Time and the Price of Wasting It

I had a moment of freak-out earlier this week when I received an email from WordPress letting me know that the domain on this blog had expired.

I’d been so busy with my real job that I’d forgotten to do the routine maintenance on the one I do for fun. The domain name is cheap (not a lot of demand for KnightStivender.com; shocking), but my time isn’t.

Whose is?

And yet, unless we clock billable hours, we frequently fail to acknowledge the value of our time.

A colleague told a story today about how when she was a teenager she lost the gas cap on her car, and her father made her drive to the dump and rummage around for it for a few hours. A gas cap costs, what, $12? I’m sure somewhere in this story is a lesson about responsibility, but I think it’s at the expense of productivity.

I wonder what else she could have done in those hours spent searching for the gas cap, and if it could have involved something useful to earn her $12 to buy a new one.

I shouldn’t pass too much judgment on this well-meaning father. I do this kind of thing all the time – robbing Peter to pay Paul with my time, rarely pleasing anyone but often disappointing people.

For example: At the office I tend to push time beyond the last possible second – sending just one, two, three more emails; editing one, two, just three more stories; writing one, two, just three more proposals – at a gain to no one but me in that particular moment but at a loss to the people waiting for me at home, at dinner … in worlds that don’t involve a single one of those last few whatevers I’ve felt compelled to do.

I cheat myself, too, of time. I often do this in late evening, sifting through social media feeds and clicking on news stories when I’d be much more fulfilled reading the novel on my nightstand…

And this has the effect of stirring up bad ideas and weak emotions when I ought to be settling down and drifting off.

And all of that is followed up with time I waste the next morning, after a restless night, hitting the snooze on my iPhone when I’d be much happier awake (as I am, ironically, on the weekends) enjoying a quiet moment alone before the carousel begins again.

Tonight, it cost me less than a minute to email WordPress and ask what to do, and another 30 seconds and $18 to click the link in their response and renew my domain during their – hallelujah – two-week grace period.

In return, I get to keep my name — and so much more.

12 People Everyone Should Know

Here is a short list of the kind of people everyone should know at some point. At 36, I’ve been lucky to know most of them. Some of them in multiples.

1. An eternally pessimistic person. If you are optimistic, as I am, this person will drive you crazy until the one day he says everything will work out just fine. That will be the day you can’t possibly believe anyone but him.

2. An eternally optimistic person: This person will drive you crazy because you won’t believe her when she says everything is going to be ok … because she ALWAYS says that. But one day you will need someone to do something impossible for you, and this person is the person who will figure out how to make that happen.

3. A devoutly religious person who doesn’t care if anyone else is religious: If, like me, you grew up in the Bible Belt, it will be a surprise when you meet this person. Because she doesn’t talk about her faith, you will ask about it. From her, you will learn how to do, which is different than what to say.

4. A thoughtful person who knows practical things: How to put air in a bicycle tire, when to bring someone a casserole, when to change oil, how to sign up for Amazon Prime.

5. A person who levels with you: This person conveys harsh truths in a way in which you can hear and even feel good about them. You go to him for advice and clarity.

6. A person whose life is much harder than yours: Yours are not the biggest challenges in the world.

7. A person whose life is much easier than yours: Chances are good they think of you as some sort of inspiration. See No. 6 and consider how you think of her.

8. A young person: She will make you feel wise.

9. An old person: He will make you feel unspoiled.

10. A person with lots of ideas: She will inspire you.

11. A person with spreadsheets: She will get shit done.

12. A person who remembers in advance that Tennessee liquor stores are closed on Sundays and major holidays.

My Love, Before I Knew Him

We had dinner last night with his best friend from childhood. These two grew up together in a small town, attended college together in Murfreesboro where they played in bands they say no one listened to, and they both remained in Nashville to work in the music business.

They share an inside language of family, music, friends, exes (girlfriends, band members), trips they’ve taken, dumb things they’ve done, gossip, gin and sometimes work.

This childhood friend’s wife is a photographer – quite exceptional with portraiture – and she pulled out some prints she’s made of the two of them, and others in their friend group, from seven or eight years back. This is before I knew him and his circle, when I was married to someone else.

I was afraid of what they might think if I did what I wanted to do, which was inspect and dissect every pixel of his portrait, so I said a polite, “Great photo!” or whatever, and left it at that. But it was beyond a great photo. This is what I saw:

I saw a classically handsome man of 35 or 36, with hyper-animated, expressive eyebrows, a half-smiling snarl in one corner of his mouth, subtly but suggestively jutting hip, black suit. If his friends read this, they’ll tease him, but he looked to me like a celebrity, like if I had seen him out somewhere at that period of my life, I would have intentionally ignored him so I didn’t look like I was staring.

In that photograph, I saw a man a few years younger, cockier, and perhaps even freer than he is now. I saw a man who had already known for a long time how beautiful and sensitive Chris Bell’s music is, who had already read “A Prayer for Owen Meany” 900 times, and who had given copies of that novel and “I Am The Cosmos” to plenty of other creative, sensitive brunettes.

Knowing someone intimately does not necessarily mean you know the details of their life before you were in it. Sometimes those things reveal themselves in conversations with old friends, in photographs, in the context of someone else’s circumstances, or seemingly from nowhere but fate.

Sometimes mystery is best.

I looked at that photograph of him for but a few seconds, felt jealous that I wasn’t in it, then almost as quickly felt the sort of crush I’d felt when we met, when every little thing about him was new.

