On the Eve of Our Little Apocalypse

During this class, I have learned that time, while inescapable, is vastly changeable. I have always thought of truly effective education as increasing the student’s freedom, and this class has done exactly that for me.

When I arrived in Duane this January, I knew enough about time to feel trapped by it. Like many other students, being a young person in New York City often made me feel as though there were not enough hours in a day. At other times, those hours felt stretched far beyond their limit, to a point where I was sure to snap if I tried to practically utilize every single one. While college life affords the freedom of an unorthodox schedule, I felt married to mine. Appointments and deadlines felt immoveable. While this was not a bad thing, and I was reasonably happy operating under these circumstances, I now realize that the chronological claustrophobia I sometimes felt was an indication of feeling trapped in my time. The learning given to me in this class has helped me to step outside of ‘my’ time.

Prior to this class, I had played with my language surrounding the time I had to increase a feeling of autonomy. Instead of saying, “I don’t have time for that,” I substituted, “That’s not a priority right now.” I made choices and sacrifices of how to utilize my time in a way that felt in line with my identity. But still, rather than feeling like time was a limitless expanse that I had the freedom to organize in any fashion, I felt like I had been dealt a hand of 24 hours and told to use them as effectively as possible until they ran out, only to play the whole game over again. This is not a terrible way to organize time, but it does place a focus on utility above all.

This course has given me the tools to organize my time around things other than productivity – things that at times matter more than productivity. Some days, I choose to organize time around my body, listening to its inner clock rather than the watch it wears on its wrist. I eat when I feel like it, sleep when I need to and organize what I can around those needs. Other times, I organize my time around memory, placing what I feel will be a memorable use of my time over what may be considered the most productive or valuable. This class has empowered me to do that, and I am better for it.

It has also led me to place higher value on time we keep together. The ways in which communities organize time are one of the most powerful community unifiers, and I now factor that in when discerning which communities I would like to be part of, and how to make my own communities more inclusive. This class has shown me that time is an inescapable fabric, but despite this, we are free to tailor it into any fashion we wish, and it is important to keep in mind the ways in which we can tailor it for further equality for others and betterment of ourselves, or stifle the freedom of others and ensnare ourselves in an unhappy existence.

When we spoke of how to use our time, we referenced Seneca’s “On the Shortness of Life,” in which the philosopher contends that any amount of time is enough if it is used well. We talked about the tragedy and injustice of a life cut short in reference to this text. Despite this, I would like to think Seneca is right – that while we may want more time, and in some tragic cases deserve more time, we can view every life lived well as enough time to do good work that touches many. This has changed the way I view my own death, and also the tragic deaths that I have come into contact with. While Seneca may not have agreed with the way the time was utilized, I look at those who have passed and left behind beautiful memories as having enough time to touch many despite deserving more time. This class and Seneca’s thought has allowed me to focus more on the value in life rather than just the void of where it ends, and in some cases is cut short. It has helped me focus less on the places where people were cheated of more time, and instead all the time they took and compounded into the world.

This class has been an exercise in changing my perspective on whatever moment I happen to be in in order to make that moment more mindful, effective and inclusive as opposed to merely practical. So in terms of what time it is right now – it is the eve of the end of the world, of this world in our Duane room. We have been patiently preparing for this apocalypse, and we will have a final discussion and celebration tomorrow evening before this community ceases to look the way it does now. Things will be different after. Some, including myself, may wish we had more time, but the time we held together contained infinite value and therefore was enough.

Game of Thrones as a Marker in History

The final season premiere of Game of Thrones aired tonight, and as my friends and I gathered around my living room to watch the first of the last episodes, I found myself thinking a lot about time both in Westeros and off the screen.

I began watching Game of Thrones relatively late in its lifespan, just after the seventh season concluded. While the series is one I would’ve gravitated towards anyway, I had a very specific reason for undertaking the daunting seven seasons – I wanted to be part of what I saw as a cultural moment. The excitement and community that has sprung up around this series is one rarely seen. In my lifetime, the only thing I can liken it to is the mania surrounding the release of the final Harry Potter.

