Monkey Time

One of my patients said yesterday that he thinks god is speeding the world up. Many of them say that they’re getting old as a way of explaining their disability or discomfort — most of them are in their forties, the teenage years of maturity. I love being able to laugh at them.

I like crinkles at the corners of eyes, healthy teeth aged to their proper ivory, parentheses framing a smile. If the marks of ageing did not exist we would pay surgeons to create them — they accelerate the power of expression.

It’s true that time does strange things. I’ve been working on stretching out the time when I’m enjoying myself. Seeing if I can change my mind, for example, to make a weekend day feel like a week. It’s taken some time to begin learning to do that.

Ten years ago, I was working night shift about eighty hours a week in a hospital. Driving home one morning I saw a red light, closed my eyes without being aware of it and opened them on the other side of the intersection.

Serving an apprenticeship, you are made to feel that your life is not your own.  When I was studied acupuncture I broached a huge body of knowledge over four years. “In the old days,” one of our teachers reminded us, “You had to sweep and mop the floor for five years before the Master acknowledged your presence.” Even working long hours though, my life was my own. The moments I remember best from my intern year in medicine were spent looking at stones on the beach. The stones -- and pain inflicted on patients. Those moments seem to expand too.

Reading about Monkey of Fruit and Flower Mountain, in the Chinese classic Journey to the West this morning before work, I was reminded that Monkey lived in a cave with his teachers for six or seven years. His first lessons were in how “to sprinkle and sweep the floor, answer orders and deport himself properly.” By the time we got to know him in Monkey the children’s tv series, he was able to pull a hair from his head and zap it into a fighting staff or use it to create a pink cloud to fly around on — all the better for fighting monsters.

 Sun Wu Kong The Monkey Fights the Yellow Wind Demon by  Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

Sun Wu Kong The Monkey Fights the Yellow Wind Demon by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

Back in my junior doctor years, I had no pink cloud, but my parents helped me purchase a rectangular green sedan. It was a Saab, with leather upholstered seats and a clean engine. We bought it at one of those sales by the highway, where people make a grassy patch their car yard. It was a roar of a car.

Driving home from work one afternoon, a huntsman spider — hairy mother as big as your palm — crawled out of the air vent next to my right hand, which was on the steering wheel. I pulled over and contemplated it. If you know huntsman spiders, you know that they can wait out any human. They are patience in a scary body. So there we sat, the spider and I, in my ship of a car by the highway exit as peak-hour traffic sped by, the sun going down and everybody else going home.

Spiders that are as big as a small bird are hard to kill. I pulled a piece of sturdy paper from my work bag and tried to persuade the spider to step onto it, promising her a long and happy life in the grass of the highway exit.

Eventually the spider went back into the air vent, avoiding terminal conflict. I drove home with my eyes alert for hairy paws coming out near my hand again. In coming days and nights she made her home in the car’s rear vision mirror, enjoying a bounty of moths and beetles attracted to the  street light reflected there every night. I fire-hosed her regularly but she didn’t budge, just called it a passing storm. I lived by a lake then. It was a prosperous time for the spider and me.

Driving home another evening that year, under a spectacular orange sunset, this little song came into my head. I elaborated the Monkey part in tribute to Sun Wukong, Great Sage, Equal of Heaven — as he became after his floor-sweeping years. It might need a bit of tweaking. I sing it to myself when I’m ambling to work — walking by the desert oaks or wending my bike into the breeze — some days. No traffic lights here now. I stretch out the time I enjoy.

Monkey Time  Song
Time is my instrument.
Time is my toy.
Time is stretching out to fit me in it.
Time is my joy.

That monkey was stuck in the rock five thousand years.
He scratched his claws. He wet the earth with monkey tears.
He hit his head and cracked the egg. He laughed out loud.
Grew up so quick he spins his stick,
rides on a cloud.

Time is my instrument.
Time is my toy.
Time is stretching out so I flex in it.
Time is my joy.

When there's too much around it must be time to throw things out.
Takes time to please, to grow up trees from just a sprout.
So what's potential needs the time to be come real.
Growth's exponential when you flow in what you feel.

Time is my instrument.
Time is my toy.
Time – might be an hour or a minute.
Time’s just a ploy.

Time is my instrument.
Time – build and destroy.
Time is stretching out so I climb in it.
Time is my joy.