Writers own time–temporarily. People own time temporarily and if you don’t believe in an after life then it makes perfect sense to speed on the highway and flip out after getting behind an old lady at the grocery store who only fishes for her checkbook at the very last minute.
My parents made lists to segment their time. My mother wrote in her perfect, artful script fantastically long and detailed lists. My father sat at the kitchen table talking his lists out, “First I have to finish breakfast, then I’ll read the paper, and then I have to go do the lawn and then a nap and maybe I’ll go to Dunkin’ Donuts to bring Kenny some coffee later (his brother who worked nights cleaning the school).
We were ALWAYS given new watches for Christmas–I even got a silver finger watch with a blue face one year but it got in the way of my quest for my mother’s perfect penmanship while making my own lists. No matter how many clocks went off each hour in our house–the Birds of North America clock, the cuckoo clock from my father’s stay in Germany during the Cold War, the mantle clock with the sad chime that reminded my mother of her grandfather and the annoying clock radio set between stations all going off at about but not exactly the same moment– time slipped by anyway –the very time we were accounting for.
The thousands of old photographs framed on the dining room wall were mourning triggers. The clocks and watches were constant reminders that these happy times at the table vying for who might get the last piece of fried chicken would be over one day and even today would be gone in only a few hours. My father watched the clock for the last ten years of his life waiting for the game to be over–the game of knowing the hours, but not knowing the time when there would be no more time.
And so it is with my writing. Graham Crenshaw gives watches to his children–in place of spending time with them. He gives Buck the special watch that belonged to his brother who died of dysentery during the war–the saintly brother who nursed the other men until there was no one left to nurse him in a crappy field hospital run by a disreputable doctor. Graham stays busy with projects and studies and doctoring–hoping to stop time. Stop the onslaught of death. To be a doctor and to hate death, to give timepieces that always come back to haunt him–this is Graham’s quiet torture. To take part in his children’s life means he’d have to mourn their passing from childhood into messy adulthood and maybe death, certainly death at some point.
As a writer I control death. I control time, that is, until my time comes.
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