if they get a reasonable amount of sleep in.
To put it succinctly, the problem in my case is books. Ever since I decided to dedicate as much of my time as possible to reading – both for interest and for professional reasons – I find there’s rarely enough time for other things. Reading is such an inclusive, time-consuming hobby and unlike some people I know, I can never mix it with other things – with, say, listening to music or even watching a game of cricket on TV.
The result? Some things that used to be very important to me have taken a back seat. I’m especially peeved about the dust gathering on my precious DVDs. I bought 24 of them when I visited London earlier this year, and have watched exactly three in the last four months (of course, many of the others are films I’ve already seen and wanted to own – but that’s hardly the point). In some ways, I still consider myself a cineaste first and a bibliophile second – I feel a protective fondness for cinema, especially popular cinema, which is so much more susceptible to pillory and condescension than literature is. But I have been giving movies the step-fatherly treatment in recent months.
Is there a solution? I fear not – unless I make the difficult decision to bring some moderation to my reading. Writing about his prolificity, Isaac Asimov said there were times when he felt like he wanted to write every book ever written. I can relate to that manner of gluttony – there are times I want to read everything ever written. But sadly, one must be realistic.
It’s 5 pm on a Sunday as I write this; I’ve been awake nine hours and have (not counting the newspapers) read only around 25 pages today (Martin Amis’s The Rachel Papers).
The sun is the same in the relative way, but you’re older: shorter of breath and one day closer to death -- Roger Waters