Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Adam Saltsman and the "TUD"

When I was a small boy, I took my first paid job. This was more than the “chores” and I knew that, because I got paid. It was this early and deep connection of time to money that got me motivated to constantly think about how I “save” and “spend” my time on my infrequent habit of posting to this blog.

If you have read along with any of this, (I’ve actually had several people comment, so at least a handful of readers may be interested.) you may know that time is my obsession. I don’t know when and where it began but the regulation. the illusion of control, the pricing and pathology of time have always been in my thoughts.

Recently, I stopped selling my time to others, in what my grandfather called, “wage slavery,” and started taking the pension that I nave been earning for nearly 30 years. I don't want to get into the concept of retirement, since I have never associated my poetry with “work.” I have not stopped playing with words on paper from the age of 12. Whatever I sold my time for, every job from manual labor to sophisticated management, I did so I could “afford” the time to write. This is not a blog about other people’s words, but my words and I refuse to think of myself as a pensioner, now retired. Instead, I am a writer who finally has the time to focus on his craft.

A poetic eye, a sense of “seeing” the world in ways that compel you to create, is a gift. Many people have this ability and I have often encountered people who “see” more than just a sunset, or a person, or a work of art. Anyone who has this gift however, is not necessarily a painter, a poet, or an artist. The gift, like a present unopened, is limited without the hard, meticulous and careful work of craft.

Writing is a skill, a skill that like most can only be honed by practice. Thinking, however, is instinctive, the mind makes connections and comes to conclusions, and as one gets older, has less of an aspect of "learning" it has and more of a sort of "measuring against assumptions."
Building the skill set, developing the vocabulary, practicing the way words work, their syntax and grammar, their assonance and consonance, their meanings and implications, is a life long pursuit. The "beginner's mind," like virginity, is hard to maintain, the more you fall in love with a certain "zeitgeist," the more likely you will see things a certain way, that clichéd box that every boring businessman is trying to think outside of. For me, much of the way we look at the world is bound by the way we think about time.

Before the “Industrial Revolution” only the wealthy could afford a timepiece. The technology of timekeeping was so complex and expensive that the vast majority of humans used sundials. Time itself was tied to the sunrise and sunset and the cycles of the equinox and solstice, the seasons of planting and harvest. Once people left the farm and started seeing public clocks, clock towers and wall clocks everywhere, for running businesses on set “hours” and requiring workers to “punch the clock,” our way of seeing time began to change. I still reel at the complex equations of regular time and overtime, sick time and personal time, vacation time and comp time that were always a consideration when one got a paycheck. What a crazy agreement we have come to about something we can measure but cannot understand.

I find myself contemplating how neatly rounded my time is now that I no longer have the alarm clock demanding that I quickly rise and sell my day. Almost a childlike sense of freedom, one that makes me incredibly lucky, incredibly graced with the gifts of my country and culture, what we call “the luxury of time.” Now, I can lose the watch and get back to the race from birthday to birthday. Out of the womb, desperately rushing to "grow up" through that period where the body is no longer changing so dramatically, growing so quickly into a ripening, a maturation and peaking of one's physical gifts to the slowing pace. Then, fight as you may, the gradual, resisted but inevitable aging to a place in time when those birthdays dwindle down to but a few dozen. All the while, time itself looks different than it did during every age.

“Time wears everything, wears it away, worn grass on the path, stone on the step, paint on the rail, wood on the door, flesh on the bone.”

A child can while away the time, but as an adult, time whittles away at you. Time like the moon, there is so much of its waxing to grow to fullness that just the passing of that time itself seems enough. But like the waning moon, it seems to disappear and go the other way after one has passed the peak of fullness. The ripeness is perfect; it’s the rot that kills you. Adults can learn to be deliberate, to use the time well, to plan and manage, but nothing can keep it from coming, not exercise, not surgery, not chemicals. Like death, itself, it’s part of the deal. Time is the essence of being and being the essence of time.

