All The Time In The World
All the Time in the World (2013, Random House) is a “book of hours”. inconnu contributor Ashley Demma talked to the author about keeping time, living in the moment, and the luxury of leisure.
November 30, 2013 | Cake | December 2013
Ashley: How do you best enjoy spending your time?
Jessica Kerwin Jenkins: I love when an unplanned day unspools itself into the magnificent, as when you run into friends randomly and organize an impromptu picnic, or when a long, lingering Sunday brunch leads you to a matinee and then out for dinner. I love it when my days simply seem to create themselves.
What do you never seem to have time for?
The things that I procrastinate about are the most mundane, like paying bills, etc. But I always seem to carve out time for the small things that make life big, say, cutting fresh flowers for the table, or the epic undertakings, like lengthy travel in interesting places.
For someone who would like begin keeping their own book of hours, which type of journal or planner might you recommend?
It must be something that you can’t keep your hands off of—so whatever you find the most beautiful object, the one with irresistible allure, whether that means a new handbound book or a pretty iPad app.
What are some of your favorite films that evoke an aura of leisure and luxury?
Anges Varda’s “Cleo de 5 a 7,” and “Daguerreotypes” play with time in a lovely way.
Where do you draw the line between healthy indulgence and frivolity?
I think everyone places that border according to varying conceptions of beauty. Frivolity can be beautiful, while the “healthiness” of indulgence might undermine the liberation of cutting loose. There has to be something a little off-balance or exaggerated, a risk, involved in order to evoke the beautiful.
How can we break the cycle of “getting things done” and slow down more?
Revolution. It’s about clicking the off button on any device that has one. We stare at clocks all day long, killing spontaneity and life’s ability to take us into the unknown, all in the name of efficacy. Boring!
What is your favorite season?
Impossible to say. I love feeling melancholy in the fall and cloistered in the winter, revived in the springtime and languid in the summer.
What did you learn between your first book, Encyclopedia of the Exquisite, and All the Time in the World?
After Encyclopedia of the Exquisite came out I was just so happy that everyone seemed to like it! I never thought that I was going to have another chance to write a book, and I still feel like even if I write a hundred books, I’ll probably write each one like it’s my last.
Which was your favorite source to consult during the research of this book?
I love out-of-print sources. Working in stories from those long forgotten books offers the thrill of discovery and the feeling that I’ve kept some wonderful bit of history from going extinct.
How has time changed for you since you moved to a more rural environment after spending so many years in a big city?
It’s like my heart itself is beating slower. And maybe like I can live longer between the beats.
How did you spend coming-of-age periods such as curfew, prom, or applying to colleges when you were a teenager?
Not sure I remember–but I’m sure I spent way, way, way too much time worrying. I remember that once when I was fretting over which colleges to apply to, my high school history teacher told me quite frankly “It simply doesn’t matter,” which is to say, it didn’t matter which elite school I went to or which liberal arts major I chose. I still feel relieved remembering that to this day.
Do you have advice for young women, especially aspiring writers?
Here are some important bits of advice that were given to me along the way and stuck. My friend Hampton, who is in his 70s, told me that no matter what you must live seven lives in your one lifetime. I think that’s essential—break the rules and re-invent. When I was in my early 20s, my savvy older cousin told me that nothing important happens until your mid-30s, and then everything happens at once. Pretty much true. A teacher once told me not to accept advice from anyone before examining that person’s life and deciding that I would also like to live that way. So simple, but this is absolutely true. That very day I pretty much stopped taking advice from 99% of the world. On writing, I’d say what’s worked best for me when writing has been to hold one or two people—clever, cool people who genuinely like me no matter what—and to direct my words to them. Sometimes I even write “Dear X” on the top of the page I’m working on so that it flows right.
How would you like to spend your final moments?
Fully awake and aware, curious as ever.
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Below is an excerpt from All the Time in the World, courtesy of Random House:
When I was just starting out in New York, working in a dull, gray office building, whenever the morning felt particularly bleak or tantalizingly sunny, I’d intentionally overshoot the front door, strolling eastward on Thirty- fourth Street, as if I were going somewhere else entirely. I’m embarrassed to remember how exhilarating it felt, and how thrilling it was to imagine one of my coworkers spotting me making my escape. I’d see a fantastic day spreading out before me, the matinees, the cafes, an afternoon wandering through Central Park. Then, at the corner of Fifth Avenue, I’d pause, like a trapeze artist at the end of her tether. And I’d turn on my heel and go back to work.
I should have gone to the Cloisters instead. Up above 190th Street at the Cloisters Museum, I’d have found a small leather-bound book, like a diary, made for a medieval queen of France. A classic book of hours, The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux is composed of short texts that guided the queen through her day— from morning prayers through vespers and the verses for compline, said just before bed— and through her year. The full effect is enchanting. In contrast to the book’s pious theme, delicate images of monkeys, rabbits, dogs, and dancing revelers crowd the margins, little animations scholars call dro^leries. Knights joust on one page; on another courtiers play “frog in the middle,” something like blindman’s buff meets tag. Holidays are noted in a striking red, some of the first “red- letter days.”
My book is an homage to the books of hours treasured by gilded women (and some men) of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. These antiquated volumes were status symbols, fashion accessories, and talismans, often embellished with gold latches and gilt- edged pages, and done with illustrations in lapis or saffron. They opened a door to devotion, but also one to distraction.
Ashley Demma hails from Chicago where she moonlights as a freelance writer, blogger, and illustrator outside of a day job in marketing. Her degree is in English Language & Literature from the University of Chicago. She loves YA fantasy novels, Vosges chocolate, and the Martha Stewart Halloween magazine. Find more of her work using #demondesign on social media.