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East to West: Time Slip

May 30, 2013

By Angela Jeffs

April 2013

Where do the days go?  This stretch of countryside between Blairgowrie and Dunkeld -  a chain of five lochs, lakes, strung out along the floor of the Lunan  (Moon) Valley – not only claims its own micro-climate. It has its own time warp.

We sleep so much – so long, so deeply – as winter stretches on and on…

Snowdrops carpet the garden and landscape but are near indistinguishable from the white stuff that continues to fall… Daffodils are struggling, unable to decide whether to start flowering or not. Buds on trees remain tight locked in self-protection against the unpredictability of welcome.

Summertime may have put the clocks forward by one hour for daylight saving, but temperatures remain obstinately low, and our wood-burning stove continues to work over time even though evenings stretch further and further into day light.

Often tired – tired? – by 10pm,  we’re not ready to face the world until morning has well and truly broken. In between, in stretches of nine, ten, even eleven hours, the deep sleep of nothingness that cannot be remembered; then the lighter sleep (after toilet visits at 4am) that again can often not be recalled but are full of disturbance and even, yes, upset.  There are days I wake in tears, taking hours to recover my balance, bring me back fully into the here and now.

Do we sleep because we are deeply tired? Or to fill the hours of wakefulness that stretch out and snap back like elastic, depending on what is going on. Or not.

A part of me finds it deeply uncomfortable – alarming even – not to be able to measure out time as I used to, with work and play, duty and freedom of choice. I guess this is what happens when people “retire”. But I am not retired in any sense, nor ever will be. I want a strong vibrant meaningful life until the day I die.

With another birthday looming, I am very aware of the valuable nature of the days, weeks and months that I fear I am wasting. But is it being wasted? I cling to the belief that this phase of experience is part of the process towards acceptance  and healing, enabling me to embrace the changes it brings. But still I find myself shifting back and forth into anxiety and irritability. Every second is indeed precious and could be my last, so why am I not using and appreciating it more fully?

I can still hold my self in presence, my mind stilled enough not to carry me into the time-slipping story of my past and potentially fear-filled of future. But the periods are becoming shorter and shorter.  Sorting our stuff from Japan carries me increasingly swiftly into an emotional swamp; I am back in old programming, living through feelings that much against my better instinct and self-knowledge carry me away in a tsunami of distress and (goddamit, because I don’t believe it has one iota of value) regret.

What is this time-slipping all about?

Maybe I need to re-read Steve Taylor’s original and time-breaking book on the subject: Making Time – Why Time Seems to Pass at Different Speeds and How to Control it.  (Icon Books,  2007.)  I remember that it provided astonishing insights into why our perception of time changes, and – most importantly – how we can take charge of it in our own lives.

Why does time speed up as we grow older, he asks. Equally why does time fly when we are having fun, and drag interminably when we’re bored? The answer, of course: to live consciously in the present. In the power of now: heaven on earth.

Which reminds: I need to make flight plans for Leonard Jacobsen’s four-day retreat two hours south of Copenhagen. Being such a short distance away, it makes total sense, and maybe he and others can help me understand, calm down and put to flight this growing distortion of not only time, but just about everything else as well.

When Akii and I were working, it was amazing how much we crammed into each and every 24 hour period. Being prone to dreamy carelessness (one of the worst misdemeanours in the early enthusiasm of my publishing career was not simply to double book a lunch, but arrange to eat with three different people in three different locations) I am a passionate list maker. There is a profound sense of achievement to sit back at the end of a day and see all the TO DOs struck off one by one, mission accomplished: Look at how much I’ve done!

These days (when I can remember what day it is!) there is increasingly little to list.  You would think it the other way around; creating a new life bringing new things TO DO. But a new life is but a faint smudge on the far distant horizon. As we unpack  (and accept),  settle in (and accept),  settle down (and accept), with fewer than 20 boxes still to open, we have less and less TO DO.

What do I mean by TO DO? (Practitioners of Proprioceptive Writing will appreciate this question… I can hear you all laughing…)

There is the practical day-by-day stuff of course: getting up, washing, dressing, creating warmth, locating and cooking food, breathing, sleeping (again)… But what do we do for the rest of the day?

Best not to go here, Angela. Beware falling victim to negative emotions . Know that you have been recovering from a huge change of circumstance. Friends say that I’m suffering major culture shock. Really?  Certainly it’s true that I’m hugely disappointed that there is little to no interest in who we are, what we do and what I personally had hoped to continue doing. Every door I try to open remains locked. E-mails and enquiries go ignored; in general there appears to be little to no interest in anything new or challenging. The status quo of unconsciousness appears to rule.

Yet all is not completely lost. I am grateful for small mercies.

The only student to sign up with any enthusiasm for my Proprioceptive Writing workshop in Bridge-of-Earn in March has since turned her life around completely. She returned to Kenya (where she had lived for over two decades) for a week to realize that while the sunny open country she had longed for from insular rain-swept Scotland was the same, she had moved on. She has now signed up for university from 2014 with an interim  course starting in the autumn.

“One day I was at the doctor’s wanting tablets,” she mailed.  “The next I changed everything with one piece of writing. Amazing.”

Indeed. It’s true I may not have got ten students to improve the state of my bank balance and give me a renewed sense of purpose and meaning, but I got the right one:  open-minded,  brave, ready to do anything to move herself along. So happy for her.

Time then to go and do some work on my own sense of disconnection, adrift in sleep and timelessness. Do more process WRITES of my own. Wake up.

That’s it really. I need to wake up on an ever-deepening level, one that will hold me in presence for longer, help put another piece of the puzzle together.

Blockages similar to that of October last have been manifesting big time of late. The first was resolved with antibiotics after a quick visit to the surgery in Dunkeld. But not fully, because three weeks later found me laid up and low in Perth Royal Infirmary, where I was hooked on to drips, abused with catheters and blinded with panic because friends were due to come and stay within the week.

I felt – feel – trapped, not only in my hospital bed, but in a country that does not see me, hear me, or understand me on any level… in my head, at least. There is something in the way, blocking me from moving on in a healthy fashion.

And then I realise what is happening. I am my self in serious danger of falling into the escapist black pit of depression. And this is not a path travelled that I ever want to take again.

Maybe like Vanessa I need to go to return to the country that most touches my heart. But I think not. Denmark will do.

Late summer 2012 writer and journalist Angela Jeffs moved from Japan, where she lived for 25 years, to Scotland from where she reports monthly on how her life is changing. This is the eight installment. See here for part one, here for part two, here for part three, here for part four, here for part five, here for part six, and here for part seven. 

Visit her facebook book page to learn more about her latest book Chasing Shooting Stars: A South American Paper Trail

About the author: After training in theatre and Laban dance, Angela Jeffs (http://www.angelajeffs.com/) stepped sideways into London publishing. She worked freelance as an editor from 1973, then reinvented herself in Japan as a journalist and writer from 1986. She was a weekly columnist for The Japan Times for 22 years, and Japan Correspondent for Asia Magazine in Hong Kong from 1989-1996. Her book Insider's Tokyo, commissioned from Singapore, was published in 2001. Since 2005 she has been developing and facilitating a programme of therapeutic creative writing under the title Drawing on The Writer Within (www.thewriterwithin.net/). Her latest book, Chasing Shooting Stars: A South American Paper Trail into the Past, can be ordered via Amazon.com.
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