In the Before Times, starting about this time of year, I would wonder about ants. This year, depending on where you live, you might be wondering about cicadas, but I ponder ants. Not really the ants themselves so much, but their place in the universe.
I try hard not to step on ants as they go about their industrious little lives, but because to me those are little lives, it’s easy to become rather mindless when tromping in ant territory, and I’m sure any number of innocent lives have been carelessly snuffed out under my feet and certainly my wheels as I go about my business of overriding their business. Food chain and all that, you know.
But sometimes, in the Before Times, I would look down at the ants, crawling with apparent great purpose along the sidewalk we were sharing, and I would wonder if there were something large enough to come along and mindlessly stamp humans out of existence, the same way we crush ants underfoot.
Like a giant, I vaguely supposed. When you watch sci-fiction shows that default so often to “alternate realities” and “parallel universes” — and now that the Navy has decided UFOs are a daily thing, sighted by reputable pilots who almost never drink on the job — it certainly becomes plausible that in the universe, as go the ants, so go the humans.
It turns out, I was right, kind of, but in the real-life scenario the ants are the giants and the things that come along to stomp humans are infinitesimally small. They are viruses, and as they go about their quotidian existence, they crush us as thoroughly as we quash ants.
Thus, the answer was right there all along, even in the Before Times, back when viruses were other people’s problems, and I completely missed it because I was searching for a much larger footprint.
So this year as the ants are emerging and I’m trying to be even more careful about not stepping/rolling over them, I am still pondering our roles in the universe, but now I am doing far more commiserating than I ever did before.
None of this, however, will explain my time conundrums.
This, too, is a staple of my sci-fi shows; in fact, Quantum Leap was nothing but a man untethered in time. (It’s okay; after a Star Trek stint in which he was the captain in an early time who somehow had better technology than his descendants, he has now found a more time-locked position with another of those endless franchises. CSI, maybe? Law and Order? Something set in New Orleans, anyway.)
But my wonderment today is far less about the space episodes that make my head spin (Kelsey Grammar endlessly time-looping for 87 years in ignorant bliss when the crew of the Enterprise figured it out in mere days, for instance) than it is about time relatively.
Don’t you worry: I am not about to go all Einstein on you, as if I could. Here is everything I know about the Theory of Relativity: it does not involve your fifth cousin twice removed, unless your cousin is a physicist.
But there are days, such as today, when I put my bagel in the microwave and push the 30-second button to defrost it, and in that 30 seconds I can: let a cat out clear across the room, get breakfast dishes out of a drawer, check a text, and still find myself waiting in front of the microwave for the bagel to finish.
Those are the seconds in which I think, “If I can get all this done in 30 seconds, why am I not ruling the world?” Only to remember that I have been awake for three hours and this appears to be the single productive 30 seconds of my morning.
I have been trying to figure out why my days are so unproductive. Not that this is any newer a wonder than if humans are ants in some other entity’s existence (clear answer: absolutely), but as I move around a house that in so many ways is only half-moved-into, and in other ways already needs more repair than I expected of new construction, I see endless piles of projects that are no closer to completion than they were the day before. Or the day before that, or the day before that, clear back to the 87 years Kelsey Grammar spent living the same day in ignorant bliss.
Every morning I think to myself, “I will work on that this evening.” Every evening, as I’m running out of time without doing a single thing, I tell myself, “I’ll do that tomorrow morning.” Just so you know, this is not really any one of the seven habits of highly-effective people.
Some stuff gets done: I get my paper read, sort of; I get my news watched — although if I would learn to do something during the incessant commercial breaks interspersing what amounts to less than 30 minutes of news sprawled over an hour I could inch an ant-length closer to becoming an effective person, albeit perhaps not highly.
Animals get medicated and fed, which is quite its own process, and exercised, which means I get exercised beyond whatever it is in the news that’s working me up any given day. I get medicated and fed. Some days I manage communication with you all, and since I stopped writing for a very long dry spell, I like to think it’s productive, until we measure it in the traditional value of money, especially when it makes me late for work. But it’s making me happy, if not industrious (the ant queen would likely be mad at me, unless I had a really good story for her, something involving time travel).
So it’s not like I’m sitting around doing nothing but watching the world go by, an activity I used to manage to fit into days that felt far more productive than the ones I’m in now. I could also thoroughly read two daily newspapers, entire books, do some writing, go to work mostly on time, spend my evenings at public events . . . that I can barely manage any piece of that now is one of those time mysteries not even Star Trek can address.
Here’s the other mystery: How can I still be getting mentally prepared to begin 2021, and it is nearly half over already? I was going to do this, I was going to do that, except that this and that and the other all remain undone, just as I feel all undone by the notion that if I lived by microwave time alone I could have completely improved not only my own life but everyone else’s as well.
However, I don’t see myself spending my days defrosting bagels, so I imagine I will keep on keepin’ on, one little ant foot before the other, trying and mostly failing to make some headway in my world while dodging the giant’s feet. It feels very time consuming, even if it shouldn’t.