Cultural phenomena like these mark a time period, and in some ways come to define them. Reports continuously call the time we’re living in polarized and divisive. I find it somewhat strange that people will look back on 2019 as a year in which there was so much political and social controversy, but it will also be the year in which the world banded together in a way no age had ever seen, just to watch a television show. Both of those moments are happening at the same time, which is both confusing and beautiful.

These cultural moments remain as markers in the future, and as foils to the more serious moments of history. In the same way that people ask, “where were you when Kennedy was shot?” or “where were you on the night of the 2016 election?” people also use more trivial cultural moments like this one to mark their time through life. I will likely tell future people about the anticipation I felt in the lead up to Game of Thrones, about the pools of who will make it to the end and the watch parties in which it was more fun to hold our breath together. It will act as a bookmark in my life.

When Punctuality Undercuts the Present

As we enter this unit on the value of time and how to use it, I find myself thinking about how we use time to show respect to one another. Growing up, I learned punctuality was key to showing care for others – not only showing up, but showing up when I said I would. However, as I grow older and my plate grows more full, I find myself questioning that idea. My commitment to punctuality has waned.

When I was six, my bus came at 7:12. A somewhat early wake up time led to the very quick realization that my body has no interest in accommodating a wake up time. Despite my mother’s best efforts, I remained a horrible riser through high school, narrowly making or missing bus and train times to the ire of my parents. On a particularly stressful morning, my mother screamed that I must not respect her because I was horrible at being on time. This shifted something – I had never before equated my inability to wake up with others’ perceptions of my respect for them.

While I remained terrible at waking up, I did get better at being on time. I never wanted someone to feel I didn’t care about their schedule. In college, I had a professor who insisted five minutes early was on time. I began to accommodate that too.

However, in order to maintain earlier and earlier start times to show my respect for people, I found myself losing track of the time I spent with them. In an effort to make it to the next step of a packed day, I cut short meetings, or answered urgent messages, preoccupied with being punctual, either in person or via email, rather than making the time I was currently participating in count for more.

When I realized what was happening, I began thinking of the times I felt others respect my time. I thought of how I never minded when my father was late to a game, but I minded when I spotted him on his Blackberry on the sidelines. I never minded arriving somewhere before a friend, especially if that friend had an interesting story to tell on what held them up. I realized that for me, feeling respected had less to do with the time people showed up for me, but more about how present they were in the time they were there.

This is not an argument for being late. I am still working on making it to my classes 30 seconds early rather than 30 seconds late. I am hoping to hear Keating’s six chimes in my 6 o’clock meeting rather than as I rush across Eddie’s. But I do think we should place mindfulness above punctuality and not allow the time we’re about to have undermine the time we’re having.

So in an effort to cultivate that mindfulness, I don’t sweat it when I’m 30 seconds late to a class, and I also don’t mind when professors go a few minutes over time. I may walk in a few minutes late to a weekly meeting, but I stay late into the night until the job is done, without worry of what assignments or deadlines need to be met afterwards. I find the practice has made the people around me feel I’m more present, it’s made the product of my work better and it’s made me happier as I find myself more absorbed with the present than preoccupied with the future.

Here is a video I encountered a few months ago that has a similar sentiment. It changed how I thought about and valued punctuality:

Keating Time

While I am unsure if Keating Bell Tower is actually the physical center of Rose Hill’s campus, I think it’s fair to say it exists as the center of Rose Hill’s universe. Many apartments from each of the upperclassmen residence halls have a clear view of the tower, and most that do not can still hear its chimes each hour. My apartment is located a quarter mile from the campus, and I still hear the bells, reminding me more often that I am late than early.

