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The Curse, the Purse and the Dishes

One of the worst things I ever did to myself, I did when I was five years old and when I was ten years old – somewhat simultaneously. Let me explain: I was pondering about the nature of time. I was marveling at the fact that I had just turned five years old and that I was already halfway to being ten. I really wanted to be ten years old because that was big and awesome and had two digits instead of just one. But, just as I was really psyched that I was already halfway there, I realized that five years was an awfully long time to wait. And (I don’t remember if I thought of this back then) five years, at that point in my life, would be equal to my entire lifespan thus far. So basically, I would have to wait a lifetime to become ten. Too long.

But another thought occurred to me: In the present, the memories of long spans of time felt as if they were compressed into a temporal nothingness – an infinitely small amount of time. In other words, I could think of a time in the past, and then think of the right now, and the thoughts of those two different moments would occur in my mind consecutively in the blink of an eye. Contemplating that phenomenon, an idea occurred to me of how to arrive quickly to my target age of ten. All I would have to do is to remember the exact present moment that I was currently experiencing at five years old and, in the blink of an eye, I would become ten years old. Perfect!

And then it worked. I became ten years old and I remembered that exact moment when I was five and going to travel forward in time to be ten. It felt as if no time at all had passed.

And now I’m scared to death that I’ll blink my eyes and, in an instant, be somewhere in the middle of my seventies. I now have a wife, two daughters, two cats, two and a half bands, a house, a car and a thousand things I feel I should have done but haven’t. And if I blink my eyes, who knows what I’ll have, what I’ll have lost and what I won’t yet have done.

How to break the curse,

And, how it relates to cursing:

My older daughter is thirteen, knows most, if not all, of the most common curse words and has the good graces not to use them very often (or at least not in my presence). My younger daughter, however, is only eight months old and is just discovering the novelties of every new syllable. Soon she will have the ability to accurately mimic the exact words her sister, her mother and I say. In other words, it’s time to cut out the cursing.

One way to do this is by instigating a curse jar. Many will be familiar with the simple fine/penalty method: you curse, you put a quarter in the jar. The problem is that it doesn’t work very well. This might be because the fine is too small. So how about a dollar? Still too small to matter. So how about ten dollars? One problem is that I don’t always carry a bunch of cash around with me. But still, I could simply owe the curse jar and pay it at a later date. The real problem is that this money will most likely be designated for feeding into a college fund or something similarly constructive for my baby daughter. It’s simply too positive an outcome to be a true deterrent.

So what do I have that can’t be bought or replaced? Time. Time is what I will have to give up if I curse in the house or around my baby now. The way in which I must give up this time will be in the form of a household chore. And it must be surrendered immediately. That means if we’re in the middle of watching a movie and something big happens in it and I drop an f-bomb about it, that I must then pause the movie, go into the kitchen and do the dishes that couldn’t go into the dishwasher. Or clean up and put away all the junk that built up on the coffee table over the last few days. Or go upstairs, gather up the laundry and start the washer.

So now I have a positive outcome while maintaining the deterrent. And I’ve paid in non-renewable time while avoiding the fungible pitfalls that accompany the exchange of money. This is important because, contrary to popular colloquialism, time is not money. If it was, we could all spend some cash and relive our 20’s or whatever. But it’s not. We are subject to time’s passage. And even though it’s possible to compare the incomes of two persons, boil them down to their hourly rates and draw the conclusion that one’s time is more valuable than the other’s, neither of them can have (barring lifespan) more time than the other. And neither of them can reclaim their past moments outside of their ability to remember them. And because time cannot be bought, my conclusion is that all time is priceless.

I realize that from the description, my time/chore penalty may seem like just another contributor to the seemingly constant loss of time. But, in effect, it might be just the opposite. It has been my experience that there are certain instances or activities which actually create the effect of a slowed down experience of time: Sitting in class in high school watching the minute hand of the clock crawl slowly around, moments of particular embarrassment, lying in bed awake in the middle of the night trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep, reclining in an expensive plush leather chair trying not to count the individual borings of a root canal, and, of course, performing household chores instead of watching the next scene in a highly exciting movie. While these time-elongating situations may typically be categorized as unpleasant, they do serve to increase my perceived experience of time. So I’m learning to try to enjoy them. Watching the minute hand move is a subtle meditation I rarely have the privilege to experience, embarrassment is a ticklish feeling that can heighten awareness, awaken the senses and indulge potentially buried desires for attention, the ability to simply lay down in bed and do nothing, at any hour of the day or night, can absolutely be described as a luxury, and even my time served in the dentist’s clutches, feeling the tiny file slowly grind out chunks of my tooth’s nerve endings, can indulge the delusional fantasy of grandeur that I’m a heroic prisoner who will suffer through the torture and emerge victorious having not divulged my state’s topmost secrets.

And so, if I can muster the wherewithal, I can bask in the constant flow of water traveling in unfathomable numbers of directions, the splashing, warm, subtly massaging, luxurious moisture rushing over my hands while I accomplish my unscheduled doing of the dishes. These are the moments when my awareness has the potential to be heightened, revealing a finer granularity to the passage of time. It is in those places that I can learn to appreciate and elongate my experiences. How often have I engaged in activities whose primary purpose it was to crassly/cynically/brutally/coarsely/thoughtlessly kill time? Those moments from which I’ve mostly sought to escape can possibly hold the cure for my curse.