About Time (Literally)

My refrigerator started dying a few weeks ago. Once we realized what had gone wrong we wondered about how a fairly new one had gone wrong so quickly. Or did it just feel newish compared with the longevity of the former fridge-I-detested, which had come with the house. During the sale negotiations I proposed swapping out the quite new (2 years) fridge from my former house but our buyers refused that. The unloved one held on for a long time—or had it just seemed abnormally hearty? So how long again had we replaced it?

My husband is fascinated by my weirdly indexed internal files, especially when it comes to time. So…here’s how I came up with my estimate of the year of purchase. I associate the new fridge with the Labor Day before we stayed with a friend in Ashland, Oregon, where I gave a talk at the library about Richard II; so it was Labor Day 2016, the year The Service of the Dead was published. Sure enough, diving into the receipts from September 2016, we found the receipt. Our lovely “new” fridge had lasted a mere 7 years, in contrast to the 18 years the unloved fridge held on. So this is one of my indexing methods: the publication dates of my books. Hence I know that I purchased my beloved treadmill just before publication of The Nun’s Tale. My mother discovered the lump in her neck when I was revising The Riddle of St Leonard’s. A local bookstore opened a nearby branch when The Cross-legged Knight was published. That’s one way I keep track of time.

Out in my garden I am on nature’s time. Right now it’s the moment when the old Japanese maple is leafed out and the redbud’s branches have shed the showy pink flowers for tiny, heart-shaped red leaves, and the odd bees are all over the moss that’s drying out below (after the season of moss) as lady’s mantle, sweet woodruff, cilla, columbine, and begonia suck up the water and crowd it out. Elsewhere in the garden the rose trellis is heavy with the City of York, though not yet blossoming, and clematis is slowly climbing a neighboring trellis. One rhododendrum is blooming, another is just about to bloom, the non-fragrant azaleas are in bloom and the fragrant one is almost there. That’s nature’s time.

There’s the time of the Owen Archer novels, which begin in 1363, and although book 10 was published in 2008 and book 11 in 2019, in the world of the novel only a year had passed. What’s astonishing to me is that this coming September will mark the 30th anniversary of the publication of The Apothecary Rose in the US. 30 years! But in the current work in progress only fourteen years have passed.

My greatest struggle with time is deadline time, whether contractual or self-imposed. Why? Because the moment I begin feeling time pushing me to hurry my work suffers. One of my former editors lived with a writer and was remarkably understanding about requests for a little more time, saying, “A books takes as long as it needs.” I need to inhabit the story and write from within it, which means being fully engaged. I love this state, sometimes referred to as “flow.” Life is sweet in this state. But there comes a moment, usually when I’m pacing around my desk working out where to go from here that the niggling thought intrudes—Look at the calendar! Deadline is closer than it appears in the mirror. And I’m out of 14th century York and in my office trying to be efficient, creativity limp on the floor. Yet without a deadline I rewrite, revise, change the basic plot, and never finish. It’s a balancing act.

Time is clearly a fluid concept, quite adaptable. I listened to Jenny Odell discussing her new book, Saving Time, after reading a description that reminded me of how my dharma teacher, Rodney Smith, talks about time, that the clock is a social construct, devised for society’s convenience, and no more. Yet we talk about wasting time, borrowed time, time as money, killing time…all making it seem as if we are slaves of time. Sure, we are mortal and our time here is limited, but it’s all our time while we’re alive—that’s another Rodney gem that I love, this is my life, my time. Odell urges us to stop and look around us, BE in our lives. A way of being in my time that I nurture.

I’ll leave you with the thought—this is your time. You’re free to choose it wisely.

And, perhaps, if you’re selling your home and you love your current fridge, make sure to clarify that it goes with you.

Maggie would like to add: Ice makers are Evil. Just when I settled down with my human to read in bed–well, she was reading in bed, I was meditating–the suspicious new silver box clattered and sighed. I raced down the hall to hiss and growl, and then retreated to my human’s office on the floor below to hide behind Ragnar Shaggybritches. I am pleased to report that further distress was avoided when my human turned off the Evil Icemaker. She does learn.

2 Comments on “About Time (Literally)

  1. I love the “Be in our lives” quote. I also agree with Maggie most of the time, but Summer is coming to New England and I’m starting to wish I had one. Sooo, next Owen Archer is out when?


    • No schedule for the next Owen Archer yet, as I’m still writing it! But definitely not until at least mid 2024.
      I am happy to use old fashioned ice trays that I quietly empty into a container and refill while Maggie’s distracted.


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