Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Time Being

Have you ever wondered  where thoughts come from?  They could be so random. If you are anxious or upset about something, the thoughts that hound you can make you stop in your tracks and affect your behaviour and deprive you of sleep that you need most to think clearly and go about your daily activities. But if you pay attention, you can actually alter your reality.  How we feel and what we think tend to  change from moment to moment so if we know our thoughts, we can watch them come and go.

Canal de Bourgogne

I tried meditation when I was a student at the university and I remember I had problems staying still just like the young girl Nao Yasutani in A Tale for the Time Being written by Ruth Ozeki.  Nao’s great grandmother Jiko had shown her how to meditate.

In A Tale for the Time Being ,the protagonist, Ruth was unable to complete another novel and she had decided to write a memoir about how she had spent years taking care of her mother, who’d suffered from Alzheimer’s.  She found a Hello Kitty lunchbox that washed up on the beach and inside it an antique wristwatch, a pack of indecipherable letters and the secret diary of a sixteen year old Japanese girl, Nao.
Nao wrote:
As you’ve probably figured  out by now, on account of the ADD, my mind is always chattering away like a monkey. And sometimes I can’t even count to three. Can you believe it ? No wonder I couldn’t get into a decent high school. But the good news is that it doesn’t matter if you screw up zazen.  Jiko says don’t even think of it as screwing up. She says it ‘s totally natural for a person’s mind to think because that’s what minds are supposed to do, so when your mind wanders and gets tangled up in crazy thoughts, you don’t have to freak out. It ‘s no big deal. You just notice it’s happened and drop it, like whatever, and start again from the beginning.’

Nao's diary was a distraction. Ruth felt compelled to read the journal by Nao, the young girl who claimed that she was a time being and she wanted to tell someone the fascinating story of her hundred-and- four-year old great grandmother, who was a Zen Buddhist nun. 

Now , looking at the pile of pages, she felt a quickening flush of panic at the thought of all her own lost time, the confused mess she’d made of this draft, and the work that still needed to be done to sort it all out. What was she doing wasting precious hours on someone else’s story?

The young girl  had left their U.S. home to return to Japan with her parents as her father had lost his job. She had suicidal thoughts and she sought solace in writing her journal that was kept in a red cloth cover entitled À la recherche du temps perdu par Marcel Proust. Nao’s father had attempted to commit suicide and there were parts of the story that I found depressing to read when these characters were suicidal. Nao was bullied in school and also in the cyber world and her father was suffering from depression and had felt  helpless and hopeless.

À la recherche  du temps perdu. In search of lost time. The alternative translation of the title is Remembrance of Things Past. I have not read it and it would be ambitious of me to think that one day I might read it. I first learnt about  the metaphor Le Portrait Chinois in French class today. The Chinese Portrait is  a game that is made up of what is known as Proust Questionnaire created by the famous French novelist Marcel Proust. It is a questionnaire about  one's personality that ask questions like : If you were an animal, what would you be or If you were a plant, what would you be etc. After I read the novel by Ruth Ozeki that made reference to Proust, I was subsequently acquainted with  Le Portrait Chinois. What a nice coincidence.

 In A Tale for the Time Being ,“ Do you think Nao is alive?”  Ruth asked her husband.

 “ Hard to say. Is death even possible in a universe of many worlds? Is suicide? For every world in which you kill yourself, there ‘ll be another in which you don’t , in which you go on living. Many worlds seems to guarantee a kind of immortality…”

She grew impatient then. “ I don’t care about other worlds……

The story is about Zen Buddhism and may be explained by quantum mechanics and classical physics which describe the interactions of matter and energy as they move through time and space. These physicist  theories seem to suggest that a particle can be in two or more places or states at once. There are times when I seem to be able to achieve so much in a day when other times, the days just slip by and I have hardly completed any errands or work that I have meant to do. Sometimes I wish I could be at two or more places at the same time as there are so many books I want to read and things I like to experience as I juggle my daily activities.

Ruth Ozeki wrote, “A moment is a very small particle of time. It is so small that one day is made of 6,400,099,980 moments.”

Six billion, four hundred million, ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and eighty moments in a day.  Apparently when you snap your fingers, that snap equals sixty- five moments. Every moment provides an opportunity to choose our action and reestablish our will, summon our resolve. I have lost count of the moments in my restless years as I whiled away time idling, doodling and day dreaming.  I have to catch up with lost time. There is a time for everything so perhaps all those indecisions and procrastinations might have been inevitable

Ruth pondered about Nao.

In your diary, you quoted old Jiko saying something about not knowing, how not- knowing is the most intimate way, or did I just dream that ? Anyway , I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I think maybe it’s true, even though I don’t really like uncertainty. I’d much rather know, but then again , not -knowing keeps all the possibilities open. It keeps all the worlds alive.’

Not knowing is hard but that is what keeps the possibilities open. Our reality is what we think it is. A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliant piece of writing where we are aptly described as time beings as life is fleeting and change is constant. Nao  sought solace in writing in her diary. She had no idea who would be reading it. When  Ruth picked it up at the other end of the Pacific, she felt the urgency to find Nao as she read about  her despair and angst in the diary but as she continued to read it, the diary became a kind of  wake up call for Ruth . It is essentially a story about two time beings who had somehow become connected via a diary in the present internet era.

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