Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Seven Minutes and Thirty-Two Seconds with Tick Boxes and Peter Porter

Sorry, sorry, dear reader, she says rushing into the room slightly dishevelled with twigs sticking out of her hair ( think white queen with slightly more empathy). I have been remiss at posting this week–end due to the various things that intrude on time.

We have been asked to keep a blow by blow account at work of every minute of our time, which has to fit into various boxes, ten minutes on this, two hours eleven minutes on that, a second on the other. If you suddenly have to audit your time in close-up you suddenly start to wonder where it goes and what it consists of, it has a habit of sliding through the gaps between the words. It is indeed relative. If I were to do a time audit on my personal life I tend to think the boxes would be myriad and strange. Staring into space or out of the window could perhaps be consumed in the catch all tick box, ‘thinking’. I think I spend a lot of time thinking, I think about other things when I drive ( come on confess it dear reader I am sure you have thought about things other than the road ahead and the mechanics of driving at times) so does ‘drive time’ go in two boxes. I think about lots of things when I listen to music, so if I listen to music as I drive does that tick three boxes; listening to music, thinking and driving? I can check my emails, watch Eastenders, think about a poem I am writing and chew gum all at the same time. We can all multi-task or should it be multi think. I have deliberately been trying to think how I think this past week-end and thinking is indeed the multi layered lasagne of activities. Even as I write this, not only am I thinking about what I am writing but there are thoughts about what to have for tea, when is my next dentist appointment, did the man on the TV just mention William Carlos Williams, why has next door’s cat taken to sitting and watching me from the middle of the lawn as I stand at the sink.

Thinking in a totally focused way, concentrating solely on one thing and one thing alone, is difficult. By this I do not mean thinking in a linear way, one thing after another, but thinking in depth about one thing without the intrusion of any other thought. Try it , it’s hard, the brains natural state for me and I suspect for many is maybe one thing in focus and lots of other things cutting in momentarily like a shaky jump shot in an art house movie.

There are few writers who can actually summon up that jump shot way of thinking in their writing. Some good graphic novels can do it as the genre allows the visual dimension to do several things at once along with text. An image can say six things at once and more once text is thrown into the mix; also the placement of panels, images and text can specifically be used to convey simultaneous occurrence whereas text alone, by its very nature, is linear. The movement from beginning to end of a sentence is the basic building block of language that conveys sense or meaning. Narrative can be blown apart and re-assembled in many ways but few writers other than the avant-garde do that same thing with the sentence and still achieve some sense of the whole.

This does fit in with my time and motion experience as it has made me examine the tick boxes into which we place time in order to make sense of how a day has passed. When someone asks you what you’ve done today, they don’t actually want to know in detail, they are expecting a brief summary of the highlights or low lights of the past few hours. If we were to hand them a written summary of how exactly we have spent a day in a linear way it may be either a conversation stopper or a source of interest. ‘So first you spent seven hours five minutes asleep then two minutes cleaning your teeth, thirty seconds coming down stairs, thirteen minutes eating a croissant, two hours thinking whilst staring at the computer. Not exactly riveting stuff, and the linear nature of explaining how time passes in such a precise way paints something of a grey picture but then as the Scotsman said.

"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time. And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle. Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Not that gloomy actually, points out that it’s best to get on with it, don’t waste it. Ok the ‘nothing’ kiss-off is a bit of a downer at the end but then the chap was in a bit of a bad place at the time. Of course no one was making him write down how long he spent staring out from the battlements, how much time was involved in seeing ghostly spectres, was the witch thing to be ticked in the meeting box or the future planning one?

I am off to the Kings Lynn Poetry Festival this week-end,
It is an interesting line up, so of that, more next week. Sadly the great Peter Porter has had to pull out due to ill health, so I leave you with this poem of his to savour which seems to fit this post.

1 comment:

Anne said...

If I had to name one thing that drove me out of law it was the introduction of time-costing. We were expected to produce a certain percentage (I forget now - 75%?) of chargeabe time, and attribute it to our individual clients accordingly. And then we had to stick it on their bills. I couldn't do it. I spent longer than I "should" thinking about clients' problems or drafting their leases, and couldn't bring myself to put it all on their bill. Equally, I hated doing a crap job because I hadn't spent long enough on it. So mostly I broke the rules and attributed more time to non-chargeable items. "Admin" was a useful category. I'm not ashamed of that.

Heavens, is it KL tomorrow? Wonder if I can get away....

Have a great time there and tell us all about it.