One of the most popular emoji on my phone is the octopus. I’ve been reading Sy Montgomery’s “The Soul of An Octopus”
, and it will likely be the best book I read all year. Every time I reach for it, I look like a child reaching for their favorite binky. Sy’s ability to convey pure rapture while packing gobs of information into every sentence is, at least for this writer, a source of fascination and a bit of envy. When I read Sy’s description of a female octopus weaving her eggs — thousands of them — and cradling them until they hatch and the octopus eventually dies, it’s like taking an eraser to my own worries about time. Instead of feeling small and trapped, I feel time disappear, and I am part of something bigger and more wonderful than I could possibly imagine.
Time is a tricky tyrant. We are all subject to it, and it can both pass too quickly and not pass quickly enough. The saying goes, “time waits for no man”, though it would be more fitting, perhaps, to say “time waits for no woman”, since it is our reproductive system that is tied so tightly to time. I recently finished Jared Diamond’s “Why Is Sex Fun?”
. It’s a fascinating little book that explores different species’ reproductive practices and compares them to that of humans. It also compares men and women’s different impulses and incentives. We humans are a strange bunch with our hidden ovulations and our constant copulations. If the birds, the bees and the bonobos could talk to us, they’d probably just mutter, “weirdos,” and go on about their business.
Time has been on my mind a lot recently. It’s hard to escape the feeling that something significant should be happening right about now — big changes should be afoot. They have been, but they are not the changes I was fully prepared for or that my DNA is grumbling about. Job changes and location changes have been happening at quite a clip while other changes have been happening too quickly. There’s an ache in my lower back in the mornings that didn’t used to be there. My muscles take longer to recover from a workout. My hair is getting a bit more gray than black. I get winded on my bike rides sooner than I did only a few years ago. Then, there’s the longing — this deep, odd and inconvenient urge to begin settling down.
I’m getting older, and the waves of my genetic programming are beginning to crash against the dam of my life choices. Water, like time, is known for getting its way. The two work in concert, give water enough time and it will break through the toughest of materials. Like an octopus, it will seep through small spaces and find its way in or out. But, unlike, an octopus, which automatically goes about its reproductive cycle, I observe the world around me and I wonder if it is a place worthy of weaving my own genetic code. As Michael Brown writes for The New York Times
"Yes, it’s essential that black women have the choice about whether to conceive and give birth. But this choice, without the ability to protect a child from violence, rings hollow. That’s why it’s important to understand that the fight for reproductive justice and the fight to end police brutality go hand in hand.”
These days, it’s hard not to feel like an octopus without a safe place to settle down and lay some eggs. The fear and ambiguity can be crushing at times, but fear is a waste of time, and ambiguity, much like time, can be used constructively or destructively. I was reminded of this piece from Science of Us
, reviewing Jamie Holmes’s “Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing”
from 2015, in which the author told SoU’s Jesse Singal,
"If there’s any takeaway, it’s that we’re programmed to get rid of ambiguity, and yet if we engage with it we can make better decisions, we can be more creative, and we can even be a little more empathetic…”
The deepest source of ambiguity for me right now is whether I will live in a world that is better than the one I was born into. Every cell in my body wants to say ‘yes’, but I am human and, given the headlines over the past few months and especially this weekend, I have doubts. I fear that the most responsible decision I can make is to hold back from adding to the tapestry of life that extends from me back to the very Beginning. It is a devastating thought.
Whether I will or won’t add to it doesn’t need to be decided now. Instead, I need to work on tricking the tyrant that has been stealing my quiet moments alone and leaving me to worry. I found this piece from Mindful by Elaine Smookler on how to harness time alone
. Mastering that is the heart of the trick. If you cannot enjoy time with yourself, can you ever really enjoy it with someone else, whether that someone is one you’ve brought into the world or not?
"We are awash in studies telling us that we need each other to survive and to be happy. And it’s true, we do. But when we lose the ability to be alone with ourselves, our overstimulated nervous systems suffer from no place to rest and recharge."
The anniversary of my own birth is coming up, and I’ve reached a number I don’t want to talk about. So, instead of planning a big party and asking folks to gather together, I am going to spend the time alone. I have always liked to think I enjoy my own company, but it’s time to drill down and make sure. If I am going to successfully trick this tyrant called ’time', I need to claim time to confront the ambiguity around me and carefully observe the water in which I swim to see if the tides will turn and I can find safe harbor to settle down and weave my own threads into life’s tapestry.