Sunday, September 27, 2009

The secret to living longer, or at least thinking you are

(Times flies when you are having fun, but it is no fun trying to watch it fly.)

This month is a particularly weird month for DrTom.  (Sometimes I refer to myself in the third person.  After all, some of the greatest writers of the English language have used this technique.  It hints that the anecdote you are about to read will be a bit deep, even sinister.  Or, that I have bipolar disorder.  You be the judge.)  September has always heralded the beginning of the year for me.  January is not the first of the year, September is.  I am sure I feel this way because I commence the school year with this month, as many of you do also.  Even the Day Planners I buy begin with the month of September, not January.  January is one of those months that is just buried in the middle of the year, part way between the Xmas and the Easter holiday vacations.  For the past 56 years, September has meant the beginning of classes, either as a student or as a teacher, except for a couple of years in the army and a couple of sabbatic leaves from the university.  But September 2009 is the first September where none of that is true.

I'm not doing any of the activities that I normally do at this time of year and I am finding that I, well, I absolutely love it.  It is weird that I am not stocking up on pencils or notebooks or yellow sticky pads.  It is weird that I am not arranging field trips for my class, or writing a syllabus, or ordering books for courses I teach.  It is weird that I am not giving lectures, or making up exams, or trying to act all wise and intelligent.  It is weird that I am not trying to memorize the names of several dozen students.  This is probably a good thing, because I forgot the name of my dog yesterday, although I remembered that it rhymed with "goose".   This lack of doing "useful work" does make me feel guilty, like I am a lazy bum, or playing hooky, or just goofing off with no serious purpose in life.  What would my hard-working father say if he could witness this?  It has felt like one long episode of Ferris Bueller's Day Off .  Is it ok to feel this good and to have this much fun?

But there is a downside to having all this free time and doing exactly what I want to do every day, and enjoying every moment of it.  The time is going by too quickly.  Summer zipped by, autumn has begun, and every month seems to go faster and faster.  If someone is watching the atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado, I am convinced it has sped up over the past few months.  Please fix that thing.  Slow it down.  Even stop it.  I have more free time than I have ever had in my life, but I am getting farther behind on everything I want to do.  I didn't even have time to smoke a cigar yesterday.

They say that time flies when you are having fun.  Is that the phenomenon I am experiencing?  When I was teaching, September seemed to take forever to end, with all the planning, and worry, and attention to details required to present courses that students would find interesting and useful.  I liked that work, but it wasn't exactly what I would call fun.  So the time went slower then.  My old friend Paul Ehrlich was once quoted as saying in an interview for Playboy magazine, "Move to New Zealand.  You won't live longer, but it will surely seem like you do".  So that is one way to get through, I suppose.  Live a life that is a bit tedious, uncomfortable, or boring to give yourself the illusion that you are living a long life.  Is that the answer?  Long and boring, or shorter and fun.  Geez, what a dilemma.

Maybe the solution is for DrTom to do something one day a week that he absolutely hates.  That might slow down the clock just a bit and allow him to really appreciate the days when he is not doing that hated thing.  Every Wednesday morning, I could dust the shelves in my den.  I would remove each book and journal one by one, dust the shelf with Pledge, and return each item exactly where it had been, alphabetically by author.  I could follow this chore by raking the gravel in the driveway to make it smooth.  Then, I could watch several hours of reality tv about people I don't know who are trying to lose weight, build a house, or get a mate.  Yowsa!  That is a good formula for living to be 120, or at least feeling like you did.  But maybe you have a better approach to maximizing enjoyment while minimizing the quick passage of time.  Let me know; we could make a fortune.  If people are willing to pay $8 for a product that claims to reduce belly fat, they will certainly pay big bucks for a formula that makes you feel like you are living longer and enjoying life more.

But I think I have constructed a phrase that captures how I want to proceed: "Live long and prosper."  Isn't that great?  Very clever of me.  You just watch.  Some television series will pick that up and use it, and I won't get a lick of credit.