Monday, July 1, 2013

Time Elasticity

Several lifetimes ago, (as measured by career shifts and ex-husbands), I spent six years working for a manufacturer of timekeeping, fire detection and nurse call systems. That stretch of time included a divorce, moving twice, finishing an MBA and ultimately leaving the company. Sometimes it felt like forever, but in retrospect it now seems more like a lightning flash.

The first week of time clock company employment included “orientation” -- a professionally produced company video which my boss told me was narrated by the same narrator for the PBS show Nova. I learned about company projects such as an underground school system and the monitoring grid over a massive sports stadium with water cannons that would rise from the stands and extinguish a fire detected by the system.

The time systems product line included school clocks and the dreaded time clock punched by hourly workers everywhere. Remember in school when it seemed that time stopped dead and the sweep hand just twitched on the clock for what seemed like forever? I do. I’d be glaring at that thing, willing it to move and tick off the minutes until I could move onto more interesting things like ballet class, public library meetings with my co-worker/sort-of boyfriend from the catholic high school across town, or Espresso’s for a slice of fifty-cent pizza before the one-mile walk home from high school. Let me point out, that yes, I am wicked old, and back in the 1970s, we really DID walk to and from school, and slabs of pizza could be procured for a mere fifty cents. There was no soccer-mom-SUV-caravan picking up schoolchildren -- we either took the bus or oh-em-gee -- walked. These were the dark ages when super-sized fast food was a special occasion treat and not a dietary mainstay, homemade family dinners at the table were the norm, and genetically modified food was the stuff of science fiction. All that walking and now-miniature-by-comparison nutritious food portions meant few schoolchildren were overweight, but I digress and that is a rant for another day.

Back to the twitching clock. In company orientation, I learned that yes, the clocks of my school days HAD indeed stopped momentarily, not to punish the suffering student body, but to self-correct to the exact time transmitted via some magical beam in the western United States that allows timekeeping systems to synchronize. It was a relief to realize the clock really did pause and it wasn’t a trick of my imagination.

During my years toiling in the treasury group at the time clock company, I moved money between banks to cover accounts payable, multiple payrolls, investments and loans. The routine at my desk was dictated by the clock and included multiple daily deadlines -- daily cash reports due to the executive suite by 9:00, account balance pulls and initial daily cash needs from payables and payroll at 10:00, loan or investment calls by 12:00 and 2:00, and final daily updates by 3:00. There were points in the day when I could not leave my desk for fear of missing a deadline, no matter how urgent the need to use the loo. There were times in the month, quarter, and year where the volume of reports and analyses made breathing feel like a luxury. To balance it all, there were also spells of mind-numbing emptiness of time.

During the time at the producer of master timekeeping systems, my concept of a Master Timekeeper living somewhere up in the clouds developed. Just to screw with the humans, he (yes, in my head it was a male, nonhuman entity with a sense of humor) would cause time to speed up or slow down, for his own amusement. This is why two weekend days never feel as long as a single Monday at work, and why an entire vacation week feels about as long as any one workday.  It’s why waiting alone in a bar for someone who is tardy feels as long as an eight hour factory shift and why a night of laughter with friends passes by in what feels like a second. It’s the Master Timekeeper messing around.

During a recent weeklong vacation at a rented beach house in southern Maine with no wi fi, no computer, and no schedule, the elasticity of time was felt. The first full day at the beach house, my oldest niece and I went to the beach. We walked to the beach from the house, and once at the beach, we walked in the shallow water for a while then laid in the sun on a blanket. After our very luxurious spell in the golden sun where time felt like it was suspended in honey, we were ready to head back to the house. A check of the clock shocked us with the information we had been at the beach for a mere twenty minutes. It was weird. I’m pretty sure it was my Master Timekeeper at play, but it worked in our favor, so there were no complaints, just wonderment. 

There were other time surprises during the week. Being awakened by the rising sun at 5:40 and being up and out of bed at 6 or 7 am (thanks to an overly eager dog) was pleasing to me and a nightmare for  my teenaged niece roommate. Morning and evening walks with the dogs that felt like ten minutes but were more like forty-five proved that the ocean as a destination is infinitely more fun than aimlessly walking around your own boring hometown neighborhood for the millionth time. A couple hours spent waiting for high tide to recede and reveal a bit of actual beach passes quickly when the kids are playing pool and there are books and lunch to be enjoyed. Conversely, sitting around after lunch for ninety minutes awaiting the completion of someone who shall remain unnamed’s laundry so six of us could go someplace felt like damn near forever. When we finally headed out and it began to drizzle just as we were leaving for Fort McClary followed by “the world’s smallest suspension bridge,” the angry voice in my head was screaming that “I’ll never get that hour and a half of wasted vacation laundry time back!”

The return to “normal life” at home where time is dominated by my job of looking for a job has been a bit of a letdown. During vacation, the pace was slow, leisurely and luxurious, but upon reflection during the first few days back home, the week feels like it sped by. The normal frustration of not knowing how much longer it will take to find a job is at least as aggravating as the months already spent searching. The fear of spending money to do things for which there is presently ample time (like a gym membership, travel or education) will someday be replaced by anger at not having done them when I am finally employed and looking back at six or nine or 12 months of unemployment with no accomplishments. And someday, it will all seem less significant. It’s just a matter of time.


  1. You are awesome! Thanks for a cute read on a rainy Monday afternoon!