Tag Archives: time

A Timely Entrance

daily_scheduleWe all are creatures of schedules, whether by adhering to them or ignoring them, purposefully or by perverse nature or by mindlessness. Some of us couldn’t function without them; others resent them; for many of us, it is both. Still others pretend that they live without any schedule at all.

The typical time frame in the so-called work world is 9 to 5, give or take an hour on either end, but in this 24/7, internationally plugged-in life cycle we find ourselves in, work can commence at any hour, and in so doing the “ordinary” world seems to lurch – they don’t call it a “shift” for nothing. And pity those whose shifts vary, regularly or otherwise, such as police officers and firefighters, who might have long days followed by short days followed by days off, and a change in hours, as well. This spreads out decent schedules and terrible ones in an equitable sharing, but it has to wreak havoc on their sleep patterns, not to mention their personal lives.

We here at arslocii are people who, over the years, have had less scheduling than most. Some might call it “underemployment.” But, when you work for yourself you have to create your own schedule, and that can be difficult for many, impossible for others. Freedom requires discipline.

timeclock

Change being the only unchanging certainty, we, though free spirits that we are, have found ourselves for more than a decade as someone else’s employee, on someone else’s clock. Not that this was a new concept – we’ve had lots of jobs – but, rather, a bullet we had dodged for a while. And, maybe because of that avoidance, in some sort of karmic payback we ended up having to design our lives around a 4 p.m to midnight  work-time slot. What that meant was that we had part or most of the daylight hours to attend to stuff of our own and had to “time-shift” what we would normally do in the late afternoon until after the witching hour because the real hours belonged to an employer. Once you get used to the rhythm, it isn’t so bad. But, because of the schedule, our dinner time was around 3 in the afternoon. Again, you can get used to it. So we did. We got pretty good at it, in fact. It got to feel like normal. We wondered how others could survive on those horrible 9-to-5 work-release sentences. Other than realizing that the world’s insistence on stupid, standardized work hours meant that we could no longer attend evening socializing of any sort, we felt that we had the best of all possible worlds – except the one where you don’t work for anyone else … or work at all.

Then suddenly, unrequested, this year they changed the schedule on us, to noon to 8 p.m., and Sunday through Thursday. Now, most everyone would think that this would be an improvement over the previous work-day period. It even moves us closer to “normal” hours. But not quite, not enough. In fact, in some ways, in many ways, it is an even worse schedule. After seven-plus years of afternoon dinners, we now are forced to dine at 9 pm. Explain that to your trained stomach. And, by the time you pack up your stuff and get out the door, you still can’t make that 8 o’ clock curtain. Also, where did the hours go for taking care of home-based stuff? You don’t have a day, you don’t have a night. What’s left is maybe two hours in the morning and possibly (if you can stay awake after a meal) two at night. Think about how quickly two hours can disappear without notice and – wham! – suddenly your whole life becomes somebody’s lousy dime. Of course we need that dime. We are grateful for the dime. Others envy us our dime. Some might think us spoiled and entitlement-obnoxious for complaining about that dime. But, still …

In the midst of this upheaval, though, we have found something that we didn’t expect: a renewed sense of placeness. When you go to work to the same place at the same time with the same people every day, you cease to notice any of it, and you come to believe that that is all there is to the place of work and the tasks you and others do. Then, you find yourself coming in at a different time, and the workplace seems something new, even alien. Whereas before, on a later shift, we would come in just as the day-crowd was leaving, and all we knew of them was the transitional passing off of information, chitchat and uncompleted work. They were them; we were us. Eloi and Morlocks. As different, in a real sense, as day and night. But now we are among the day people, and the room that is, at night, quite empty is, when the sun shines, a lively place full of workers who, until now, were just shadows who left their stuff for my group to tidy up and send on its way.

What you see, what you sense, is that a workplace, one with numerous shifts that go on around the clock, is like a theater that never closes, and that you used to think that the production – comedy? tragedy? – began and ended with your entrances and exits and lines, but now you realize that the show was going on before you arrived and continues after you leave, that work life is like this endless ribbon that you are merely a snippet of cut off at random lengths, and that the place hums to more tunes than you ever imagined. It’s a new script, but somehow you know your lines and the choreography; it’s a familiar set, yet something is different enough to make you think that you missed the memo and a few dress rehearsals, and it makes you aware, perhaps for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, of the artificiality of it all – that offices and factory floors are like Potemkin villages to which you grant the gift of reality, whatever that is, so that you can do what you have to do and believe in it.

So, from a simple rejiggering of when you show up for work, what you might come away with is the knowledge that, in all other things in your life you believe yourself to be the star of your own movie, but here you are but a member – perhaps even just in the chorus – of a large and revolving cast, and that the “set” has a lot more storyline outside your own than you ever thought. And somehow, somewhere in there, there is art.

uattend.time_clock

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Moving On

doorwayWe are leaving a place and we are happy to be doing so, and it’s about time.

We won’t deny that some happiness happened in this place, even some life-changing occurrences and decisions.