He will always have years that are not mine, things about him I don’t know. That is wildly sexy, and I hope someone has taken photographs of those moments he was awesome, long before he met me.

Things Thought and Mostly Unsaid at the End of the Year

A dog went for a walk before the sidewalk set, and left his impression in the wet concrete. A little boy noticed this and etched his initials nearby.
The boy enjoyed the moment, but I wonder what the dog thought.
Among the things I think about on when walking alone at the end of 2013: It would suck to step barefoot into wet cement.

Also…

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How To Not Be Irritated With Your Family During Christmas

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Friends are people who know you as you’ve come to be, and family are people who knew you as you were coming along.

For a lot of adult children, this distinction is clear and very painful during the holidays. Through perceived or real guilt trips levied by their parents, they feel tugged to return to their families of origin to participate in traditions of their youth, giving up the cozy familiarity of their present day friends who know things like, for example, that they question the very religion that is grounds for this current holiday season. Or that we’ll be quitting the job that pays our bills. Or we’ve been having a fling – it’ll end soon! – with a cokehead drummer. Things they wouldn’t want to discuss with their parents. But I’d ask: why not?

It’s tough to be intimate with people who don’t know how you think, what pushes you and pisses you off, what makes you sparkle and what you hold most dear. It’s tougher when those people feel an assumed closeness to you simply because you share DNA or a childhood.

It’s also frustrating and borderline insulting when families do not encourage or in some cases even allow their grown children to establish their own traditions and customs.

But I think the onus is on the kids – us grown-up, navel-gazing, parent-pleasing “kids” in our 20s, 30s and even our 40s, often with kids of our own – to work this out with our parents.

If we want to enjoy our time with them (or for everyone to be cool with having time apart) during the holidays or other times, we have to let them know us as our friends do: as the people we have become.

For me, this comes from asking – and being willing to answer – meaningful questions of my parents and extended family.

But I know from being around other less verbal people (including members of my own family), that closeness can also develop over cards or football, a raunchy board game, on a pontoon boat with cocktails, walking around a golf course, cooking a meal together, listening to records, and writing letters (real ones, in the mail).

We expect the world from our families, especially our parents. It’s a valid expectation; they brought us into the world and, assuming the best, they raised us mostly right.

But we can’t expect them to keep up with all our changes – to know intimately whom, exactly, they’ve raised – unless we share ourselves with them.

Parents, grandparents, adult children… we are all adults now. We can act the part instead of assuming the roles we did as kids, and we’ll all be closer and more empathetic.

Footnote: the photos above are from Christmas 2011. One is of friends around a table in Oak Bar at the Hermitage Hotel – a tradition we started five years ago as a friends group. The other is of my family, in my dining room. Our family has several established holiday traditions, but we are flexible. That year, everyone drove or flew to Nashville to be at my house so my daughter could be with both her (very recently divorced) parents.

Things I Want My Daughter To Know About Sex

Some friends and I were discussing this article about whether parents should feel comfortable with their teenagers having sex in their homes. I personally would not.

But certainly what I do support is making sure that as my daughter grows up, she knows what I think about the issue – not about sex in my house, specifically, but more importantly my thoughts on sex in a woman’s life in general.

Here are some things I’d like her to know:

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Defining “family” when there’s a divorce

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As a child I remember spending time with relatives and mentally drawing the family tree while everyone played cards and mixed cocktails and cheered for Auburn. These hilarious and super accomplished women are my mom’s first cousins. Their kids are my second cousins. Mom’s sister’s husband’s nieces are my cousins by marriage.

We had a couple of divorces in my family, and sometimes the “related by marriage” person would appear again at a funeral or wedding. But for the most part, in those cases, they drifted away from the rest of our group. I didn’t think about those folks’ relationship to me.

Sometimes it has to be that way, and I don’t judge any families in which that is the case.

But divorce does not have to split a family.

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Things That Keep Me Up At Night: From Bro-Oprahs to Convenience Marriages to Feminists’ Daughters

Here is a partial list of themes I keep thinking I’ll turn into a blog post, novel or at least a Facebook rant. Maybe you all can help me figure out what to do with them.

In no particular order:

1. Whether people in a position to hear other people’s secrets (priests, therapists, flings) have a more compassionate, or more jaded view of mankind. Related: whether you need to know someone’s secrets to really know them.

2. Young, bro-Oprah types who seem to be trying to “help people” as writers / speakers who talk about themselves a whole lot. On Twitter, at conferences, in blog posts about blogging, etc. (Are they underemployed? Looking for girlfriends? A mystery.)

3. Writing a performance review for your life. Not your work life. Your whole life. What would your goals be? How would you measure success? How would your kids, friends, doctor, neighbors rate you?

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The vanity of crushes

A friend of mine found himself instantly and achingly attracted to a woman he met at a business mixer. She was an accomplished young executive, like himself. An extrovert who never met a stranger, like himself. Interested in politics, well versed in novels and music, beautiful and confident to a point bordering on cockiness. Like himself.

The attraction horrified him, especially once he realized it was returned.

She was single. He was married.

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Being The Boss

I was a reporter in a newspaper bureau, covering the county school system and writing stories about things like dress codes, standardized test scores and school board politics.

I enjoyed it but grew bored after a couple of years. I was pretty sure I wanted to be an editor. Or, more specifically, in charge.

When one of the designers in the office built an internal website for employees to get to know each other better, she had us fill out a survey that included our plans for the future.

I answered, “The boss of you.” Continue reading