I emphasize one can slow the advance, because all of us have different abilities in this area. I work at it but I don’t kid myself. But the true joy that has bubbled up now that I have stopped getting up each morning to do my part of the satanic bargain has surprised me. I knew there would be a reward and if I was frugal and planned well, a sense of security, but I never knew the giddiness of childhood would bubble up now and then to tickle my tired soul.

After 40 some years of selling my time to support my poetry habit, I have managed to land here, in retirement, not rich or poor, able to do a lot more writing, in other words, to do what all this saving and planning was for. Before, I had “time” to write only in the evenings or on weekends and then, only if stolen from all the other activities of life one needs to be a husband, father and citizen. Now, I have time to tie myself to the desk daily and create, good or bad, long or short, work that is for myself and my struggle to understand my world.

Such scheduling conflicts between the demands of art and life, the family and the muse, are old ones. Without patrons or early success, an artist, like an addict, pursues his or her dreams at the expense of everyone else. I know many an artist who "took" his or her time to work from those who depended on them, supported them, fed or housed or encouraged them. I have never been able to justify being "supported" in my artistic life. Having a family and holding a child in your arms changes how you feel about how you "spend" your time. I can’t pretend to have resolved all of these conflicts while I had children at home or even now, when my beautiful grandchildren beckon in their blossoming. How pleasant to spend a little time on the floor giggling with someone who is just learning to talk or reading to someone who is just learning to appreciate good writing. Why write when so few will read or care about what you write, when writing takes away from living? I have to say, I have no choice. I find myself here all the time, poised at the point of the pencil, hands hovering above the keyboard, my mind trying to catch my thoughts and put them down before they disappear into the maw of time.

To take the time to write about life, or to live the life, a tough choice, and one that has troubled me for an answer since I first started spending time in the mindset of a writer. What drove me, I can’t say. It hasn’t been fortune or fame. It is as if one cannot help doing this, as if the addiction of capturing this fleeting thought and forging the precise container for words to carry it from my mind to another is intoxicating. I am driven to do it even if I a deluded to think someone else might care enough to read it. I do it because I must, because even when I stop, I find myself picking up a pen and recording, then reshaping then rewriting my thoughts. Nothing is as important to me as crafting this string of words to carry the thread of this idea out of my mind and onto the page. Is it a waste of time?

Now, that I have more time to try this trick, I find my random thoughts tangled up in time again; trapped, as I am in the stream of change. Like a fish in the current, not just the water; time is the medium I live in, like the air I breathe. It is the current, the movement of the water, it's passing fascinates me yet as Dogen says, “You never step into the same stream once.”

I recently came across a new term that in a way captures how precious and fleeting life is. A “TUD” is a measurement of time, and it is used to define a unit of in the world of game-playing.
TUD is a acronym for "Time Until Death,” a measurement defined by Adam Saltsman, game designer, ( ) meaning that piece of the finite time we have left which we are willing to waste on a game.

The "TUD" appeals to me as a word person because someone coined it in my lifetime. As Pound said, the poet''s job it to "Make it new!" and nothing says "new" like a new word. TUD has the additional aural quality of mimicking a heartbeat, that quintessential sound of life we hear whenever we are quietly in our bodies. TUD TUD, (pause), TUD TUD, "ad finitum," so to speak. I like it much better than "second," because, for me at least, the half life of cesium doesn't seem half as concrete and real as half a heartbeat. I also like the flippant, yet profound "drumish" simplicity of the sound, that initial "plosive" of the "T," then the uh, that inchoate utterance we use to space thought, followed by the final stop, the dread end of the dead "D." Such sweet coincidence of sound and meaning is not to be ignored lightly. I get a kind of linguistic thrill, in my collective unconscious, a Jung-Campbell "frisson" when I find a word like that occurring in our language.

Psychologically, the word also fits neatly into my own musings and thoughts about time, its wanting and wasting, and though I can't do a damned thing about it, the rapidity at which it seems to be flying while I am having so much fun. Now, I find myself parsing the TUDs needed to write these screeds, their demands on my creative work dictate the infrequency of the postings and only when there are a lot of TUD’s to spare do I think I can afford to post. I hope you understand.

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