But this has been, for the most part, a place of violence and brutality, of anger and low blows and big blows and blowhards, of racism and condoned mean-spiritedness, a place of disruption and dishonesty, disappointment and dashed dreams, a place where nearly every hint of optimism has been undermined by self-serving actions and arrogant entitlement.

And, so, we are eager to turn our backs on this place ­– this year called 2012 – and open the door to the next place, known as 2013.

But such places of time have a way of lingering; we can expect the scent of 2012 to continue to waft into the freshly painted rooms of 2013. Just when you think 2013 is going to be a new and different dwelling place, that will be a note from 2012 being slipped under the door. And don’t pick up that ringing phone ­–  it’s a robocall from down the hall.

We can hope that 2013 will be rich in arslocii. But most places are just places like other places, and the only art is what you bring to it.

But keep your eyes open, and your heart, as well, because the most potent moments of discovering placeness often happen when you least expect them, and just a few can make a year a place you’ll want to revisit from time to time.

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Merry Memory, and Many Happy Returns

Life is portable; the past is anchored, and memory is its unreliable Boswell, an attempt at history that, strangely, over time, becomes less witness than hearsay, or myth.

One can enter memory in much the same fashion that one finds his way to and into a familiar room with the lights out, where one knows where to sit and what generalized forms and specific objects he will be able to make out, more or less, as his eyes adjust.

Memory is not a process, or a state; memory is a place. But, unlike the idea of place that we know in the physical world – where you go somewhere to find yourself in it – memory is also a place that can come to you, even unbidden.

We are, all of us, in a memory time of year – for everyone, holidays and rituals based knowingly or not on the return of the light loom large, and we cannot help but flash back to times when life seemed happier or simpler or more understandable; when families were full and there were no gaps; when memories were being made, not being recalled. It is, personally, a memory time because it was in mid-December, more than two decades ago, that a handful of wonderful beings entered our lives, changing them forever, and, later, at other times, in separate memory rooms, departed. Then, too, as we struggle to disassemble a loved house and move much of it to the next place we call home, memory is the 300-lb. gorilla that is the room. Everywhere we turn, the place we are viewing dissolves, and for a moment (a split-moment? no time at all?) we are in the same place but on a different plane, involved in a collision in which where becomes when.

And as we take furniture and personal possessions to the new place – leaving voids for memory to fill, and anti-matter spaces that have spectral solidity, like phantom limbs ­– it is for more than mere practicality that we do so, more than just to avoid having to lay out the money for a new chair when we have a perfectly good one (or two, or five) already available, and appropriate. Part, if not much, of the reason we take our stuff with us is that these things are time machines – by merely keeping them near, and occasionally giving them some attention, they take us to places of memory.

The odd or wondrous thing about memory is that it is not static – it is cumulative, and discriminating. For, given a sufficient amount of time, the older memory fades as newly minted memories cling to object and place, and new myths are born, burnished and held to the heart.

This holiday season, then, it is not necessary to bodily travel to be somewhere else and to be in the presence of those you love – just look around at where you are, and allow yourself to be taken to where you’ve been when you were here before. But don’t dwell too long, or cling to that place. So long as you are you, it will always be there, and at the moment you need it, somehow, in your hand, you will find the key, and know the way, and you will feel the power of its placeness. And you will feel at home.

palace at 4 a.m.

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Timing is Everything

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.

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Tick Tock

In the course of moving some items from one household to another, in among the objects were several clocks that had made the journey. These clocks, time machines of varying sorts, were unplugged in the morning and their faces reported the last moment before time stopped for them. They showed that they left one place at precisely 11:40 and although it was several hours later, in their deactivated state, to them it was 11:40. Stuck in time, so to speak, as the relentless coursing seconds, minutes and hours were literally standing still for these long-vigilant counting machines. I think I felt a little sad for them, removed from their tasks and losing their rhythm.

We all accept the artificial overlay and concept of time and time-keepers. We may not be synchronized to Greenwich Mean Time, but we do obsess over delays or off-schedule events, by the clock. Look how time, split into hair-like fragments, determines outcomes of competitions.

In areas that are prone to electrical surges or outages, the annoying distinction of digital clocks is that they go off but they come back on blinking in a kind of S.O.S. call that their workings have been meddled with – alarmist tactics that agitate rather than put the mind at ease, a crying-wolf pattern that ends up meaningless when something real takes place. Some of the older analog clocks have a colored dot that appears if the power goes out, just so you know – nothing pushy. Of course, the battery clocks are unaffected. They can stop, but never in unison – their trauma is individual, not communal.

It was a bit unnerving seeing these recently moved clocks so disconnected, living in the past. It made me think about horrible disasters – floods, earthquakes, tornadoes – that, when electricity goes out and life as we know it is destroyed, all the clocks stop at precisely the same moment recording the balance-tipping instant. In a sense, time has stopped and the time on the clocks has eternalized the event, the frozen hands imbuing a poetic sorrow with the real. Imagine how we would know from clocks the exact moment when the world ended, if we didn’t end, too. Except for the poor souls forever cast in stone after Vesuvius erupted, there is no other more telling a silence than a stopped clock. In toto, permanently and collectively stopped.