When I am northbound of 183rd street, I am on Fordham’s time, and I imagine this impacts the community at large as well. The chimes are inescapable in the eight-block radius. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it is a question of imposition. Fordham, in a way, is imposing its time on the larger community, and has since 1936 when the tower itself was constructed. I would be interested to see how members of the surrounding community feels about Keating Bell Tower – whether it’s something they also feel a sense of ownership over and feel connected to the university community, or if it’s more of an overbearing nuisance that mandates the Belmont community pay attention to an adjacent, semi-permeable community.

I also wonder how Keating Time compares to other standard times. How accurate is the tower in comparison to other Eastern Standard time keepers? Do most professors inside the building consider it the keeper of class time, or do they subscribe to their own watches?

Personally, I consider my phone to be the ultimate keeper of my time, with Keating Bell Tower a helpful reminder when I cannot access my standard. My watch is two minutes fast in comparison to Keating Time, and my alarm clock is synced with the tower.

While the bell tower’s facade has become emblematic of the Rose Hill campus, I wonder how individual people both inside and outside Fordham’s gates utilize the time kept by the building, and whether it is merely a visual symbol with a timely musical note, or if it serves a purpose for its surrounding people.

Metropolitan Rhythms

This weekend I road tripped up to Boston with three friends. While one was touring law school and the other was bringing her younger sister to tour a college, I was just along for the ride, enticed by the promise of a weekend adventure. Throughout our trip, I was faced with multiple questions about time and how to use it due to the differences between the city I call home and the city I adopted for a weekend.

I realized I am spoiled by New York, a city that never sleeps, and in Boston, like other cities, many things are relegated to specific, ‘acceptable’ hours. Time is very much a commodity. In New York, the barriers we run up against are mostly how many things we can complete in a 24 hour day. But in Boston, the clock runs down earlier, since only certain things can be done at certain times. With decency laws forcing nightlife to close by two and last call at one, a poor showing of late night food places or dessert shops and most stores and public places closing by 7 p.m., residents are forced into an earlier timeline.

New York’s disregard for institutionalized time spoiled me and made it hard to enjoy the later parts of Boston. When I finished dinner at 8 p.m., it was challenging to find a dessert spot that remained open. A late night movie meant there was no place to chat over the plot after. Unlike New York, I realized other cities do exert some influence over its people’s schedules, and I resented Boston for it.

However, a city on an earlier schedule had its benefits. With the latest nights only permitted to reach 2 a.m., people seemed to sleep in a bit less. I noticed more runners in the morning than I am accustomed to seeing. People looked well-rested and in better moods, and more people took time to engage in social niceties, like holding doors and saying hello. College students filled the local coffee shops doing work on weekend afternoons. With fewer places to go and things to see, people seemed more content to stay productive in one place, fueled by the city’s mandate of an early to bed and early to rise philosophy.

Things felt healthier and more balanced than they do in New York, but it seemed the lack of chaos also stemmed from a lack of opportunity. When I questioned residents about things to do and opportunities in the area, they seemed unenthused. They praised the schedule, the balance, but complained there was a real lack of excitement. They said they often did the same things with the same people at the same times, and while this wasn’t all bad, it lacked a certain zeal.

Personally, I enjoyed the balance brought by a weekend getaway to a quieter city, but I was glad to come home to the freedom of New York’s timing.

The Unforgiving Minute

Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem called “If,” in which he describes what he believes to be a life well-lived. While Kipling himself had some very questionable beliefs, I have always been very partial to “If,” and the life it describes. Overall, I think it is a simple set of verses that illustrates the middle ground one should seek through life, and I have found this premise of “everything in moderation, even moderation” to be a helpful guide to a life well-lived.

Looking closer, the final two couplets of the poem have always stuck out to me:

“If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!”

I think a lot about what it means for a minute to be unforgiving, and the value of that minute in comparison to others. West Point graduate Craig Mullaney entitled his memoir The Unforgiving Minute in order to contrast his experience of studying war with actually participating in it. His memoir deals with a variety of topics, including the importance of his Roman Catholic faith and how he grew to respect others through an inter-faith marriage with his Hindu wife, his time studying as a Rhodes Scholar, his failure and later success at Ranger School and his first war experience. Mullaney’s memoir and the final lines of Kipling’s poem seem to hold singular moments as the seismic mover of a life. If what you do during the unforgiving minute creates your identity and decides your destiny, the value of a life lived can be boiled down from years to a single, more valuable minute.

