A while ago I posted a snippet about how time seemed to change when in the company of very good friends.
Yesterday I noticed that there are some times of life when everything seems to go wrong all at once, for lots of people, who, in spite of their lack of connection to one another, all happen to have a connection to you. You then spend time supporting them. Time well spent, agreed, but seemingly a lot of it expended.
The last year has been a case in point. For no apparent reason, calamities seem to have piled up upon my nearest and dearest, leaving most people I know and love shuttling from one upheaval to the next, trailing varying degrees of panic and disorder. Fortunately none of these battles has been lost, but many are ongoing.
Upon further investigation, time is a funny thing. The specious present is the duration for which one’s observations are in the present. Time is a difficult thing for us to log as an experience, for it cannot be directly perceived and our interpretation of it is recompiled in our minds based on the events which have taken place.
Presumably this accounts for why summer holidays seemed to stretch on for so long as a young child – at that time, the six-week period represented a significant proportion of my life. As I grew older and had a larger frame of reference within which to work, a six-week period lost its size and proportionately shrunk, in keeping with amassed experience, therefore appearing increasingly shorter as the years went by.
I daresay this also had to do with cognition. When one is unable to conceive of ‘two weeks’ or ‘half an hour’, they can seem to stretch interminably or pass in a flash. A frame of reference is highly relevant to our experience of time. We make comparisons. We find patterns. We liken. And as we age, the range of our experience enables us to do this with increasing ease, perhaps voiding the novelty; stripping from us the innocence of originality.
But maybe this is not all. I should think a part of our brain keeps an eye on the time, whether willing it to pass in anticipation of some future event, or clocking it off as tasks are accomplished. Employers like to bandy around advice about time management and efficient uses of time. Tasks, once entered into, are entirely subjective and I daresay I’m not the only one who’s had the end of the day sneak up on them with lots still to do, nor the only person to find that 10 minutes cleaning seems to feel like a drawn-out effort.
One frequent task I had the chance to undertake in proximity to a clock was the washing up. Bored of retrieving cups, forks and pans from the depths of increasingly grubby water, I was astonished to find how slowly time passed. I was not careless in my task, yet it seemed simultaneously to take a forever and a half to accomplish, whilst mere minutes had blipped by on the microwave display.
Another peculiarity I’ve discovered is that night seems to pass differently to day. There is a time of night (usually from 11pm – 3am) where time slows right down. Talk becomes meaningful and the lateness of the hour elicits an intimacy which would not occur in daylight. Though the minutes pass unseen, each seems enriched somehow. Hours slip gently by, each cocooned with friendship, feeling warm and cosy.
The other time of night that passes differently is the time when you wake up, interrupted, and know that you have to be up in a few hours. Time speeds up then, and you can almost feel each fleeting minute of missed slumber as it streams away and the night hurtles recklessly towards the time when the alarm will go off and the sleep-fogged day begin.
Days do not seem to do this.
Unless you’re waiting for a time-specific event (a party, the end of the working day, tea break), in which case every minute can seem an hour long, days seem to ramble their way along in a far more regulated manner. Perhaps it is the interjections of daily rituals which give us a framework to operate within, leaving us little of the time-bendiness of night.
There comes a time, though, particularly when the daily rituals change little, when the days stack up and all of a sudden months have passed and you have little idea of how you got there or what occurred since you last stopped to take note. Other periods are sprinkled throughout with events which, like conkers on a forest floor, take you in memory from one to another to another, the following one glimmering in your mind’s eye as you work through your recollections of its predecessor.
Those with Space-Time synaesthesia experience time in manners which seem quite alien to me. Timelines, visual graphs, none of this I recognise. When I try to look back, I see in my mind’s eye something akin to a timeline of images of myself at different ages and visual memories which stand out in those periods. I couldn’t recall the specific age, but the pictures are there in my head, waiting.
When I imagine the future, it is purely scenario based. Again, pictures or ‘film clips’ of things I anticipate, would like to happen or would not like to happen are all there to be accessed, yet they float freely, not attached to any specific timing or framework cementing them relative to the now.
It is possible that individual perception of time is also attached to imaginative capabilities. I once read in a book of two possible states of catatonia; one, where the patient’s brain processed the now so slowly they were unable to move; the other where the patient’s mind was so busy considering everything from the impact of airborne particles on the skin to the processes of digestion to the exchange of gases in the alveoli that they too were rendered immobile. How must time have seemed to them?
Personal comfort probably also has an effect. I’ve head it said that an hour will pass more quickly when sat upon a cushion than five minutes sat upon a hot stove. Relaxation and the meeting of our basic needs, then, presumably have an influence on how we experience time.
Time is one of those things many people crave more of – more time to rest, more time to spend with family, more time to finish projects – and perhaps in some ways, it’s not so much about the quantity of time as it is the quality. In response to a complaint about not having enough time to herself, I saw a reply from an ‘agony aunt’ type (probably in a magazine) say that the writer should take just 10 minutes each day, even if it took an effort, because then at least some time would have been spent on personal nurturing and enrichment.
In short, if we use our time for acts we consider ‘quality’, perhaps we’ll feel we have more of it, because they will register more strongly than time spent on the unnecessary or the mundane. It’s worth a shot, at least, but have you got the time to try?
For your inspiration, from the filmmaker Vituc; The Pleasure Of