I Figured Out How to Slow Down Time

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Linear time is unnerving because it has “passing” built into it.

                                                                                                                                                       
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, 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.
 

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18 comments

  1. I’m often reminded how the fast pace of our lives is a direct influence of where we live. The slower daily pace of many European locales is described to me and I’m jealous. I’m okay living my life riding the inexorable tide of time but I’m not a fan of the water-slide speed to which much of the US is tuned.

    1. I will tell you this, it’s actually become alarming, my personal relationship with time. I move at such a slow pace in my head that some sort of haze is created around me. In it, an entire month goes by and I come back here thinking I just posted this. I’m not really exaggerating.

  2. OMG, my folks had an Eames chair growing up. My mom would fall asleep in it. I think it lasted 40+ years to boot. Now you just made me time travel………..thank you!

    1. I gave it away to my little brother, to the chagrin of my boyfriend. (It had tears in the arms and they depressed me.) I like time travel. Thanks for joining me!

  3. It’s amazing how much time “speeds up” the more we age, and I do think it is because of some mindfulness of where we are on the lifeline.

    And I suffer from chronic lateness as well. Sometimes it’s being overly ambitious, and sometimes it’s just being highly distractible.

    1. Yeah, you and I are not the first to feel the “speed” of time as we age. It’s uncanny. No matter how many times we approach the explanation from a logical standpoint!

      Those both apply to me too when it comes to lateness: ambitious + distractible

  4. I love your perspective on this! I used to work in retail and I absolutely hated this time of year!!! It made me sick to go into work and see all of the decorations and listen to the crappy music so far in advance though I have to look back at that time and laugh. It barely touches me now, I am an excellent avoider. We got rid of cable, so no commercials. I don’t have kids yet, so no reminders there. I never go to the mall, mainly because ours is in foreclosure and there’s nothing worth going for. The closest I get is the grocery store, no Costco membership in our house.

    Unfortunately, I still feel the push and pull of time, whether it has velocity or not. In the moments you want time to fly, it drags. The rare moments of bliss that you wish would last just a few more minutes, are over before you can blink. I’m how old now?! [Insert bug-eyed emoji here] I thought I’d have kids by now and own my first home, I thought… Well, time didn’t think so now did it?!

    Sorry, I got to rambling a bit here! Really enjoyed this post, excellent writing!

    1. Hello!

      I’m suddenly seeing you everywhere, so imagine my delight to find you in my comments. I know I’m several weeks late in responding, but at least it’s apropos to the post… (Can we at least pretend?)

      I don’t have kids either, but if I did, it would be even harder because they grow up so scary fast!

      You call it “rambling,” I call it a great share, because I feel you through and through. And that’s me being someone who didn’t have plans about a first house or kids — I honestly don’t know how I would cope if I did. I can get away with calling myself a “late bloomer” only so much. I do know that once I stopped hiding my age, it made things easier. Although I’m still not anxious to put it on record here.

      Thanks for reading and your wonderful words.

  5. Yeeeeah I blame Costco, too! It’s not time to think about Halloween until October 1, and it’s not time to think about Christmas until either the day after Thanksgiving, the first day of Advent, or December 1 (my open-mindedness finds its limits here).
    Two things: I’ve heard that optimistic people are more likely to be chronically late, partially because they believe in their own power to complete so many things in a short amount of time. So at least tardiness is possibly caused by a good thing?
    Second, I’ve heard the best way to slow down time is to do novel things. The only problem is we tend to fall into ruts, don’t we? Hard to be novel all the time.
    I blame Costco, optimism, and human nature for all of this!!!

    1. I’ve definitely heard about the eternal optimism of the chronically late, but trying novel things to slow down time is a first. It’s great all-around advice, and more reason to live better.

  6. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t love anything more about you, I think you’re my soul mate (plus I’m always late so we’d expect it from each other). You’re brilliant. You’re writing is superb. And yeah, Costco can suck it (plus who needs $300 worth of almonds?)

    1. Hello Soul Mate,

      Can you believe I’m a month late responding to this? Yes, you can. Hence, soul mate.

      Thank you so much for these lovely words!

      And absolutely, no decent human being should possess that many almonds at the same time.

  7. This is awesome. I have developed such an uneasy relationship with time..

    1. Mine is getting worse. It’s a problem.

  8. Eek…it all goes too fast. I have a friend who is chronically late. I’ve decided to call it charming…and always tell her to arrive 20 minutes before she needs to.

    1. Haha, has she figured it out?

      1. She has, but amusingly she falls for it regularly.

      2. That is amusing. The problem with me is, sometimes I wonder if people are telling me the wrong time, which paradoxically makes me take another extra twenty minutes. Not consciously — these reflections happen afterwards.

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