On Power and Time

I just recently understood the difference between urgent and important. Urgent is the after school pick up— Important is the slowly clogging arteries. Urgent is paying the bills, Important is creating a painting. The urgent outplays the important every time. If you don’t believe me just try saying out these words out loud: “Sorry, I can't give you a ride to the airport because I’m working on my poem.”

This week in the Atelier we read and discussed Mary Oliver's brief essay Of Power and Time, about the two worlds artists straddle. The world of ordinary time, where we are fettered to a thousand obligation, tyrannized by the clock vs. the slow world of observation and creativity where we hunger as artists for eternity. She brilliantly describes the tension of trying to live an extraordinary life within an ordinary world of interruptions. She also articulates a darker aspect of divided time when the world gives us space but we allow distractions that are both avoidable and self-inflicted. 

Oliver beautifully describes what this struggle looks like in her life and reminds us that the extraordinary doesn’t happen among pleasures— it likes the out of doors, concentration and solitude. She highlights the need to create a preserve to protect our undivided selves. I can relate to this struggle. Over the past several years the fragmentation in my life has significantly increased. When my time is divided, it slips by twice as fast. When I do get time, sometimes I flitter it away as I struggle to return my focus and attention.

A new student, who recently joined the Atelier, said he did for a reason found in the last line of the essay: The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave it neither power nor time. At mid-life, he decided that the time to act was now and pursue his art and he took a sabbatical from his day job.

To the charge of not answering the call of the urgent—Oliver writes, ‘I have no shame or guilt. My responsibility is not to the ordinary or timely. My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever it arrives. If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.’

 What does this tension look like in your life? Where the majority of distractions and stress fractures come from? How do you protect your time for day-dreaming, thought and creativity?

Often the most important things in life, such as our Art, health and spiritual well-being, function on a slower timeline. No one breathlessly waits for a finished painting, poem, or prayer, yet a world without poetry or painting is dark and infinitely reduced. The sublime call of art is tied to an eternal timeline– it seeks revelation (not information), it points upwards to things outside time, that span and encourage generations. It can be hard to explain the value of favoring these intangible investments, yet like love, without them life and culture lose their meaning.