Write Like You Are Running out of Time (The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits)


Hey there, everyone. It’s been a minute, hasn’t it? We’ve spent the past few months house hunting, buying, moving, and organizing, in between work and several trips (more on those in upcoming posts), so this spring and beginning of summer has been one big blur. I keep reaching out to grab a hold of time and let each day last a teensy bit longer, but it always evades my grasp.

Peru The Folded Clock

Which is appropriate considering one of my recent reads from our vacation, The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits. This book is part memoir, part essay collection; Ms. Julavits allows us to peek into her adult diary, a collection of reflections and anecdotes that feel more like a meditation on life than a daily recording of life events.  She was inspired to renew her daily journal entries after discovering a stack of her childhood and teenage notebooks – notebooks which she had imagined would contain hints of genius and talent but instead, to her, merely revealed her “to possess the mind of a paranoid tax auditor.” As she was, at that point, an established writer, she figured she would throw her hat in the ring once again.

The collection is a lovely, meandering book that makes even the mundane seem intriguing – her nonlinear entries are filled with activities like running errands for her children, watching The Bachelor (or, as she refers to it, the Franchise) with her husband, packing for summer vacations and gossiping with her friends. The joys of new love and motherhood and a successful writing venture are all woven into her daily entries.


Machu Picchu

But she also elegantly segues to the profound; the bittersweet transition from young adult to middle age, the end of a marriage (and a beginning of another romance), the betrayals and the career competitions and the cuts that slice you open down to the bone. Even deeper – that nauseous feeling in your stomach when you come to confront your own weaknesses, your own vices, the worst versions of yourself that have snuck up from the swamps and sewers. And always, always, that race against time.

This book came to me at just the right time – soon before reading Ms. Julavits’ diary, I had gone down a diary rabbit-hole of my own. I myself used to be quite the diligent journal-writer as well; I filled one marbled composition book after another with my joys, fears, crushes, and dreams throughout high school and college. I started to lose the habit after dental school, though I have tried in fits and starts to begin again.

I was packing our apartment for the big move and came across my own stack of journals (arranged in my Target wicker basket instead of Julavits’ storage bin, but close enough) and, eager to procrastinate, I picked a random notebook and hunkered down to read – thinking I would laugh at my silly fretting over class grades or sorority functions. And there certainly was a decent amount of that, but also a decent amount of reflection – this particular journal covered my sophomore year of college, which was my most difficult year socially and academically.


Machu Picchu Peru

I was still trying on friend groups, trying on different selves, trying on different interests and world views and habits – and you can tell in the entries. Each month I seemed to have a different club or cause I was joining with great passion and enthusiasm, only to drop it completely a few weeks later; similarly, an acquaintance who I was hanging out with on the daily, seemingly best friends forever, suddenly became persona non grata (or, conversely, I myself became the unwelcome clique member) by questionable reasoning on both sides.

Most importantly, reading over my old journal and Ms. Julavits’ memoir made me come to one definite conclusion: we are all masters at the art of wasting time.  We fret over our appearance, our likability, our financial success, and our social interactions (or social media engagement…). I lost count of the number of entries I read where I was worried a sorority sister didn’t like me or a professor thought me unintelligent, and The Folded Clock had plenty of entries with similar musings and reflections of equally self-deprecating subject matter. And instead of doing or planning something to change the situation (like telling the snarky hallmate to get over herself, or to study harder), I, and, I’m assuming, Heidi, vented in our journals. I’m not criticizing myself for that use of time, at least not completely – sometimes you need time to digest a frustrating situation, time to reflect on your own strengths and weaknesses, time to figure out who it is you truly want to be. But afterwards, you need to act.

As I’ve entered my early 30’s (quelle nightmare!), time is starting to shrink. A sense of urgency that I’ve never felt before has begun to creep into my daily to-do lists and monthly goals.  While reading this book on the train from Machu Picchu back to our hotel, I met a group of American female travel writers who were on a press tour for the new train company. They varied in age group, career success, and geographical location and were working under various assignment contracts – a couple worked pure freelance, another for a Colorado newspaper, another (I found out later through internet sleuthing) for the New York Times.


Machu Picchu Peru

I got to talk to them a little bit while sipping our Pisco Sours about their exciting but often exhausting jobs, the irregular work hours and the unpredictable work flow and the competitive field, and I was absolutely green with envy over every aspect of their lives. Despite the obvious cons of their jobs, they got to write (and travel) full time – who could ask for a better life? And as I disembarked the train, I realized that I had let myself stagnate. I had become complacent with the idea that I would always have time to write in this ambiguous vague “later date,” and as a result years have passed. I promised myself right then and there that I wouldn’t let any more of the few writing skills I still have atrophy.

So, I’m obviously deeply thankful for Heidi Julavits’ The Folded Clock for this reason – it served as an incredibly important reminder that I need to stop holding on to passivity and instead write like I’m running out of time. Because, in a way, we all are.  So if any of you are suffering from a bit of ennui and lack of inspiration, I’d recommend giving this memoir a try. Maybe it’ll be the kick of inspiration you need to keep working and fighting for what you love.

P.S: It feels good to be back.



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