Exciting news! I have a new book being released this month, and since I keep getting asked, I’ve now gone and counted, it’s my eleventh book (perhaps the 11th book at the 11th hour?). It’s called ‘The Time of Your Life’ and is published by the relatively new New Zealand children’s publisher ‘One Tree House’. And for the first time in its life, the story has illustrations created by Bruce Potter, a long standing and award winning New Zealand illustrator.
It’s an interesting unfolding to witness, when a told story takes book form. An abridged version of the human transition from oral culture to written – the capture of ‘Once upon a Time’ in print. Like most of my previous books, ‘Time of Your Life’ started out as story I performed. Unlike most of the stories I tell it is not a traditional story.
I created the story while running a course that introduced children to philosophical thinking. I had been inspired (and intrigued) by the work of Laurance Splitter and Tim Sprod, two Australians, who wrote a book called ‘Places for Thinking’ and after a session of BIG questions with a group of children, I went home and wrote the story of Ben in response to questions arising from a discussion about time? I first performed the story at an art exhibition of hand made clocks at the Red Shed, an iconic Waiheke community gallery.
I later recorded it on my first album of original stories ‘Time of Your Life’ (2010) that took its name from this story, and whose creation was made possible by the generous support of Creative New Zealand, who have come on board again with the publication of the story in book form.
As delighted as I am, part of me worries that I’ve just had published a book with yet another leading male character – children’s literature is heavily weighted in favour of male characters and I like to think I can do what I can to address imbalance. However, Ben is a Ben because I wanted to use the name of the most famous clock I could think of – the English Big Ben. The clock of stories.
Clocks - not the etch your retina at 2.00am digital clocks - but the melodic mechanical tick tocking clocks have always fascinated me. Grandfather clocks, cuckoo clocks, fob watches – I once had a wind up clock that had a musical box component that was the alarm – the least ‘alarming’ way I have even been woken. As intriguing as all these devices are, they are as Old Man Time points out in my story, “only devices that can measure time not make it.” Which brings us back to the philosophical quandary – what is time?
Now that is a BIG question and like all BIG questions it probably doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have a single correct answer, which is what makes it so intriguing. While we suppose we can measure time, what we’re exactly measuring remains somewhat of a mystery. Even the worldwide agreement on how to measure time is a very new phenomenon. Saudi Arabia was the last country in the world to adopt Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in 1962 and they were just one of many countries to resisted ‘denaturised’ time. Ireland also strongly resisted the adoption of a world wide standardised time – but in the end ‘time’ wore the resisters down – that and the desire not to miss the train. Time as a human construct has no neutrality – it’s spiced with social, political and cultural influences.
So it’s not surprising that Ben is a little confused by what time is and its relationship to the devices that measure it. Thought one things is sure, despite the proliferation of time keeping devices in the world, Ben sees that people never have enough time – they are always running out of time, are short of time & have no time to spare. When he receives his first watch, a gift from his godmother, he believes that now he’ll have some time of his own. But his high hopes of having mastery over time comes to a head when he tries to get credit for time he’s saved, leading him to believe that his precious new watch is faulty.
His disappointment leads him to the manufacturers of his watch, ‘Chronos and Kairos – makers of fine time pieces.’ Chronos (who gives us chronological time) and Kairos, (a more intuitive time often connected to natural rhythms) are Greek deities who rule over two very different kinds of time. A true student of philosophy, Ben’s encounter with these two realms lead him to question, ‘What is time?’ and even more urgently, ‘how much time do we get?’. The second BIG question points to our ever imminent but often ignored mortality.
The third Big question though not explicitly asked, is provoked by the Socratic-like dialogue between ‘Old Man Time’ and Ben. ‘What do we do with the time we have?
There is a Chinese expression ‘may you live in interesting times’ (a phrase I’ve heard that is intended as a curse). To say these are challenging times would be an understatement, in a world where it feels increasingly like our time may be running out, we are now called to question ‘how is our time best spent?’.
Of course we’re not without long lists of things we can do to meet these challenges but long lists often leave us feeling anxious, throwing our minds into a future and all its possible scenarios, further exacerbating our feeling of being time poor and our sense of hopelessness.
Ben leaves ‘Chronos and Kairos’ with a new watch (and perspective), one that measures the gift of ‘now’. Perhaps we all can find some solace in the present of presence. It’s not what we have done or has to be done, it’s what we bring to each moment as it arises.
The ‘time of your life’ unfolds, page by page and moment by moment.
At the heart of this story is the call, not to miss it, in our haste to live.
*On a less philosophical and purely pragmatic note, copies of ‘Time of Your Life’ can be purchased via my online shop, at your local bookshop or borrowed from your local library.