My Time-Out Torture

Time – I never have enough of it, so I always seek to gain more of it. As I write this, I find myself with a surplus of time. I should be satisfied, luxuriating in my windfall, yet I’m frustrated. I’m holed up within a hostel, situated in the remote coastal town of Coral Bay.

To get to Coral Bay, I employed a modern time-saving technique – jet travel. We take it for granted but flying above the clouds at 800 kph (500 mph) is a form of time travel. I needed to traverse Australia, but the days spent doing so would eat into my leave. The purchase of an airline ticket allowed me to skip those days of travel, effectively traveling into the future. I can now spend those days at my destination, not along the way. Until we can email ourselves somewhere, aeronautical engineering, partnered with jet fuel, is a great time saver. A day ago, I climbed out of bed at 4 AM, on the east side of Australia. By 5 PM, the same day, I photographed the below seagull on the shores of Coral Bay, almost 5,000 km (3,100 mi) to the west of where I woke.

Seagull on the shores of Coral Bay. I snapped this pic as the light was fading.

With my saved time, I planned to snorkel every day in the waters of Ningaloo Marine Park. I love photographing marine fauna and this is one of the best places in Australia to do so. I can’t confirm that… yet. As soon as I left my hostel this morning, I discovered Coral Bay was being savaged by a strong northerly wind. The amount of sand that hit me in the face while I stood in the main street was impressive. Excellent conditions for removing my dead skin cells, not so good for boarding a boat.

The only sane place to be in these conditions is where I’m now typing this – my hostel room. Circumstances beyond my control have conspired to impose a time-out on my plans. It feels like torture. I have time, but I feel I’m wasting it by not hunting fish with my camera. I let this discomfort sit with me until I realise what really bugs me. It’s not that I’m wasting time, after all, I’m on holiday and I should relax. No, it’s the thought I have no control over how my time is now allocated. As my fingers tap the keyboard of my laptop I wince at this thought. The wind storm means a new story unfolds, but I’ve chosen to cast myself as the victim. I can do better.

A week before I left for Coral Bay, I went to see James Cameron, the film director, speak to an audience at the City Recital Hall in Sydney. James, or Jim as he calls himself, is one of the few people I’m in awe of. I was already a fan of his work (The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day) when he decided to make a three-hour film about the sinking of the Titanic. As Jim was making the film, it went way overbudget and industry commentators wryly noted that no one would see a film, the ending of which was already a matter of public record. Well, the film was released, did incredible business, and burned itself into pop culture. We tend to now laugh ironically about the Celine Dion theme song, but the film Titanic was huge.

James Cameron, speaking to an audience gathered at the City Recital Hall, Sydney.

Jim chose to follow up his historical epic with a story about blue, cat-like aliens from the planet Pandora. The movie was Avatar. That too seemed like a joke until it was released. It did bigger business than Titanic, despite pre-release rumblings that it would be a failure. It’s unwise to bet against James Cameron or label his undertakings as crazy. He’s now making not one, but four sequels concurrently to Avatar. Okay, that does sound crazy.

While I listened to Jim speak for over an hour, what struck me was how many interests he has outside of his movies. In fact, his filmography serves as funding for his real interests:

  • He helped design a deep-sea submersible, secretly built in Australia, that took him on a solo trip to the deepest point in the ocean – Challenger Deep, almost 11,000 m (35,756 feet).
  • He has a 20-hectare (50 acres) food forest in New Zealand, the aim of which is to inspire more innovative and healthy forms of food production.
  • He is working with other like-minded people to see if athletes can obtain their protein from plant-based sources rather than animals (apparently, they can). With over seven billion people, the biosphere can’t sustain the inputs required to raise enough meat. Focusing on athletes may help convince people that plant-based protein is viable.
It would have been cool if he sang the ‘Ballad of James Cameron’. He did reference his South Park appearance though 🙂

Jim is in his early sixties now. He doesn’t need to do all this or make more movies, he could retire. As I write this, something has crystallised. James Cameron does not wait for time to happen to him. He happens to time by filling it with productive activity. I’m sure he encountered setbacks worse than a strong northerly wind in his career. Surprisingly, Jim told the audience that the most rewarding aspect of his exploration work was trying to move fast with a small team. That should sound familiar to anyone who works for a company that wants to stay relevant. Tech companies employ an agile mindset and hack days to complete important work in a short time-frame. They do this without waiting for the ideal time.

I’m holed up in a hostel with the wind howling outside. Not ideal, but that doesn’t mean I can’t fill my time with productive activity. I could have sat in the pub next door or watched Netflix on my laptop, but I chose to write this post. Maybe I helped clarify the opportunities time can bring you too.

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