Finding ourselves in -- not out of -- time

Sarah Manguso has written a memoir called Ongoingness that describes her obsessive recording of her life. She is an old-fashioned woman, the kind that knew very few people were interested in what she saw -- therefore, she saw for herself.

She says she wanted to “stay partly contained in one moment.” She says she hyper-recorded because she wanted to say she was really paying attention. She wanted a defense against waking up and finding out that she had missed something. She wanted to change her relationship to time and find herself in it and not “out of it.”

Along comes Stephen Hawkins, who in late April told an Australian audience, via hologram, that the human being may have only a thousand more years left on the planet. Right beside him is Freeman Dyson teasing us, in a new book Dreams of Earth and Sky, with the notion that human beings are all but sure to evolve and change such that we can inhabit other planets in the galaxy.

Why leave those planets unpopulated? Why not understand that we will grow fur for Mars or better feet for Jupiter? Why act as though we are different than other mammals who also have evolved as conditions around them have changed?

The very consciousness that drives Manguso to her diary as literature drives Hawkins to prophesy as physics and Dyson to teasing as biology. Each welcomes chaos as good, and tames and tends it in a different way. They bring it into themselves in the form of an idea. 

They remind me ever so much of an Australian businesswoman who told me in her magnificent accent, “I was Skyping with this man in Montana and he stood up to get something off the shelf and I realized he had no pants on.” You might say that she joins my group in self-management, or working not in a factory but in a regeneratorium. Her small international experience on Skype joins the diarist in thinking every minute is important.

If Manguso is overly concerned with the human mark on the planet or age and Dyson and Hawkins are under-impressed with humanity, where does a good environmentalist stand?

A good environmentalist is a diarist, a physicist, a biologist and one who does business on Skype. We can be all of these things at the same time, even though we are often acting in the larger time zone, which is Earth. Earth has dozens of time zones. It is fall in Australia as I write from spring in New York.

An environmentalist is an intrapreneur as well as an entrepreneur. What is the difference? We regenerate ourselves and the way we see as often as we do business and Skype a product as a production.

I preached on the Sara and Hagar biblical story on Mother’s Day. In the sermon I argued that women are both mothers and not, both fertile and not, both in our biological and evolutionary role and not. We are free to be in our role as mothers and free to be out of our role as mothers. As one congregant said after the service, “Motherhood is an excellent part-time job for women.”

The very hyper self-consciousness that drives us to not want to miss anything can keep us imprisoned in our day, our way, our climate, our compliance with our own cultural and economic orders. Simultaneously, that self-consciousness is a beautiful, fragile thing. It is the way we are in time and space, the way we have place, the way we find meaning. All art depends on it, as does music and fun and birthing one child at a time. 

Environmentalists may value both their own speck in the grander scheme of things and their speck as it mutates, changes, evolves and becomes ever new. The size of the human is very small, but it is also very large. We have more than one role to play in the grand opera of life. Intrapreneurs regenerate the cosmos and themselves, both not either. We think small and large, local and global, us and it, us and them, us as it and us as them. 

We have more than one role in the world and more than one size. We are ongoing but probably not in the way yesterday was for us.

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