where the writers are
It's More Than Time
in the garden communicating

It’s More Than Time—time zone mathematics

I am a person who goes away.  I inherited the impulse from my father who always said that travel makes you truly cultured, being at home anywhere you go. Or maybe I have restless feet, need an injection of a new place to bring light to the old. In any case, for most years of my adult life, I have taken trips, most often out of the country. I am convinced my passport feels abandoned if I don’t get new stamps in it often.

But I am not much of a tourist. My tendency is to go to a country and settle for a bit, make a home base for myself and explore the immediate neighborhood, radiating outwards until I can walk a city. Anthony, my husband, creeps out before I awaken the first night in a new city and finds his coffee person, his water store, the fresh nuts and juices. He tours the hood, introduces himself and gives everyone a little something about us. By the time I hit the streets, he is known and we feel welcome. 

The last few trips, however, have been without the concierge propensity of Anthony, as I have gone to work, to write, and to teach. Months away from him, my dog, my home and my gym.

In my early travels  back in the 70’s and 80s through Europe and South America with my sisters, pre-networks, we bought calling cards and found the telephone buildings everywhere we went.  In the month we would be gone, we called once or twice to home, assuring everyone we were safe. We sat in plazas addressing piles of postcards and writing letters on tissue light paper.  Sometimes we beat our mail home. I kept journals and took slides (yes, slides) to cobble my experiences together.

In the last few years, I have taken advantage of every transcontinental l communication device available. Starting with AIM chats, I progressed to Yahoo! Messenger, then Google Chat, and Skype. I chose a Skype-to-go phone number with my local prefix so I could be called for free.

The gap between my experiences and my family hearing about them has shrunk to a time zone. While in Palestine this summer, I didn’t need to have one of those two – faced watches that displays the time in two cities, my constant calculations told me that Anthony was at the gym or walking the dog or going to work, or coming home, or heading to bed. We were almost the inverse of each other; me 10 hours ahead of him. On Skype calls, I said good night to him as my day started and good morning to him, right before I went to bed.

Our conversations, without the business of home to distract us, became explorations into each other’s day, and our concentration on each other’s concerns was more focused. “How was the first teaching day in the camps for your students?” he asked. He remembered that it was the first day of the practicum. He anticipated my TV interview; the night out with the girls.

In the separation of travel, the connection is both comforting and exciting because I am given an opportunity to immediately articulate my experiences. A fresh unedited transcript of whom I met, how I got through the checkpoint, how my day in Hebron was.  I talked to him about all things home from the dog’s new trick to his job and workout.  In one sense, it eliminates the longing and the ache; in another sense, reminds me how much he would enjoy walking that particular neighborhood, making friends with vendors and police officers.

Last week I was scheduling an interview with Karen Boustany on MTV in Beirut. The program was live at 12:30pm  her time. I winced, 2:30 am camera ready? Karen said, isn’t it 5 or 6? She was clearly connected to the east coast but not the west. I sat in my office on the floor, windows dark, illuminated by a pole lamp watching her in Beirut, light and fresh and wide awake.  As the interview progressed and I became more alert and comfortable, I felt myself in a simultaneous existence, here and in Lebanon.

My business on the other side of the world is ongoing and the schedules are in constant negotiation. It’s Ramadan and now Palestine is 9 hours ahead instead of 10. I am making a conference appointment for 11, no 10?  Don’t worry, I’ll get it

Those of us who tramp the globe, particularly with our laptops, are dialed into several clocks, several patterns and rituals happening in more than one place.  Iftar comes in Palestine around the same time people start to fast here. My friends are sitting in the garden having dinner as I pour water into my coffee pot. It’s one of those prisms that connect divergent realities reflecting while separated by angles and perspectives.

My traveling heart and my home base connectedness are served by this simultaneous awareness. When I'm alone overseas, I can call my sisters and laugh, or over Skype show Anthony my room. Here at home, I keep my friends and colleagues on the contact list pulsing at me. We see each other on the screen and feel all the comfort of our friendship, a renewed hope behind a joint project, a excitement for vibrant new ideas.

For some all this new communication is suffocating, too raw, brings the worlds’ troubles to the front door. It has eliminated the gracefulness of letter writing, the kitchiness of postcard collections and the depth of actually “missing” someone. For me, it makes it easier to leave and easier to come home. No one is ever very far away.