William D. Waltz
from Borrowed Time and the Untapped Potential of Static Cling
Since the invention of the light bulb, Americans have relinquished two hours of sleep a night to progress, to convenience, to technology, to light. Where have the hours gone? Work and a grab bag of mundanities occupy our days. We rent our time. The body, the soul, the mind, the rest comes along out of courtesy. We don’t even think of it as our time. It belongs to the car, the bus, the house, the job. That great mantra of the employed, Thank God It’s Friday, is testimony that many believe life begins after-hours when nothing is required. It will take a revolution to revise this schedule. In the meantime we ought to reclaim some of those moments. There are opportunities, if not responsibilities, in our everyday lives to wire into the life force; chances to make poetry from the sparsest palette, to transform the static into the sublime.
Fifty steps behind a friend’s farmhouse I planted a garden: pumpkins, zucchini, tomatoes, sunflowers, broccoli, radishes, onions, jalepenos, habeneros—far too much. But I had the luxury of space and time. One hot afternoon I stood in the middle of what had become a weed patch, dumbfounded. I soon worked myself into a rage, wailing away with a hickory-handled hoe against lambs quarters, ragweed, foxglove, crabgrass. Vaguely agitated, I walked back to the car and sped off to my apartment. Something was wrong. Anxiety in the garden makes little sense. A month later, I’d started my second weed pogrom when I caught a glimpse of myself as if I were the subject of my own documentary: a mad man with a hoe, frantically attacking the unwanted green, clearly over-revving my engine, rushing through life as if it were a stripmall. My eyes ricocheted over the ground, barely lighting on any one thing and seeing nothing but the end of the job. I was a television channel partially tuned in. Then I made a dramatic though accidental correction. I stopped, looked up at the fields of sunflowers surrounding me, the truck passing over the bridge. I looked back at the weeds, the divots, my hands, and began to hoe again. This time my eyesight cleared and my swing cut a perfect swath. My hoe became a fine instrument whose broad, deep strokes balanced discipline with the freedom of an autodidactic. This rhythm isn’t the metronomic dirge of menial labor, the repetition of drudgery, of escape, of sleep, but the improvised musings of a mind in motion. Finding the rhythm is the rhythm.
One sleepy summer morning, my friends and I wandered the East Village looking for a purpose. Luck and a subway token took us to Coney Island, where we continued our aimlessness down the boardwalk. Despite the sweaty blur of leisure seekers, a gang of strangly-clad musicians arranged themselves on the planks, limbering their lips and fingers. Chugging herky-jerky through two numbers, they soon hit a groove—their notes strenuous but calm, brisk but steady, deliberate but intuitive. In the shadow of the Cyclone, the boardwalk vibrated with people beaming quite involuntarily. Strangers smiled at one another as if they had mistakenly seen each other naked.
Hours later, the music ended as the summer light dissolved over the city. Distractedly, the band stowed their horns; the crowd hemhawed about. Both wanted to acknowledge the intimacy. It was more than a great gig; it was a communion shared. As we drifted back toward ordinariness and its untapped potential, at least temporarily alert, a giant flock of birds swirled over the amusement park. Beyond schedules, beyond expectations, beyond sidewalks, we reclaimed time by travelling from mundane to mecca without a good sense of direction.