Scheduling conflict: Wedding or conference?

How can I choose between two equally worthy events that happen at the same time?

Published February 13, 2009 11:26AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I have a scheduling conflict coming in May 2009 between a cousin's wedding across the country and a two-day conference on whose executive planning team I happily serve. In all of the weighing of different pros and cons I am still finding it impossible to reach a decision because each presents a sacrifice/regret that is hard to compare with the other and equally distasteful.

I am not extremely close to my cousin but I think I would be friends with him and his fiancée even if we weren't cousins. Also, I would love to go to see my very large extended family, and with my long-distance boyfriend it could be like a vacation for us. Finally, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event vs. a conference that will repeat in the future.

On the other hand, of course, weighs my responsibility to this community group, which I have voluntarily taken on, and my reputation therein. I want to be involved with this group for the long term and fear my flaking out would brand me permanently. Not only that, but I am passionate about the topic and substance of the conference and so very much hoped to attend because I felt I could get a tremendous amount of information out of it.

Any thoughts would be helpful.

Torn Apart

Dear Torn Apart,

"Time is nature's way of keeping everything from happening at once," said Woody Allen famously. Distance is nature's way of allowing a wedding and a conference to happen at the same time. And physics is what keeps you from attending both. Have I got that right? Are we now operating in a world reassuringly full of rules?

Wait for it ... Wait for it ... OK ... Now!

Here's an idea: Prepare a video presentation, or a paper, for the conference, so that you can participate and contribute in that way. Make agreements with other participants to meet with them at some time after the conference, and to read and discuss with them whatever relevant material comes out of the conference. Plan to host some of the members at your house for dinner, say, or for a potluck, after you return from the wedding. Reaffirm your commitment to the goals of the community group and volunteer to take on even greater responsibility next year, as a way of making up for your absence. By way of explanation, you can say that the wedding was planned after you made your commitment to the community group, but that in this instance, family trumps community.

Then go to the wedding and have a great time.

Two events may appear to represent a scheduling conflict because you are thinking only of the impossibility of your body's being in two places at once. If you think in terms of purpose, or function, or action, or information flow, you will see that you can actually participate in both things. That's the way to go, I think. The wedding is primarily about bodies appearing in space. The conference is about bodies appearing in meeting rooms, but it is also about information flow. You can participate both before it and afterward.

I was rushing to make a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich with precious time left to write the column so time and its incompressibility were on my mind. I was thinking not only of scheduling but of time's density itself.

To do the "incompressibility of water" experiment referenced above, one must first remove all the bubbles of air from the water. If you suck out all the bubbles, then your flask full of water becomes a hammer. Which makes one realize that time, which is also in its pure state incompressible, does, like water, seem to contain many bubbles; that is how we learn to manage time, and how one person can do twice or three times as much as the next person in the same period of time: We find the bubbles. We work in the bubble space. Bubbles in time are found in such things as the random or not-so-random thoughts one has while making a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. Bubbles in time occur while driving, while walking the dogs, while reading e-mail. Thinking takes place in the bubbles.

If you suck out all the air in the water, then the flask becomes a hammer. If you suck out all the bullshit in time, then time becomes a hammer. If you fill each bubble with thought, then consciousness becomes a hammer.


What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

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