this is a moment to remember

The older we get, the more rapidly time seems to move. This phenomenon has been well documented by psychologists and average humans alike, but it was only a couple of years ago that we had a physical explanation for our changing perception of time. In 2019, mechanical engineering professor Adrian Bejan presented a peer-reviewed argument based on the physics of neural signal processing. Bejan hypothesized that, over time, the rate at which we process visual information slows down, which makes time seem to speed up as we age.

This tracks. Time feels especially slippery for me lately. Days with a toddler are simultaneously long and short. And the weeks, months, and years of pandemic life have been increasingly hard to wrap my head around. As writer Christine Speer Lejune described it, “Some memories from these pandemic years are sharply vivid; others feel as hazy as an old film reel, more like impressions of having done things than memories of actually doing them. Almost all of them are untethered from anything like chronology, just bobbing around together in a two-year-old pandemic stew.”

Time passes. Things happen. Days drag on and weeks zoom past. Before I know it, six weeks have gone by, and I’m left wondering what I did with all that time.

Thankfully, I have photos to rely on. Even if no one else sees them but me, my family, and a few random friends. My phone is full of big and small moments, captured so I don’t forget them.

The vast majority of the photos I take these days are of my daughter. I document her dutifully for a multitude of reasons: because she’s cute, because she grows so quickly, and because I know she’ll have few, if any, memories from this time.

I also take photos of her because she loves seeing them. “Pick-urs?” she asks, pointing to my phone. “Yes, we can look at pictures,” I reply.

She snuggles up in the crook of my arm as we scroll through the same old set of images. “Paint!” she shouts, seeing herself trying out watercolors for the first time. “Mama!” she says, pointing to a photo of me posing for the camera. “Beep beep!” she cheers, pushing her hand against an imaginary wheel, as she spots an image of herself in the grocery cart that’s shaped like a car.

She’s seen these photos a hundred times, and still, they bring joy.

These photos bring me joy, too. As counterintuitive as it may seem, taking photos helps me to stay in the present—signaling that this is a moment to remember. (Turns out, science backs this up.) Afterwards, looking through those photographs reminds me how beautiful everyday life can be…

Katie Hawkins-Gaar, from “I Want to Remember” (My Sweet Dumb Brain, August 16, 2022.) A newsletter about facing life’s ups and downs, all while being kind to yourself. Katie Hawkins-Gaar was 31 when her husband, Jamie, collapsed while running a half-marathon and died in 2017. A year-and-a-half after Jamie’s death, Katie launched her newsletter, My Sweet Dumb Brain, all about the ups and downs of grief.)

Lightly Child, Lightly

In the midst of financial news that seems to get grimmer by the day, one story of a man trying to escape caught my eye. Andrew Formica, the 51-year-old CEO of a $68 billion investment firm, abruptly quit his job. He did not have another job waiting—or anything else, it seems. When pressed about his plans, he said, “I just want to go sit at the beach and do nothing.”

Easy, right? Not for a lot of us, it isn’t. Besides the fact that you need to have a good deal of financial security to quit working, “it is awfully hard work doing nothing,” as Algernon said in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. I can relate to this. I work long hours and have sometimes planned to go away and do nothing just for a week or two. But when I try, I find I am utterly incompetent: Idle chitchat drives me crazy; I get the jimmy legs 30 minutes into a movie; sitting on a beach is a form of torture. Whenever I make an effort to rest, my mind always wanders back to the work I am fleeing.

As difficult as it may be, Formica has the right idea. For the sake of happiness, strivers and hard-driving work machines of any income level need to learn to stop. If you are in this category, nothing should be high on your to-do list

Choose soft fascination.

During your unstructured vacation, choose activities that can gently hold your attention while also leaving you plenty of bandwidth to mentally meander. This is what three University of Michigan psychologists call “soft fascination,” and you might find it by walking in nature, or watching the waves. In contrast, “hard fascination” (found by, say, watching television) occupies attention and rules out mind-wandering. Research has found that soft fascination is more restorative than hard fascination. For example, in a 2018 study, survey respondents said that walking in nature was 15 percent more effective at helping them “get away from it all” than watching television…

If scheduling leisure seems unnatural to you, consider the way good health requires you to schedule your meals and exercise at more or less a certain time each day for a particular amount of time. Schedule “white space” in your day, and keep it off-limits from the tyrannical urgencies of your work (as well as from eating and exercise). If your guilt creeps in, or if you’re worried that “wasting” this time will somehow make you poorer, try to remember the words of the Welsh poet William Henry Davies: “A poor life this if, full of care, / We have no time to stand and stare.”

— Arthur C. Brooks, from “How to Embrace Doing Nothing” (The Atlantic, August 4, 2022)


Notes:

  • Photo: DK @ Daybreak. 6:51 a.m. May 8, 2022. Cove Island Park, Stamford, CT.
  • Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”
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