I am unsure if I subscribe to this idea, but I do find it interesting. It made me think about the unforgiving minutes that may have formed my life, the minutes that paid more dividends than others, and I wondered what other people’s unforgiving minutes might be.

However, I later saw a video on the YouTube channel Vlogbrothers in which John Green talked about the magnitude of moments in shaping a destiny. His thesis focused on the idea that the value of some moments only reveal themselves long after they have passed, and as he put it:

“At least as far as I can tell, the course of your life isn’t ‘decided’ ever…There are hundreds of forks in the road every day you’re alive…Destiny is not something that happens all at once, it’s something that happens only in retrospect.”

For Green, it seems the unforgiving minute is worthwhile, but it does not necessarily give those who endure “the Earth and everything that’s in it.” The minutes that hold more value may be ones that are mundane, but only reveal their value when placed in the context of a life.

Hilma Af Klint’s Vision of the Future

I am no art historian, and I wouldn’t even call myself a passionate amateur, but I do like to visit art museums from time to time. On a recent visit to the Guggenheim during its pay-what-you-will night, I took in an exhibition entitled, Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future. Walking into the spiral halls, I had no idea who Klint was. By the time I left, I was deeply conflicted about the structure of time.

I usually spend more time reading the placards than looking at the paintings, but there was something about Klint’s work that drew me in. At first, it was her story. Klint created abstract paintings in her native Sweden in the early and mid 20th century. Her odd shapes and erratic colors came long before greats like Kandinsky did it.

However, her abstraction came from a spiritual place. Klint engaged in seances from an early age, and had an obsession with the supernatural. She joined a group of female artists who called themselves “The Five,” and engaged in spiritualist and occult practices. In her early work, she allowed the spirits she encountered to flow through her as she painted. In her later pieces, she began to intentionally reconstruct what she saw on her spiritual journeys.

At the start of the exhibition, I thought Klint’s art and use of color was beautiful, but I dismissed her spiritualist practices. I imagined silly situations reminiscent of children using ouija boards where “The Five” would claim they hadn’t moved the paint brush yet a painting appeared. However, as I ascended the Guggenheim’s spiral, I began to feel more uneasy. Klint’s later work, in which she tried to communicate what she supposedly saw in her exploration, was beautiful but unsettling. I began to take her story more seriously and wonder if she really did see the future, and if so, what did she see?

The New York Times’ review categorized some of the eeriness of the exhibit:

“In their wit, ebullience, multiple references and palette, “The Ten Largest” seem utterly contemporary, made-yesterday fresh. But prepare for label shock: they were created in 1907.”

Six of Klint’s “Ten Largest” hang in their places at the Guggenheim museum. (Guggenheim)

And most of the journey up the spiral evokes these feelings. There is something alarmingly out of place about Klint’s work in the context of her time. It doesn’t leave you with the impression she was ahead of her time, a forerunner of abstraction, but rather that she stepped out of it and dropped a piece of the future into her own year.

She also made interesting predictions that parallel today. Klint envisioned a spiral temple in which her “Ten Largest” would be displayed – a temple that bears a striking resemblance to the Guggenheim, which had yet to be constructed in Klint’s lifetime.

I exited the exhibition feeling uneasy about my understanding of time. While I don’t know if I hold with Klint’s spiritual beliefs, it does seem she saw something of the future while she lived her present. Whether that occurred through careful study of her present to guess where the future would land or if through revelation, I don’t know. But, I left the exhibition thinking about how there may be cases in which we see something of the future and steal it back to live in our present, only to be fit in the context of a greater timeline decades later.

