It’s not only that time goes by so quickly or our attention spans are low. It’s context. Within a two-week period, we jump from a summer state-of-mind to fall just because Costco decides it’s time to sell Halloween stuff right after 4th of July. I see Halloween orange and black, and I immediately think Thanksgiving, because, pumpkin-overlap. From there, turkey-overlap, and my mind leaps to Christmas, New Year’s, crumpled party hats and depressing tree corpses.
Thanks Costco, you just stole six months of my life.
It’s partially retail’s fault that as a grown-up, each year seems to move faster than the last until every year feels like six months. Think about it, you didn’t have a Costco membership when you were a kid and your childhood seemed eternal when you were eight.
When my favorite cable shows return in a timely manner, such as new episodes of Homeland happening this fall, I panic because it feels like I just got through last season, watching in real-time as it aired. I have distinct sense memory of facing the TV while both loving and hating being squeezed bone-to-bone next to my man on our replica Eames chair. I may even still have a bruise healing on my hipbone from being pressed to his. If time moved as slowly as my skin heals, I’d still be twelve. But no, time moves at the speed of Costco.
Linear time is unnerving because it has “passing” built into it. It quite literally means we’re passing through our life. The movement of time equals growing old, and we all not-so-secretly consider that a punishment. It’s like we’re edging towards our execution for a crime we didn’t commit. Yeah, it’s dark. Time sucks.
Of course, we know that time doesn’t actually move. It doesn’t have velocity any more than it has wheels or wings. But everything we do assigns motion to it. We give it numbers and look at clocks all day to figure out where it’s moved. When we don’t have a watch or phone with us, time feels different. We can’t measure its so-called movement, so one hour can feel like two. At a place like work, that’s a literal drag. But in your garden, sipping a gimlet while your kids play pirate on the lawn? You’ve effectively doubled time.
We set our own arbitrary markers to delineate time, just like hours on a clock. For me, it’s TV show seasons. As frustrating as it was to wait three or so years for say, Sopranos, it had a way of slowing down time.
Whether the clock says two or you feel like it’s three p.m., how we perceive time is always subjective. A 90-second roller-coaster ride might be disappointing because it feels short, but waiting outside someone’s door for a minute and half once you’ve rung the bell will seriously make you resent them.
You might argue that as units of measurement, minutes and hours are absolute. Not so. Forget about space and head-exploding relativity. An hour on a plane is not the same as an hour in Texas. The difference is fractional, granted, and up for scientific debate whether it moves slower on a plane because of time dilation, or faster because of distance from gravitational pull. But back here on earth, there’s no debate that Costco is the culprit for speeding up seasons.
It’s up to us to slow it back down.
Punctual people never understand the problem of those who are chronically late. They don’t get that the same way you can’t expect an addict to simply “stop,” you can’t expect a chronic latecomer to magically become punctual. I know this for a reason: I’m always late. I tend to miscalculate how long things take and find it impossible to tear myself away from whatever I’m doing. So five minutes before it’s time to get ready, I expect to cram in twenty minutes’ worth of work. Every single time.
I can tell you that lucidly right now, but tomorrow when I should be jumping in the shower, I’ll have it in my head that I can stretch five minutes into twenty. It’s a delusion that resets itself daily, and sure enough, “twenty minutes worth of five” ends up being twenty — sometimes thirty — minutes. While I’ll have gained or “stretched” time for myself, the extra minutes are stolen from the person who’s been waiting for me. Racked with guilt, I’ll skip the shower, drive like I’m in a car chase and spend lunch ducking under the table to escape the poisoned spears shooting out of their eyes.
That’s not what I mean when I say I figured out how to slow down time.
I’m talking about avoiding as much as possible, the markers that psychologically speed up time for us, like a rack of toddler gladiator costumes in July under a “Trick or Treat” poster. Stores extend their holiday retail season by starting it four months early. Meanwhile they rob us of summer by changing the context to a different season, which is no different that me extending my five minutes by stealing twenty from my friend.
Holidays — at their actual time — are guideposts throughout the school year that break time into short chunks as it is. Sure, it’s great when you’re in grade school and a year is one-sixth of your life. It makes school tolerable. But when a year is one-thirtieth of your life, chill the fuck out Costco, nobody needs you to start winter in July.
How do you cheat time?
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