It may be a particularly American phenomenon. Or maybe it goes back to the Ancient Greeks. I think it goes back to the cave man, actually. But given all of the stresses we already face in our lives, why is it we always seem to be in such a rush? I’ve been this way my whole life, and on those occasions when leisure is a must, or at least preferable (sex comes to mind! Or a good meal) it’s hard to change one’s ways.
I even have this thing called a shaking leg syndrome. And now my wife Tina has it too. Is this how we found each other? Or is it contagious? This all may be primordial, of course. A leftover instinct or gene from a time when we had to be on full alert at all times, or that saber tooth tiger lurking on those rocks up ahead was sure to get us. Or you. Us or you. Which also may explain why more men (the hunter chromosome) might have this problem than women. Although certainly some women are in a big hurry to catch up, it seems. Ironic.
All my life I’ve been glancing at my watch. Why? What am I afraid I’m going to miss? Life itself? True, we have only so much time. And our biological clocks are ticking away. You’d think twenty four hours, over seven days, over twelve months, for eighty odd years is usually long enough to get things done. But for me, even if there isn’t a deadline, I’ll make one. Again, why? Getting back to that primordial thing, maybe those of us with this instinct just can’t help it. We’re hard -wired this way. It can certainly be costly. Ben Franklin, who clearly didn’t have this problem, was right: ‘haste makes waste.’ But isn’t it equally true that ‘the early bird gets the worm?’ I have a chapter about this in my new China memoire A Billion to One, actually. Which in itself nearly fell victim to this compulsion. It is very difficult to edit and proofread one’s own work, as other writers know only too well. We’ve already been there and done that. We’ve experienced the event, had the inspiration, taken the necessary action, written it down. Why go through it again, and again? And so we rush. And mistakes happen.
Maybe all this is why we love suspense fiction (and movies) so much. Movies had a finite time frame. There’s always a ticking clock, literally, and a line waiting outside if it’s really good. Books are more leisurely, surely, but still: the better the story, the more we feel rushed to find out what happened.
And how about sports? Men love sports more than women. Maybe there’s a reason for this. It’s a safe way to expunge those feelings of urgency and desperation. Time is running out. Football has not just one, but two ticking clocks. We must score that winning touchdown or goal or—what? Or lose. Which is the symbolic manifestation of death, I suppose. We must kill that tiger before it kills us. We have ten, nine eight seven six seconds to do it before it—argh! Again, it’s much safer just to read about it in a book. What’s the hurry? Tomorrow is another day. Which reminds me. I’d better set my alarm clock. I have a deadline. Or at least, I think I do.