On Deadline

2/3/19

By Aislinn Keely

New York City has a rich journalistic tradition. People across the globe read the front page of The Times, which has become the world’s journal of record rather than just New York’s. The nation looks towards the predictions of The Wall Street Journal. However, the city’s roots are in local storytelling. New York would lose its character without its New York Post, New York Daily News and dollar tabloids. The city has felt the loss of local publications like Gothamist and DNAInfo. New York’s local coverage both marks and preserves the passage of time in a city that is as much a community as it is a center for the world.

This weekend, I curled up on a friend’s couch and watched HBO’s documentary “Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists.” It was a magnificent act of storytelling about storytellers, and it led me down two lines of questioning: what is the relationship between localized storytelling and timekeeping, and what does it mean to live a life on deadline? The documentary asks and answers this through an exploration of city journalists Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill. Both men wrote columns for a variety of publications through tumultuous times.

Image result for jimmy breslin and pete hamill
Pete Hamill (left) and Jimmy Breslin (right) both wrote columns for city publications.

Breslin and Hamill were both authorities on the narrative of major historical events. Hamill’s column shaped the understanding of the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Breslin was heralded for his columns on the John F. Kennedy assassination, which included telling the story of the surgeon who couldn’t save JFK and the man who dug the president’s grave. The latter column is known by its title “It’s An Honor.” He would win the Pulitzer for that story, and it remains central to the history of the nation’s response to the tragedy.

Breslin would also cover issues of police brutality in the city, the crime of the 80s and the city’s pack mentality in response. He wrote columns critiquing lawmakers and investigating organized crime. His writing is an authority of New York history. Looking at Breslin’s portfolio is a snapshot of the city from 1960 up to the early 2000s.

However, it’s important to note that Breslin had opinions. He had a voice and he wasn’t afraid to use it. This meant he incited change, but it also casts doubt on the objectivity of his record of New York. In his columns, we see New York as Breslin and the subjects he chose to quote saw it. They are a handful of perspectives in a city of millions.

The records we have of that time are bound to be tainted by the people who wrote them. They are written mostly by white men, but these men were also very much entrenched in the communities they wrote about. The journalism of this era lacked college degrees, and was marked by street knowledge. Their sources were relationships cultivated from years of being active within their local communities. While our journals of record should contain as many diverse voices as possible in order to get the truest snapshot of a time, I found it admirable and interesting that the journalism of this time was created by people of a community covering that community.

In addition to shedding light on who is keeping the records of our communities, the documentary also touched on what it means to live a life on deadline. Hamill and Breslin lived against a deadline, bound to deliver a story regardless of what happened that news cycle. Reporters must be consumed by their own temporality, I thought. They live their lives racing to hit a buzzer only to feel the clock counting down again moments after they’ve hit it.

On one hand, this is freeing. Life moves on. Some columns are bad. Some are magnificent. The only thing that should weigh on one’s mind is the next deadline, not a fictitious win/loss record. In the New York Times obituary for Breslin, Mario Cuomo touched on Breslin’s consistency:

“Think of it: He still works every day,” former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, a close friend who died in 2015, wrote in remarks prepared for a 2009 celebration of Mr. Breslin. “Writing, or thinking about writing, and he has done it for 60 years, nearly 22,000 days and nights — except for the short hiatus when doctors were forced to drill a hole in his head to let out of his congested brain some of his unused lines. Then he wrote a book about it!”

Living on deadline creates a reason to get up and give it your all each day. It frees you from both resting on your laurels and getting stuck in failure. However, it can also undercut the importance of stopping and living in one moment. Breaks should be part of life, but living on deadline can harden one to them. Breslin famously told his son to get out of bed the morning after they laid wife and mother Rosemary to rest. “Get the —- up. The clock doesn’t stop,” Breslin said. Perhaps those on deadline are also condemned to be consumed by their own temporality, and plagued by the temporality of others.

A collection and summary of a few of Breslin’s most famous columns can be found here: https://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/back-jimmy-breslin-best-columns-article-1.3002680