The Devil is in the Clock

I just stepped away from rereading Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (a comic version, but still it counts). The notion of time keeps jabbing at my poor brain. In the story, Billy Pilgrim gets unstuck in time and slips between different moments of his life. And to us poor saps still trapped in the very chugging locomotive of time, all we focus on is the rails spilling out behind us with no notion of what might come next. Or even what is happening around us. 

I often find myself reaching into the gloomy future, trying to grasp at the idea of a finished project. All the time aware that once my present self catches up, the writing or art will look completely different. 

It has to. 

The best art evolves in the present moment. The words guide the writer. The strokes of the brush shift an illustration. Improvisation in the moment is what brings something to life.

Yet time is a double edged sword. It slips away like an untended toddler. As much as we try to wrangle the minutes and get them to work for us, they wiggle away. 

In Vonnegut’s novel, he teaches that free will is an illusion. I don’t wholly agree with that. Instead of being on the railcar staring through a pipe, I think of time as being stuck on an airplane. You don’t control the destination, the pilot and the flight plan have that well in hand. But you are free to roam about the cabin. It’s what you do in this space that counts.

So I carve out time for myself to create. Sometimes an hour to two. Often just twenty minutes. But in that time I allow myself to wander about the cabin. Wanting to let the words tell me where to go. 

If you were to see my writing notes, the margins are cluttered with phrases. My brain spills out ideas that are not linear. So in essence, I write a scene from all points in time at once. But since the plane of time is cruising toward its destination, my job is to organize them into a coherent timeline before we land. 

When you carve out your time to create, don’t force yourself toward a specific destination. The pilot is directing the plane. Let yourself wander and see what the present moment can show you. Even if what you create is meaningless nonsense, it’s your nonsense. 

As the bird says at the end of the novel: Poo-tee-weet.

Tim Kane

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