This week not only begins Daylight Saving Time, but also marks one year since a lot of the world shut down due to COVID lockdowns. We were hopeful it would only be a few weeks and then blow over, but we all know how that went.
My preoccupation with time on unSouthern this week is not even close to being original. It seems every other social media post and news story is either about what we were doing or saying one year ago as we entered the unknown of a pandemic standstill, how that year went, or how much more time it will last. And a lot of the other stories and posts this past week discuss Daylight Saving Time.
One “timeless” topic, though, is the assertion that time is merely a social construct. I based a lot of my position piece from Monday on that very assertion. Slate, the same day, ran an interview with Jay Tea, a standard time activist, who right off the bat takes issue with that position: “A lot of people say time is a social construct. That’s not true. There is an actual objective meaning to time. Noon is supposed to be when the sun is halfway across the sky at its highest, most southerly point. But with daylight saving time, we just completely obliterate the connection to nature.”
That’s a fair point, and my intent is not to argue with it, or really any of his points, which are well-taken. Disruption of the circadian rhythm can lead to disorientation, health issues, and additional consumption of natural resources. Asking people to abruptly begin to carry out their daily routines an hour earlier can and will have those effects.
Before this becomes another post on the exact same topic, though, let’s shift gears. What has your experience been of the past twelve months? The common answer I read and hear is that it felt like ten years and one really long day, all at the same time. The compartmentalization of time, as spent in distinct spaces at different times of the day, week, month, and year, all help us mark and measure time in ways that feel mentally consistent.
My personal routine was that I woke up at home, commuted the better part of an hour to work, which was a tall office building with lots of other professionals halfway across town, where I soaked in that environment until 6pm or later each day. Then I would commute back home and spend the evening relaxing and procrastinating about writing. On Thursdays, I would treat myself to dinner out and an evening at Starbucks, where I would read, relax, or just sit absently, think, and people watch. Saturdays and Sundays were for sleeping in, shopping, and catching up with friends and loved ones.
More often than not, I would plan a trip toward the end of the month. Holidays meant specific types of celebrations in specific settings.
Each day, week, month, and year worked in an internally consistent flow, and I figured out how time worked in my life. Then COVID hit, and all of my routines were impacted. For a couple of months, the entire set of routines collapsed, as it did for many of us. Everything was reduced to hunkering down and riding out the lockdown.
Then, around May, there was rumbling about a “new normal” that replaced the prior concept of a temporary lockdown. I ventured out to the grocery store and started riding public transportation, all while observing mask-wearing and social distancing precautions. In a remarkable stroke of luck, I was under contract to buy a condo as a secondary residence when the lockdown began, and by May there was enough furniture there for me to begin working remotely, so I “commuted to the office” each day to stand in for my prior routine. I got to leave the house! Every day!
Holidays came and went with scaled-down or nonexistent guest lists. I took shadows of vacations, venturing a few miles from home and staying in nearby hotels for two or three nights, to experience being somewhere else and to break up the routine.
All these things helped, to be sure. But they weren’t the bold, bright lines I used before to mark my time. They were grey, dotted lines. “Going to the office” where your only live contact is with a cat (even a beautiful, precious kitty like Mr. Amir) is not the same as going to a busy office with dozens of coworkers. Staying at a Hampton Inn near Cumberland Mall is cute, but it’s not a real vacation when you live 10 miles away.
And then some things couldn’t be faked. The Starbucks Thursday was probably my most cherished personal routine. Being in a public place where it’s not weird or awkward to stay put for three hours is golden for me. I love being around people, out in the world, without the expectation of being sociable with them. Starbucks is the dream hangout for a conflicted introvert.
So while I created some separation in my world, my sense of time over the past year was the same amorphous blob I’ve heard others describe–mostly one long stretch of disconnection, with blips of normality around the edges. I see the lockdown as more disruptive than DST, which after all, is at least consistent in its semi-annual disruption.
Time is a highly personal experience, which is why I believe it’s way more than a scientific marker in the sky. Multiple layers of factors sway the way we “feel” time, and a number of them don’t involve circadian rhythms. For me, I have never paid enough attention to the cadence of our world to feel slighted by DST, so maybe my conciliatory attitude toward its unpleasant jolt has much to do with my disconnect with nature.
A disconnect with nature is one of the most unSouthern topics I can think of. Remind me to tell you more about it in the next post.