Do you have time…? (Lapham’s Quarterly Fall 2011: The Future)

Does time have you? Do you care?

A friend and his references to the Fall 2011 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly THE FUTURE, as well as a night in the hospital recently, got me thinking about my mortality.

As I’ve grown older, retired, and plotted my potential income and expense for the rest of my potential life I’ve given TIME much more thought than the previous rest of my life. I’ve come to be more aware that “I’m not going to live forever”! Horrors!!

Regardless I don’t live my life like it is the precious finite commodity that it really is. I laze, snooze, fiddle, procrastinate. What if we were raised and lived our life like it was really REALLY finite. Suppose at the age of 6, 8, or 10 we started our Life Spreadsheet and gave ourself a generous and optimistic 100 years to live. It’s a nice round number and always subject to adjustment as life goes on. Perhaps 85 or 90 would be more realistic though still fairly generous. We could plot and plan our education, our careers, family, etc. We do this plotting in life to a certain extent anyway, some more so than others. The Life Spreadsheet would help the focused to be more focused and the unfocused to be at least a little focused.

But I digress. I think I’ll sleep on it.

My primary purpose in this was to speak briefly about Lapham’s Quarterly and direct you to two essays in the issue on The Future.

Lapham’s is a superb assembly of thought from all of recorded history. Each quarterly issue gathers essays and commentaries from great thinkers on a broad but specific topic. Recent issues have dwelt on Food, Lines of Work, Celebrity, The City, and Arts and Letters.

For the frugal many essays in each issue are available free online. However the print edition is a work of art itself generously decorated throughout with relevant colorful art and quotations. It is softcover of the highest quality, stiff bond paper. One would want to keep and collect these issues. I cannot imagine them easily being discarded after a first read. They are a valuable resource for the ages. Considering that the current annual subscription price is $49 ($12.25 per issue, $4 per month, or less than $1 per week) for a FULL year of reading and self-education, it seems darn well worth it to subscribe. Non-collectors can get an online digital subscription for $29 or both digital and print together for $59. Why haven’t I signed up? (I should be compensated for such blatant advertising but I’m not.)

Two essays in The Future issue made me think about that nemesis TIME. First there is Back to the Future quoting Roman senator Seneca from 40BC.

He discusses how little we value our time:

“I am always surprised to see some people demanding the time of others and meeting a most obliging response. Both sides have in view the reason for which the time is asked and neither regards the time itself—as if nothing is being asked for and nothing given.”

“But nobody works out the value of time: men use it lavishly as if it cost nothing. But if death threatens these same people, you will see them praying to their doctors; if they are in fear of capital punishment, you will see them prepared to spend their all to stay alive. So inconsistent are they in their feelings. But if each of us could have the tally of his future years set before him, as we can of our past years, how alarmed would be those who saw only a few years ahead, and how carefully would they use them!”

“Life is divided into three periods: past, present, and future. Of these, the present is short, the future is doubtful, the past is certain. For this last is the one over which Fortune has lost her power, which cannot be brought back to anyone’s control. But this is what preoccupied people lose: for they have no time to look back at their past, and even if they did, it is not pleasant to recall activities they are ashamed of.”

Might we live a better present if we gave at least half a thought to how it will be remembered in the past?

The other essay is Managing the Future by Alexis de Tocqueville, circa 1840.

This is an intriguing circular argument on how we live for the afterlife and not this one, lose sight of it and live for the present, then return to live for the afterlife.

“In ages of faith, the final aim of life is placed beyond life.”

“This explains why religious nations have often achieved such lasting results. They discovered the secret of success in this world by concentrating upon the next.”

“But as the light of faith gradually dims, men’s range of vision grows narrow, and you would say that every day the object of human endeavors is more within reach.”

“Social instability fosters the natural instability of man’s desires. When destiny is in a perpetual state of flux, the present looms large; it masks the future from his sight and his thoughts are unwilling to go beyond the next day.”

“Governments should strive to restore to men that taste for the future which religion and the state of society no longer inspire, and they should, without exactly saying as much, teach daily in practical terms that wealth, reputation, and power are the payment for work, that great success should come at the end of a lengthy period of waiting, and that nothing lasting is ever gained without difficulties.”

Both essays are short and well worth reading.

Speaking of mortality I’ve arbitrarily given myself a life span to age 85 based on family history and general health. I found how very arbitrary it was when a virus and dehydration put me in the hospital for a day where I was poked, probed, scanned, and generally harassed in my best interests for 36 hours. I’m nearly 66 and I realized that despite my good intentions there was no guarantee I would make it to 75 or even 70. Sure, people of every age from 1 day to 100 years die every day, but that’s their problem! I was ‘confident’ I could make it to 85, maybe even more!

I now have two countdown clocks running on my iPad (one is called ‘So Dead!’) which countdown the days and weeks to age 85. Since my recent brush with illness do I now set the alarm for earlier and jump out of bed ready to consume my remaining time voraciously and productively? Uhhh, no. There is inherent sloth and laziness in my being, but I’ll keep working on it, should I live long enough.

[In keeping with the late Apple CEO Steve Job’s interest in making the iPad2 a Content Creator as well as a Content Viewer I’ve created this particular post on my iPad2 using the WordPress app. I did use an external keyboard as the touchscreen is toooo sensitive and frustrating for extended typing. I suspect I may do some final editing on my laptop regardless.]

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