Saturday, May 17, 2008

What Katie Already Knew...

My friend Katie has a blog (it's linked to the right, go to 12:52 to read it). A little while back, she wrote about how, back in high school, she sometimes preferred to stay in and watch MacNeil-Lehrer on PBS with her parents rather than go spin the same wheels with the same people at the same diner or bowling alley.

I loved it. I commented on her blog but have since decided to do an entire entry here as a spin-off on what she wrote about.

More than any other thing I *have*, I value my time. Any material good I own could be replaced if it were stolen or damaged. My budget's gotten pretty darn tight because of the rent + mortgage situation, but I always know the 1st or 15th is never too far away. More money will come when I make O-3, when I deploy, or when I get a private-sector civilian job, anyway.

But one thing I can never get back is time.

Please don't misinterpret what I'm about to say: I love and appreciate time well-spent. It's 180-degrees out from being a "waste."

Downing beers at the VFW and hearing guys' stories about Korea, Vietnam, and "the big live-fire exercise in 1991" -- time well-spent.

Going to the Dubliner or Blue Shamrock to watch Celtics games with my neighbors -- time well-spent.

Flying across the country to a good friend's wedding (and then meeting my friend Shannon whose expert guidance and support got me through the Gin & Tonic Challenge) -- time well-spent.

But if my options are either to a) go out just to spin wheels, or b) stay in and do something else, I am totally fine taking option b. In fact, I'm quite fine with it.

So what is wheel-spinning?

A bunch of guys going to a bar to sip beers, stare at their own shoes, and then periodically make references about how hot the waitress is -- a huge waste.

Hanging out with people telling the same corny story about how they went to Tchotchke's or PJ Calamity's* and how hysterical it was when the waiter spilled the soup -- a huge waste.

Spending time with twenty- or thirty-somethings going on fifteen, who are overbearingly preoccupied with being "cool" and/or constantly turning everything into a lame one up-manship contest -- a huge waste.

Life is short.

In the last fifteen months, I've had four friends die violently, suddenly, and unexpectedly. I'm not going to honor their lives or memories by building shrines or sitting around weeping. Instead, I try to honor each of them every day by making use of my time and the opportunities it presents. Some things are habits I'm working on (reference previous entries) and others are skills that I've always wanted to learn like martial arts, swimming, and general handiness. Another is a huge project that I've been working on since getting back from my latest deployment; I haven't written about it before on the blog, but it involves using the BBC website as means of learning basic reading comprehension in a host of languages. (It's not as crazy as it might sound, ask me about it sometime if you're interested in the method I've adopted).

But back to my earlier point -- if something involves interesting conversation, friendly company, and/or compelling entertainment, count me in.

But just like Katie figured out back in the mid-1990s, going out just for its own sake to spin wheels ain't worth it.

You might think I'm a big nerd because I came into town tired last night, and just spent my time poring over hundreds of Vietnamese flashcards before passing out on my couch. I don't really give a rip. In fact, if you really have such a big issue with the relative "coolness" of that, you probably need to grow up some.

But from my perspective, the way more important reality is this: I just don't have time for you.

Just to re-emphasize: I'm not in any way advocating antisocial behavior or saying that staying in beats going out. Please don't come away interpreting this entry that way. What I am saying, however, is that life is short and time is precious -- I won't let mine be wasted. Reading about insider trading scandals on Wall Street in the 1980s is a helluva lot less of a waste than is listening to a bunch of single guys at a bar talk about their "theories" of meeting women. One leads to increased knowledge and understanding of the world around us; one leads straight down the road to nowhere. See the difference?

[If you would like to point out the obvious tautology here -- that of differentiating "time well-spent" from "waste" only after the fact of whether it was enjoyed -- that's fine, and technically, you're right].

There isn't a day that goes by where I don't think about CS, SD, TM, and/or MM. I will attempt to honor their lives and their sacrifice in this manner: to the degree to which I can control it, I will neither waste time nor allow my time to be wasted.

** The Tchotchke's and PJ Calamity's references came from the feature films "Office Space" and "Mean Girls," respectively. They are both spoofs on names and themes of sterile, cookie-cutter franchise restaurants littering the American landscape.


KD said...

I am glad that you wrote this. I totally agree about all of your examples of worth it/not worth it; and as I mentioned in that post, I need to remember it. Your post is a great reminder.

It sounds like you are doing a great job honoring your friends.

The New Englander said...


Glad you dug the post. Thanks for inspiring it -- now you must eat worms!


Shannon said...

I am sorry about your loss of good friends. It is quite a reality check when people we love pass. An incredibly amazing thing lies beneath the surface of pain, however, and you've already found it. Its the deep appreciation for life that we are able to feel. If we really feel that each moment is precious, then our friends did not die in vain. They taught us a priceless lesson that can only be learned through certain forms of tragedy. And sometimes when you've lost hope, it can be those memories of the ones you love that won't allow you to give up.
I think of the dreams and the 'would be' accomplishments of my friends,and for me to give up or be too lazy or say it is too painful to finish, takes away from the value of their life.

It is good, to remember.

The New Englander said...


Great response all-around. It helped remind me that it's something everyone goes through, too...someone getting killed by a drunk driver or otherwise dying suddenly is just as tragic as someone getting mortared in Iraq (at least, in my opinion) but the second somehow seems to have more 'weight' in most people's eyes (and definitely in the media).

Glad you feel the same way about taking advantage of all the time we're offered..