Every two or three weeks, there is a rabbit hole that takes the place of one of the rigid black-outlined squares on my desk calendar. It’s a rabbit hole of free time, unaccounted for time. It’s a tunnel of solitude down which I can disappear and emerge into a slightly different universe, a parallel dimension where no agenda is allowed and the rigid mathematics of daily activity become temporarily meaningless.
Sometimes the place I emerge into is a beach littered with purple sea stars and thick clumps of black mussels, or a trail through the rain drenched woods where grouse and crows make a sort of resonant chamber music, intercut by the muted gamelan percussion of woodpecker and dripping leaves. Sometimes it’s an observatory or a bookstore, a public garden with ivy clinging to its walls, or an art gallery lined with Andy Warhol’s soup tins or March Chagall’s violin-playing goats.
In what should have been my last year of elementary school, when we’d just moved to Vancouver and my father was searching for a job, we stayed with a friend who lived in a house that backed onto a ravine in North Vancouver. Sometimes you could hear coyotes calling, or the eerie caterwauling of feral cats, or the throaty rumble of trail bikes. I was going through a bad stretch, then. I had never been a good student at the best of times, and leaving behind my friends and everything else that was familiar to me was not something that I adjusted to very well. It was during this time that I first discovered the joys of cutting classes; a habit that would ensure that I spent an extra year in elementary school and would ultimately contribute to the fact that I wound up spending twenty years of my adult life in a well-paying but joyless career that I had little interest in or aptitude for. Sometimes that’s what happens when you disappear too long down the rabbit hole.
That first day of skipping out was glorious, though. I hid my school books under the mattress, packed two stolen cigarettes, a package of potato chips and some comic books into my backpack, and, leaving behind no breadcrumbs, I headed off into the woods. It was the greatest sense of freedom that I’d had since getting my first bicycle, and I was hooked for life.
Nowadays, with the sublime responsibilities of being a parent and a husband, having the privilege of sharing my life and time with others that I love, helping put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads, I obviously have to be much more disciplined about these disappearing acts. A few hours every once in awhile seems to be enough. I am always cognizant and grateful for the fact that our lifestyle, while it doesn’t involve Swiss bank accounts or yearly trips to the Bahamas, does allow for creative expression, some modest comfort, and the odd fortnightly or so visit to a quiet place where the ordinary rules of time don’t apply.