In case you hadn’t noticed, we turned back the clocks not too long ago. If you seem to be waiting an awfully long time on the platform for your train, turning up for dinner even earlier than usual and Jimmy Fallon strangely has been looking a lot more like Jay Leno than he used to – well, that’s the reason. Or could be. Turning back the clock in the fall gives us an extra, or earlier, or later, or at least different hour than we’d been having, although nothing really has changed except our tacit wink-wink-nudge-nudge agreement that things have changed – it’s just darker when you don’t want it to be, and lighter when you can’t take advantage of it. Writers have plumbed the possibilities of this misplaced or displaced or confusingly lost hour – it’s 2, then, blammo, it’s 1, suddenly – in sci-fi, or ingenious “Groundhog Day”-like fictions. That is, stories in which one has an hour to live over, or is given the unexpected gift of time to arrive at some profound realization, to undo a regretted deed, to have an additional 60 minutes to live …
For those whose clocks and watches are of the digital variety, this time-change event is hardly momentous – in fact, it’s practically negligible. A push of a button or two, and the number easily flicks from one to the one before. No biggie. But we who take our time in analog doses (see Time Piece and Tick Tock) are prisoners of and are seduced by the process – it is precisely the process that gives us a sense of time. In spring, the process is an easy one – you merely move the hands forward a turn. New time; lost hour. A light twist of the wrist. But, because experts suggest that moving the hands backward on an analog timepiece can hurt the works by forcing the machinery to move against its forward, clockwise intent, it is recommended that, when the autumnal change occurs, one move the hands forward all the way around the clock face to the new number: from 2 to 3 to 4 and so on to arrive at 1. A less easy task, especially if one is reconfiguring a clock that has chimes; with every quarter turn of the hands, one has to stop to permit the bells to gong. It can take a while.
But it’s a “while” that’s worth it, because the very slow and tedious process of moving the hands gives some sort of heft and significance to the task, and a meaning to the result: Time is a stream that carries you along with it; time takes time, and time takes its time. Time is like money: to gauge its value, you have to spend it.
I am not one of those who are fascinated with the fantastical chance to gain or relive or reshape a magically gifted hour. After the slow and careful twisting of a knob to get the hands around the face of a clock (you want to get the time just right, because if you pass it, you have to go all the way around again), I find myself lingering, hesitant to put the hand where it needs to be. That last minute, that final second – I hold it back, and there is not only power in this, as I stop time, or fool myself into thinking that I do, but there is also, in that small slice of clock, in that sliver of a sliver of time, the creation of an entity. For that moment before the hand slides or snaps into place, time somehow becomes not a fluid conceit but a place. That little hair’s breadth of signified time on a ticking or whirring machine becomes a location of some magnitude because, for that moment, or for however long I want to withhold the final demarcation of the “right” time, that is a valuable piece of real estate that I own; when I place the hand where it needs to go, I am deeding that real estate to a force that has little interest in nor acknowledges the temporal fragility of me. I am done with it, and it with me. And life and time move on. Time is a place, one where memories and plans dwell, simultaneously, and equally. There is no past, no future, merely the thing we call the present moment. Clock or no clock, no matter how much you turn that knob, there is no turning back. But why should there be? Time is not a direction, but a location. Time is wherever you are now, and placeness is the currency of the land.