Friday, April 9, 2010

Downtime [Question of the day]

How do I "deal with" downtime?

In my existence, downtime isn't something to cope with or suffer through. It's something to savor. Those layovers in airports, those long transcontinental flights--those gaps between classes--those train rides: I treasure them. The airport and trainstation, these are a between-places, non-places. Time stops there. Waiting, I am entirely uprooted. I am being transplanted. There, as a million people murmur around me, silence reigns inside me. I open a notebook, and just pause.

The pen-tip touches the paper, but it is waiting, too. Like me: this is a waiting time, and I am soaking it in.

Finally I write. The words seem to slide onto the paper, and gently come to a rest there, instead of tumbling over each other in my mind and spilling out haphazardly in their mad rush from the pen. The page has a curious stillness, when I write at the airport. But perhaps not so curious, if the page is a mirror for my mind.

But curiouser still: Why is my mind still when all around me is in motion? The announcements blare every few minutes. Children squirm and run away. Their parents rub their temples, trying to keep their patience. Grim businessmen tap away at their complicated phones.

I feel sorry for them. They are tethered to the world, even here. But I am cut free, drifting away. I am about to float into the sky! Here, I don't have to pay attention to anything. When none of the sounds are relevant, there is no noise. When none of the motion matters, nothing is moving. At the airport, I am above all the paths I am normally running down, all the rooms where I have responsibilities, all the information I am supposed to retain, all the people to listen to.

This is why I am still, why my mind's surface smooths itself like the surface of a pond on a windless day. Glassy, shining, silken. I am still because all the wind and rain is down inside the map that I am looking at. When I step back, step out, I am no longer hiking the hills, panting and sweating and getting dirty. I am looking at the trail map, and I can see how far I've come.

But looking at a map doesn't give me the blazing sun or the roaring rivers. It can't open the sky for me and spread out the landscape like a tablecloth. It can't sing to me like the birds, and the rabbits never dash across it, even at dawn and dusk.

So I don't stay here, in this un-place, this wood between worlds. But while I am here, I will soak in the silent loudness and marinate in the motionless bustle.

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