Sunday, June 2, 2013

Befriending the Quagga

There are small tyrannies we have to navigate around in our daily odysseys —little Scyllas and Charybdises. One of mine is the annoying Uttiba, whose name is an acronym for "using time to its best advantage." A stuffy moniker for a stuffy troll with pursed lips, pince-nez glasses, and a large watch worn around its neck with an incriminating second hand mowing the dial like the scythe of a fussy reaper. 

Uttiba is responsible for the dirty trick called "the best part of the day." For example, it's 2:19 pm as I write this: nearly mid-afternoon on the third day of a heat wave. What have I done so far today? Uttiba asks. Well, I did last night's dishes. Changed the garbage. Um... Does breakfast, shower, and getting dressed count? Oh, I hung up some shirts in my closet. All this spread out over 5 1/2 hours, since I slept until 8:45 a.m. Without a doubt, I missed the best part of the day, which would have been the cool, fresh, dewy part when the temperature was still in the lingering sixties.

Had I gotten up and taken a stroll down to Spy Pond, say, around seven, I would have been entitled to wear the I Saw the Best Part button and attract the envious glances of passers-by all day long (as well as maybe a few frowns from those mistaking me for a proud voyeur). But I didn't seize the hour; so instead I have to wear the I Missed the Best Part button, earning a mixed reception of sympathy, contempt, and schadenfreude from the passers-by. 

Then again, who's to say what the best part is? By common consent, it's considered to be the sunniest part. Or maybe the coolest on a hot day. Or often the morning, especially the top of it, the least-used-up, most brimful-of-possibilities part. However, for ducks and earthworms, it might be the wettest part. For Dracula, the darkest. For an artist, whenever inspiration is most likely to visit. For me, it's a moving target; I'm hunting for it and hunted by it. Usually it's wherever I'm not, though more likely to be outside than inside.

What I need is to establish new criteria for the best part of the day, standards that are more democratic. First of all, what is a day? The illuminated portion, most would agree, of one full rotation of the Earth on its imaginary axis. So first criterion: best part is the part that makes best use of the light. By that standard, mine was searching for a persistent yellow warbler in the backyard tree and right-side hedges. Never did find it, but not for lack of effort.

Second criterion offers a choice. What are the parts of a day? By common consent: morning, afternoon, and evening. And some might add night at either end. So the best part depends on a comparison. Morning slept through? No sweat, just a late scratch. So now it's between afternoon and evening. The choice is still viable until midnight, when the last betting window closes. 

Or you could say that the parts of the day are the hours. Think how many opportunities for besthood that affords. Predawn hours... Dawn: 5am to 6am...all the way to 11pm to midnight. Who would be so presumptuous as to assert that you missed the best part of the day with all those chances! Were they dreaming your dreams at 3 am?

Third criterion: eliminate "best" altogether. It's too vague and subjective—pointless, really. What's required is a collaboration with time, or at least a detente, not a measuring up to it. (Is that the best use of your time, Johnny? Who's to say, ma'am?) Better than best: the least time-dependent part of the day. Not the vessel at all, but its content. The part when something was learned, enjoyed, even glimpsed, and deemed worth remembering. 

Surely between these three new criteria—best use of daylight; best day division; best hour; or most time-defying memory—it would be easy to befriend the wild quagga that follows the sun from dawn to dusk and dares you to climb on its back.


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