It's All Acting
Persistence Is The Key

Managing Time

I'm sitting in a comfy armchair at center stage with the lights full on me.    To my right, standing at a podium, a theologian argues for the existence of God.  To my left, at a similar podium, his opponent argues that belief in God is nothing but an irrational cultural artifact.   There's a screen up behind me on which images pass that I can't see.  I want to speak, but it isn't my time yet.  I try not to fidget, so as not to draw attention to myself.  I watch the seconds tick down, waiting for the light to flash and let me know that I can turn to the microphone.  The minutes step by unbearably slow...

No, this isn't last night's dream, and it's not the beginnings of some post-modern, semi-science-fiction film treatment.  This is me on Tuesday evening, moderating the "Does God Exist?" debate at the Alys Stephens Center as part of the UAB Lecture Series.   Ironic, I suppose, that after writing just that morning about dealing with debilitating shyness, I should once again be putting myself into a position where I need to act as if I'm as calm and cool as can be.  But I'm pretty good at that by now.

I've been one of the three faculty members on the Lecture Series Committee for years.  It's a student-funded activity, and the students pick the speakers.   We're there to provide some guidance and continuity.  Periodically,  I'll introduce or moderate one of the events, which is how I ended up on stage on Tuesday.  This one wasn't nearly as surreal as the evening last year when I found myself interviewing John Heder and Aaron Ruell (from Napoleon Dynamite) in front of 3,000 people on a mock talk-show set, but it was a pretty out-of-body experience all the same.

Shermer & Geivett structure it as a formal debate, with a first round of twenty-five minutes each, then one of eight, then a last of five, before turning it over to the audience for questions.  My job was to introduce them, keep time, and moderate the Q&A.  The first round was the toughest -- two stretches of twenty-five minutes of just sitting there, trying to be inconspicuous, with the powerpoints flashing behind me, just over my head.  Fortunately, they're both excellent speakers, so they were able to draw the attention of the audience to either side when they were speaking.  I tried to pretend I was furniture.

I had a digital stopwatch, so I could surreptitiously watch the seconds tick down.  I'd flash them a 5 minute card, and then a 2 minute card, and then lean forward toward my microphone when their time was up.  They're good at this, so I only had to cut them off once or twice during the Q&A.  It gave me plenty of opportunity to contemplate just how long a minute actually is.

I'm constantly fighting the clock; there's always more that I want to get out of a day than I can possibly find time for.  The existential challenge is to try not to lose sight of the fact that the minute you're in is the only minute that you can really be sure of, and you'd better not miss it.  I try to remind myself of that when I'm dealing with the frustrations and inconveniences of travelling, or when I'm caught up in things (like doing the dishes) that feel like time wasters:  "This is the only moment that you've got," I whisper to myself.  "Pay attention."


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