I remember when my mother had her stroke while sitting at her computer and laid on the floor for we-didn’t-know-how-long. My brother was able to access the clock in the computer to figure out when it was turned on, what activities took place in a sort of log and when it went idle. It was fascinating, yet devastating. The computer’s clock told us more than we wanted to know about time stopping for mom. It became a witness to the crime, as well as a sleuth.

Miss Havisham ordered every clock to be stopped on her never-to-be wedding day, to live forever frozen in that time, as a constant reminder. Was it the moment of betrayal, the moment of thrill before betrayal, or the moment when the vows were to be spoken? Whatever, it was chilling.

Magritte’s Time Transfixed illustrates this occurrence as a free-floating, unmoving locomotive and as a stopped clock. Both are powerful images of fate and loss, the human condition. Time is the human condition. Stopped time, for sure.

So these clocks of mine that are temporarily halted have enough placeness to give me pause, make me extend their meaning to existential wonderings. We hear them tick as background, like heartbeats. And then they can quit, just like that.

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Time Piece

Things change. Time moves on. But even time’s march has been altered. The keeper of time has had a spatial reorientation. Clocks were once mostly round and the hands of time circled a face much like the earth circles the sun. Clocks had meaning implied by their design, and their marking of time had a beat or rhythm just as the passing days do. The clock face was sometimes anthropomorphic: a friendly face to greet you when you came home, a touchstone when you were expecting company or had a deadline to meet, an authoritarian presence watching from on high in the classroom or ticking down the final minutes at work. Almost always round, sometimes square.

Clocks were made into pieces of furniture, decorated in every style, handcrafted and machine-made, geared, weighted and sprung. They became art objects and people kept them around even after their function ceased. They made sounds, played music, had dancing figures and animals festooning their facades. The grandfather clock was a serious investment and it set a tone for a household of how serious time is, beautiful and serious with deep and throaty tones and shiny brass pendulum weights. There was the clock hanging in the kitchen of your parents’ house, the one that left an age spot on the wall when you removed it and which had so many associations with family, food and how time seemed so infinite then. Now you look at it hanging in your own house and its demeanor has changed – now it is a collectible.

Some clocks were hand-wound with special keys, giving you the sense that you had some control over time – an anniversary clock, say, or a seven-day mantel style. My grandmother’s wind-up from the 1920s had such a loud tick that it was a constant reminder of the passing of time; there was no way to avoid its audible countdown. Later, many more clocks were electric and usually silent except for an occasional hum. Clocks are all around me, some from family members, and which are like family members; others because they spoke to me in intimate tones about needing a home, again.

But now, in the digital age, clocks have become machines, as in Olympic trials: merely accurate numbering tools. Their displays are in cyphers, whether in the early form of rotating flaps in mechanical-digital displays or, now, in LED and LCD with their seven segments of light mixed and matched to show the full spectrum of time configurations as binary numbers, much like a cheerleading squad spelling out their team’s name with their body parts. The seven-segments system of time-telling sounds as perfunctory and bloodless as it is. Maybe the digital display is more accurate, although I wonder, in a contest with a perfectly attuned Swiss movement, who the real time-keeper would be. And the thing is, who cares? The time isn’t the real issue here. It is the sense of time. Clocks, analog clocks, give a sense of time as well as keep time. Why would we want to lose that? Do we think that if we make it a manageable set of numbers that we can control it better? Good luck.

A few years ago I had a work-study student, an architecture major, who had never learned to read an analog clock. Her digital wristwatch stopped and she needed to keep track of her work hours. Up on the wall was a battery clock with face and hands, and she couldn’t decipher it. To her, it was an artifact of the past, an archeological relic with a field of circularly placed numbers that had no meaning. After my initial shock, I began to realize the scope of loss in not having a connection to “real” clocks – the metaphorical, spatial (and this, a future architect!), cosmological sense of clocks, not to mention their rich history, mechanical prowess and diverse artistic merit. There are worlds in clocks. Yes, they are timepieces (maybe in two senses now), but they have presence and placeness in their unique combination of form and function. They hum and tick and whirr as they loop around continuously in their circular pattern; some of them chime and please the listener.

Think about it, the friendly clocks in fairy tales or nursery rhymes as opposed to the ominous “24” digital bot interface. Oh sure, there are a few digital clocks in my life. It is hard to avoid their flat gaze. As long as the friendlier-faced clocks remain and tell more than just time, it makes the time ticking away more palatable and more tangible. Give me a pretty face any day. And the fact is, no matter how endearing they are, they are still constant reminders of the dwindling days, just as the hourglass showed us in The Wizard of Oz. There is no pretense in an attractive analog clock, just something more than a cold countdown. They represent the dance of time; instead, their digital conquistadors confer a flat and empty number sequence: an LCD display is removed from the patterns of time. Analog clocks still have that ancient connection to sundials and real time. Even if they don’t save us from the ravages, our time spent will be more engaging with an illusion of timelessness. Tick-tock.

 

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