The Death (and Birth) of Time

The part of my breakfast this morning I could eat — a flaky African bread that is light and delicious, cubes of fresh butter and a rich apricot spread. She brought two over-easy eggs — my favorite — but it’s dangerous for Westerners to eat soft yolks. I left them untouched. I don’t order anything — they bring me whatever they’ve prepared.

This morning I woke up after a rough night. I had difficulty falling asleep then woke up at 3 AM. I was awake three hours before I drifted off again about 6 AM for another hour or so. I’ve felt a little low the past few days. Nothing I can put my finger on, really. I think it’s garden-variety blues.

After I carefully showered (neck down) then used bottled water to wash my face, then hair (five seconds, tops) then brushed my teeth, I came down for the breakfast that’s provided with my room.

A woman in a black hijab nodded hello, then showed me to a table set for one. In the morning they put out place settings for the guests. I can quickly count how many people are registered. Looks like there are seven.

I hear the juicer — it has the low-tech growl of one from the 1950s. The server shows up with a huge glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Then a pot of coffee (enough in it for two cups.) When I get to the residency I’ll make a pot with the ground coffee I bought a few days ago so I can have my fill. I can drink a whole pot if I’m not careful.

When it comes to coffee, I’m rarely careful.

And then I tried to figure out how many days I had been at this riad — three? four? And I realized I arrived 36 hours ago. It struck me with such a sense of wonder.

And this shock happens all the time when I’m traveling. I could argue it’s the number one reason for middle-aged and older people to begin traveling. It’s the only solution I know for slowing down time.

Everyone feels time passing swiftly. Psychologists note that people are experiencing it at younger and younger ages, even as early as age 11. But to explore why children feel that time is passing quickly is another post, and one that would break my heart to write.

The scene outside my writing studio, with the Green Olive Arts sign

At home in California, I’ve tried everything I can imagine to make time slow down: filling my days with activities; carving out a day with “nothing.” But neither works. Whether incredibly busy or just lying on the sofa… time does its thing and flies past me at dizzying speeds.

In retrospect, it seemed my time in Paris passed quickly. But my experience of it — day to day — passed slowly. I believe the reason is that nothing is automatic: you’re in a new place so you have to think where is the toothbrush? where is the coffee mug? where is my black shirt? Grocery shopping becomes an adventure; getting a haircut, finding bug spray… all of it a challenge. Going on auto-pilot isn’t possible; I’m outside of my time, rather than inside it (where it passes by without thinking.)

I’d go bonkers managing every hour, so I think of it in chunks: the morning, the afternoon, early evening, late evening. Sometimes these are morphed together, too.

My writing studio with a full-length window with doors and green shutters, which I close at night. Outside are the markets with a continual drone of men yelling out their wares.
The vivid colors of the street market beneath my studio window

Does travel always slow down time? That’s a question I can’t answer. When Marty and I were on the Galapagos cruise, many people were on tours (their next stop? Machu Picchu.) They paid someone else to make decisions — where and when to go, which hotel, how to get from Point A to Point B…

What I observed is that it gave those on the tour plenty of time to complain. They hated the towels, they didn’t like So-and-So on the tour, they disapproved of the pace… perhaps I was listening to people who were on a tour for the first time and so were learning what they do or don’t enjoy.

But I also heard some of them always choose a tour because “they don’t want to be bothered.” This was what I heard most often. But of course they were bothered… by the things not going their way.

I’d much rather accept the responsibility for what happens. If I don’t like what I’m doing, I can change it.

It seems inconceivable that we have the same number of hours in a day as when we were six years old, outside and playing when the afternoons spread out before us like an eternity. And summer? … it lasted forever before school started again in fall.

I nearly wrote “I wish I could tell my Boy Self to enjoy the time…” but I wouldn’t want to trouble that child with what would come soon enough.

Life can be difficult sometimes, particularly when we’re feeling low. Life isn’t easy — for anyone. Everyone carries burdens we don’t see. (Plato said that and goes on to say: therefore, be kind to everyone you meet.) But it can also be filled with intense pleasure and satisfaction…

Arguably the hardest part is “being with” the sadness and heartache that is part of being human… but we have to remind ourselves while in those dark places that great joy is also part of the package.

Sometimes we have to wait for it. This might be the sole benefit of time passing so fast.

9 thoughts on “The Death (and Birth) of Time

  1. There is so much to think about here, enough for several posts!
    I appreciate how you set the table for your premise, by walking us through your unusual morning constitutional and breakfast in a foreign setting. Travel being the way to slow down the clock explains a lot of its appeal to seniors. (And it’s consistent with Einstein’s theory of relativity.)
    I love your notion of being outside—observing?—as opposed to inside, of time. To me, you’re suggesting we don’t need to be in a novel environment to slow time enough to make room for more experience. By paying attention to the familiar, we step outside of time, just as we do when we are navigating the strange. And with our heightened powers of attention, we may be more able to suss out what is waking us up at 3 A.M. Thanks Bart, for this beautiful offering!


  2. I adore the look of your studio with the doors flung wide and the vivid and colorful street life below you! I fell behind in reading but wanted to catch up so I would be “with” you in Morocco. 😉

    I am a little confused, though. Has the residency begun? And is this your home throughout the residency?

    Hoping the achey blues have slipped away again for you, Bart.


    1. Hi Riba,

      Yes, the residency started last Monday for me — today is Sunday. It’s 6:45 PM here (10:45 AM there in California.) I know it’s confusing because the postings are usually about three to five days behind what I’m doing (to give me time to edit and revise.) I will be here until May 20th, then back to Paris via Madrid, then I fly out early Saturday morning on a non-stop to San Francisco.

      We are being taken on a studio tour around Tetouan to meet Moroccan artists tomorrow. We will give a public reading on Wednesday night. There’s still a week to go… but it feels as if things are already ending. Yes, that photo is the studio I’ve been working in, and I plan to take photos of my room in the next day or two for the blog.

      Thanks for your constant support and check-ins. They mean so much to me.



  3. I always get emotional reading your travel posts, from sad to excited and in between. You are so brave, and such a fine writer. I look forward to your blog; the only other one I’m currently reading regularly is The Grammar Diva. Haha.


  4. Bart
    I appreciate the sentiment of this post. Hope your blues pass quickly and you get back to that great joy. 🙂
    Also, I think I can generally imagine why, but please explain further why it’s dangerous for westerner’s to eat soft yolked eggs??


    1. Hi Court,

      Bacteria that we’re not accustomed to in this part of the world (our bodies haven’t developed antibodies) lurk on the surface of fruits and vegetables. Everything has to be peeled, and then boiled or rubbed with vinegar before eating. Egg yolks hold bacteria, too, that is killed when they’re cooked hard but remain active in a runny yolk.

      And thanks for the good wishes. I’ll be fine — I’m overdue for travel blues anyhow.



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