Portland, Oregon

Ruth Ozeki

With wisdom and humor, Ruth Ozeki discusses writing her novel and the nature of time itself, contending that we need to shift how we experience time.

Ruth Ozeki begins her lecture by talking about her week as a Writer-in-Residence in Portland, including several classroom visits at Grant High School, teaching classes to local writers at Literary Arts, and staying in the Literary Arts Suite at The Heathman Hotel. She then discusses A Tale for the Time Being, specifically the phrase “time being” and its several meanings. Ozeki tells the story of discovering her main character, Nao, and her journey toward figuring out all the various narrative elements of her novel. It was a long, circuitous route: world affairs, books, and life experiences all influenced the characters and events Ozeki wrote about, and she struggled to decide who Nao was writing her journal for: “It was my job, as a novelist, to figure this out.” She also philosophizes extensively about the way we view time, asserting that, “All that exists, all that we can ever know, is the present moment.” She cites Japanese Zen Buddhist teacher Dogen Zenji and uses filmmaking techniques to discuss our experience of time, arguing that viewing time as a quantifiable commodity is unhealthy. At the conclusion of her talk, Ozeki leads the entire audience through a meditation exercise.

Nao definitely had a reader in mind. She had all the confidence of a young writer casting her words out into the world, certain that someone would be there to receive them. And know that, when that happened, something magical would occur.” (18:08)

“Certain catastrophic events cause a rift in time, dividing time into before and after.”

“[Writing A Tale for the Time Being] took an achingly long time, but I think it illustrates an important point, that novels are time-beings too. They take the time they take.”

“This materialist view of time as a limited commodity seems to be an outgrowth of our Judeo-Christian view of time as linear, beginning with god’s creation and ending with the end of the world. But, of course, linear time is only one way of understanding time, and it seems important to remember that there are other ways of understanding and experiencing time, too.”

“Our bodies and minds are rarely together in the present moment at the same time, and this skews the alignment between being and time and causes all sorts of suffering, which is what makes us humans such anxious and unsettled time-beings. Unlike cats, for example.”

“I find [Dogen Zenji’s] view of time to be quite astonishing. It’s so expansive and generous. It means there’s always enough time if you just slow down. If you just slow down and take your time, you will have plenty of opportunities to do something beneficial.”

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