How landing a long-awaited dream job forced me to rethink—but not remake—my relationship with time.
Philosophers have been debating how we perceive time since Socrates, and it seems to me that they’ve only come to the not-so-startling conclusion that the human sense of time is subjective and variable. Modern psychologists, neuroscientists, and physicists have weighed in as well. Wikipedia, too. According to its entry on Time Perception, which I checked when I found out I got the job,* there are four types of personalities: Organizers are achievers who are highly aware of time; crammers are similar, except they procrastinate; relators have “low time urgency” and are more in the present; and visioners also pay little attention to time, although they do have future goals. After reading up on this—and going off to daydream for awhile—I decided I was a hybrid organizer and visioner. And therein lies my problem: I am highly aware of the general presence of time at the exact same time I want to free-flow through it.
Most of us feel like Odysseus resisting the sirens at some point. We fight the luring call of something in order to stay true to ourselves. This can be exhausting, as our culture is built around schedules and times. Bells ring at a certain hour. Breakfast is served from 7 to 9 a.m. And as a writer, I’m forever trying to meet deadlines.
Still, I struggle. I can stare out windows, then furiously write, then walk, all for lengthy periods of time, and all in a meandering fervor. I like hanging out with my brain and listening to it yammer. As Thoreau wrote, “Nothing was ever so unfamiliar and startling to me as my own thoughts.” Not that my thoughts are brilliant, but they do keep me occupied. Stopping to consider how this one particular meadowlark has a wacko song; or realizing what I’m hearing is the first canyon wren of the year; or lying outside on my yoga mat and staring at clouds, then jumping up to clean house, grade papers, or realize that I’m hungry and I’ve forgotten to eat—all while listening to my brain reflect on all this input. These are things I enjoy, the things that make me me.
Of all the siren calls we hear, the one that asks us to keep checking our watches and to be aware of time is the one I’ve avoided most consciously. I’ve protected my relationship with time like a mama bear protects her cubs. The list of things to which I’ll give my time is short: My family. My friends. My planet. My politics. My appointments. (Despite what I’ve just said, I hate being late to anything.) And now, my students.
This idea—of having my teeth brushed, and my hair more or less done (good thing I go for the windblown natural look), wearing a clean shirt, standing before 25 students from exactly 9:30 to 10:45; from 11:00 to 12:15; from 12:30 to 1:15, and so on—freaks me out. I haven’t led this kind of life since college, and part of me is hoping the cellular memory of those years will kick in to steer me through it.