The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has shifted concepts of time for many of us as we negotiate much less freedom within time as well as, paradoxically, more actual physical time. The lines between work and home are now fully obscured for many in a way that was unthinkable even eighteen (18) months ago. For many, key life moments that are, socially and culturally, tied to an age or a section of a decade, are seen as lost. Also, for many, key life moments that are tied to biology are also being lost.
Society tells us what a decade is for, what a week feels like and how it’s meant to be structured as well as what a day feels like, even down to how individual hours are meant to be experienced. If I asked you how you were “supposed” to be feeling and doing at 7am on a Monday and at 7pm on a Friday I imagine many of you would answer the same: tired and grumpy, sugar and alcohol crashing, fed up at the idea of work or the school run for Monday and drinking, entertaining, out, hyper and high or flopped in front of TV with take out and drinks on a Friday.
The modern work (and education) week dictates many of these feelings and that has its roots in the near two hundred year old industrial revolution. The clock itself, whilst around since people were with sundials and water clocks, only became really important to life as companies began to produce things to a schedule.
The relentless downwards pressure on wages, the sucking upward of wealth by, and for, the few, means that most people now work harder to get less. And, as we work harder and feel more tired and more stressed, we also feel more angry / anxious. We then consume more, act out more, retreat more, create less, love less, are less… we cannot help but be. Empty people cannot give. They try but it is a grey ashy love that sustains no-one and hollows out even further those that try. There is much to be gained by capitalism and corporations, as well as political systems, if we’re too burned out to protest or address inequalities, if we are so exhausted that we perpetuate the systems that suit them. The carrot of a Friday night is dangled in front of us all week, the stick of a Wednesday morning used to control and manage us.
Who buys more stuff, eats more, drinks more and consumes more passively? Tired, stressed and emotionally worn down people.
There are also bio, psycho, social and cultural elements at play here. We’re told that we feel a certain way in our teens, in our twenties (20s) when, in truth, we feel all the ways then as we do in our thirties (30s), forties (40s), fifties (50s) and beyond. All the feelings can and do happen all the way across a lifetime: sadness, happiness, loneliness, anxiety, anger, excitement, lust, love, desire, envy, joy and creativity. You can enjoy a festival at twenty-five (25) or sixty-five (65) and you can enjoy sex at eighty-six (86) as much as you do at twenty-six (26). You can be wise or lonely at twenty (20) as much as at seventy (70). Whilst there may be some (challenging to navigate) physical limitations on what we can feel and do at certain ages, there’s no age limit to what we can feel, know or learn.
We are often told that we do not change, cannot change or SHOULD NOT change as we age. That gender, sexuality and relationship styles are fixed when, in reality, they shift in elaborate configurations* over the life course. Instead, we’re told that these things about our selves are fixed and that, whilst there might be times when change is possible/allowed (read: socially acceptable) most of the time you are in the wrong to attempt it. And, all too often, the social and personal penalties and risks that come with change seem too high even to the bravest. Consider what changes you might make if you weren’t feeling fearful, reflect upon what you think stays fixed about a person and whether that’s really true of everyone you know and why that might be? What do you still dream you might be, regardless of your age?
Everyone’s experience of life is diminished if we bracket certain experiences and feelings into certain years or decades.
Society limits us and those who came before us, the people in their seventies (70s), eighties (80s) and beyond now, were even more limited than we are. Society also limits people based on systemic oppression, such as racism, classism, sexism and ageism. Society plays a part in distracting us by celebrating and elevating SOME of us when they are young (usually because they look or behave in certain accepted ways) and by fetishising characteristics over which most people have little choice or control. The paradox is that it then sets these favoured people up to fear the inevitable changes even more. Society also criticises, just plain ignores or even tries to destroy those who will not conform, who will not be silenced.
Too many individuals, using their fear as a weapon and aiming it outwards, echo these rigid social paradigms by rejecting or stigmatising those who choose to live in ways other than they do. Too many others take that fear and turn it inwards as shame, guilt and blame. So much of how we use our time and how we feel about time is rooted in the should-ness of time: how we feel time and moments in our decades, weeks and days SHOULD look. If we liberate ourselves from that we can begin to create space to see what we need in the now and to make changes and take actions that can help shape a future where we have a life that looks like the one we need rather the one we desire or think we should desire.
Current shifts in our culture such as intuitive eating, somatic therapy and bodywork as well as practices such as conscious self-care are all part of a growing awareness of the need to tune in to what we need in the now, to meet ourselves where we are and to accept and, then be able to embrace that self as they are. Interestingly, even something like streaming has caused a shift. There’s now a chance to watch an inspiring nature documentary or a soothing period drama any time and not just on Sunday evenings, the time when these things are usually scheduled as a way to ease you into the week. In the same way, we can get a hit of drama and excitement at any time now and not just on a Friday or a Saturday.
Even the TV schedules mimic the capitalism informed emotional rollercoaster of the work week with soothing dramas usually scheduled on Sundays, thrillers to pep you up on a mid-week Wednesday, humour and excitement to go with your drinks and take away on a Friday and Saturday. Streaming has changed that.
I suggest we make the time to tune into the ways in which society robs too many of us of the right just to feel how we feel in any given moment in time. Because of intergenerational as well as cultural, gender and racial trauma, too many of us don’t even know how we feel – we only know how we are told that we should feel. I suggest we reflect upon, and discuss with those who we trust, the ways in which our relationship to time and self is shaped by the forces around us.
We can break time down into some different types. There is creative/play time (anything you do by yourself or with others for joy and fun), rest time (gentle movement or consciously chosen relaxation, as well as sleep) , movement time (in nature and/or inside), paid/task work time (the work to get things done, practical goals achieved and/or bills paid), pleasure/receptive time (e.g meditation, day-dreaming time, walking, sex or physical intimacy)
When we look at time in this way, how does the week look? How do our days look? Where is there an imbalance? And what might help resolve that?
It’s also valuable to think about how we might mix these types of activities and times up so that we can experience a non-binary blend. For example, noticing our body, breath and thoughts during food prep or household chores or taking a moment in paid work time to meditate or stretch? How might a task also be creative or restful? Maybe you could use a service kink to get the housework done or pop a plug or toy in your body while you work? 😉
Not all of us have the same ability to choose how we spend and feel into our time. Time intersects with class and race and age. We can, if we have the energy and resources, support those who we know that need the gift of time and we can look into, and support, campaigns such as Strike Debt (time is money after all), Universal Basic Income/Universal Basic Services and the 4-day week. On an individual level, if we create the space to consider how we think about time, how we use and feel into it, at the level of decades, weeks and days, then that personal sparking of energy and authenticity can help light up the world for everyone.
Just Eat It – Laura Thomas, PhD
Gender Trauma – Alex Iantaffi
Bullshit Jobs – David Graeber
Life Isn’t Binary – Meg-John Barker and Alex Iantaffi
*Sexual configuration theory a zine and workbook – https://www.rewriting-the-rules.com/sex/new-zine-mapping-your-sexuality/