Monday, September 17, 2012


--Post inspired by Diocletian, the only Roman emperor who, as the legend goes, retired of his own volition, returned to his native province here in Split, and spent the last years of his life tending a vegetable garden.

Remember grade school? For me, every quarter used to start with copying down a schedule of classes for each day, and in addition to that I also created "regimes" for my extracurricular activities. Wake up at 7 am, read for an hour, then go to school, then after school come home and play guitar for an hour, draw or play with my brother, do homework, then read for an hour before sleep. These regimes were invariably proven bogus on the very first day I tried to execute them. No matter what I'd set out to do, and for how long, once I actually got into an activity, it was impossible to stop by the clock, and if I'd happened on a good book, I could read all night without stopping at all.

These regimes were never, ever effective. They aggravated me immensely. Even if reading was the next thing on the list--and I lived to read--I couldn't pick up a book knowing that it would be but a short hour before I would have to put it down. The discreet time unit, and the knowledge that the end would come sooner rather than later, made reading impossible. I couldn't get fully immersed into the world of the book if I had to keep looking at the clock all the time. Without the clock, I lost all track of time. "Do you know how late it is?" I can still remember my grandmother's disturbed expression when she got up in the middle of the night and found me still awake. If I tried to curb my reading after an hour, it was all pointless. I could reread one page ten times without getting much out of it, my mind preoccupied with the unfairness of it all. Why couldn't people just be left alone, and sit on couches and read all day long?

Oddly enough, the habit of making these regimes stuck. I'm still at it. Every half a year or a year or so, I start outlining the schedule of my new life. Long trips usually serve as inspiration -- sometimes I draft a new routine on the flight back. You'd think that over the years my regimes should've gotten better or more realistic, but no such thing. On paper, I can get up at 7 am, go to bed at midnight, and fit in between everything from work and writing to studying German and French, going to the gym, going out with friends, and taking a casual dinner with Dave -- all in one day. Energized after two weeks away, I imagine that I could do all of it with a smile on my face and never get tired.

We're traveling across south-east Europe this week. We've visited four countries in as many days, and today alone crossed two borders. Dave pre-planned most of the trip, and all we need to do now is to stick as closely to the plan as possible. Check into hotels, check out, eat breakfast, lunch, dinner (or dinner at 2 pm and supper at 8 pm to accommodate my parents' mealtimes), pick up and drop off car, get on a bus tomorrow within a certain window of hours, and then continue on with the plan in the next town. There's a huge comfort in having this time-table to follow -- no matter how intense it is, and no matter that if we can't get everything in we end up cutting into sleep time to accomplish more. Part of the comfort for me is that Dave did all the prep work here. It's the difference between being given a schedule of classes to copy and having to design a regime for myself. But even then it's only a comfort for a couple of days or so. Then the schedule begins to oppress. I want to skip the bus, forget about seeing all the amazing and fascinating sights that we're seeing, and spend an entire day at a hotel and read. To forget about all the schedules in the world. This is clearly the beginning of a vacation, the first third. By the end of the two weeks, no doubt, I'll be drafting another regime, dreaming up another lifetime of pursuits and accomplishments.

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