Monday, April 04, 2005

Why do I wear a watch?

There was a time, not quite twenty years ago, when I did not own a watch. There was a clock in the bedroom, and there was a clock in the kitchen. (The one on the stove didn't count because we never bothered to set it.) The clock in the bedroom had an alarm; after all, the husband had to charge off to work for ten hours, and the daughter had to get to school on time. But the alarm rarely woke me up -- it was the desire for the first cigarette of the day that got me downstairs. Once the Other People were out the door, time was irrelevant. I got done what I thought needed to get done when it got done.

I ate when I got hungry. I napped when I felt drowsy. I worked obsessively on writing religious education courses until I was tired, and then switched to reading, reading, reading or went out to the garden and dug until I was exhausted.

The light of day was my "clock" -- at such and such time of the year, when the dark was falling, it was time to make some supper; the slippage down the sky by the sun might be an indication that it was time to welcome the daughter home from school.

Tortilla dough, once mixed, needed to "rest" -- the amount of time it took to enjoy a Pepsi and a cigarette. Bedtime was when I had read enough to feel as though my brain was "full." The dog had to be let out when he decided he needed to be let out and the cats didn't give a damn. Things were done when they had to be, and they were completed when they were, not by a deadline.

Although I still cook like that (my recipes don't usually have hard and fast measurements and they're done when they're "done") when I came to California to stay, in 1988, a watch grew onto my left wrist.

Suddenly, working 60 - 80 hours a week made every damn second matter. There were people to interview, consultations to schedule, seminars to plan. I wanted to be available to all my teachers -- but with so many of them, I had to limit the time spent with each, and started wearing a watch, wearing it with the face on my pulse point, so that with hands folded neutrally on the table before me, I could still see the time at a glance, to know when to wrap up without rudely looking at the back of my hand. My daily work log was an hour-by-hour notebook, and I savagely made every minute count. By the end of my sojourn in that job, I was down to 40 hours a week, even though my responsibilities had tripled. The watch embedded itself into my subconscious habit, and governed my every step.

If someone asks me what I'm up to for the day, I automatically look at my watch. The time on the face of the watch still determines what I'm supposed to be doing, even though I retired about four years ago. I don't have to get up at a special time, I don't have to go to bed by a certain hour; the only appointments I have are dentist-related. Yet I check my watch every few minutes to see what I think I ought to be doing.

Seasons are changing, and what can be done at whatever time of day should change, too. I don't have to go for a morning walk at 8:15 exactly; and who cares if I go to bed at nine or at midnight? All these years later, I think I'm ready to remove the watch from my arm, and at least put it in a pocket. The other day I was working on a drawing, and while I was enjoying the flow of creativity, I was still keeping an eye on the watch to keep track of time -- because we were to visit friends the next day and so I needed to dye my hair that evening and so I had to allow at least this much time for the procedure and I would have to get up early the next morning to put the finish coat on the painting and allow at least two hours for ...

Sorry, this is crap. The idea that it all had to be done by a particular hour is habitual, not factual. I think in terms of a schedule because I'm accustomed to thinking that way. But I don't believe that is really the way we were intended to live. That we have to do so, at times in our lives, I don't deny. Nevertheless, I'm past that time now.

I think this is one more habit I want to kick.

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