Meditation on the passage of time. And the vehicle is unemployment: I look at time differently when I’m not working. An hour that you’re not paid for passes at the same chronological speed as one you are paid for, but they have distinct and separate feelings associated. There’s always this pressure to be doing something, baking a pie or cleaning the closet or facing the want-ads, again; it’s like there’s no free time when there’s also no paid time.
Today was a “good” day of unemployment; I got up early, went to the free yoga class in town, came back home to look through Craig’s list for apartments, answered a slew of emails, did some laundry, wrote for a while, cleaned the litter-box and listened to NPR. A bad unemployed day, however, involves only one or fewer or these productive activities; sometimes I can redeem it by working on a painting or writing a letter in the evening; anything creative, no matter how small, that’s born at any point of the day makes me feel whole again. A really bad day involves nothing creative, and far too much espresso fueled Nintendo.
Another thing that makes unemployment stressful: there’s all this damn pressure to be employed! Not just financially, this is obvious, but a societal sort of pressure. “What is it you do? For how long?” And even knowing that people you don’t even know think you’re a slacker; this is hard for me. I’ve been working pretty much all the time since I was eleven; I’ve been out of grad school, and thus, out of a “job”, for six months. I have created a series of daily and weekly activities that give my time some kind of structure, and I constantly am searching out new free activities…but still there’s this awful voice in my head repeating “You’ve got no job, you’re a burden on society, go wander off into the woods stoically.” If I did have a job though, the voice would still be there, just saying something else, something like, “You’ve got a master’s degree and you’re making minimum wage?”
So, back to time, the ostensible topic of this tirade. Outside the apartment, I hear a young crow cawing. How does he experience time? When his mother leaves the nest, does he know if she’ll be gone for an hour, or a whole day? Can he tell the difference? Does time move faster for birds, as their life is shorter than humans’, and in one season they’re born, learn to hunt and fly, and leave their parents? And what about animals on the other end of the dial; giant sea turtles can live for three hundred years. Couple this with life in a cyclical world, the ocean, and what sort of chronology is created?
In the 1960’s and 70’s, there were a series of time experiments performed somewhere in the U.S. by a French scientist. He and other volunteers would spend months down in a cave, reading by flashlight, taking notes, and calling up to the researchers on the surface with a special phone. The resulting experience of time was remarkable; the people underground (always isolated, always cut off from outside communication) were keeping their own calendars, marking off days. They would mark off days from June 1 for say, six weeks; then they’d find what they had assumed was July 10 was actually August first. Without the diurnal metronome of night and day, time slowed down.
Sometimes my days (especially when I don’t go outside) feel like this; arbitrarily, indeterminately long. But I’m working very hard on appreciating this extra time; there may be some giant creative animal waiting for the right time to show me its face. Until then, I’ll strive for yoga and exotic baked goods over MarioKart and flagellation.