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The Way I See It: The Rubber of Time Meets the Road

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By Rickey Gard Diamond

I have never been a good clock-watcher. Back in pre-COVID times, my clever husband used to exaggerate the timing of movies or restaurant reservations, too familiar with my habit of leaving the house 30 seconds before I’m due for an appointment. He has waited for me with the car running so often, I’m afraid both our carbon footprints have been enlarged.

All that has changed now, of course. Trips and appointments seldom happen, the usual landmarks in short supply out the car window, replaced by the continually changing landscape of the internet, which further destabilizes.

A turtle in a world of fast-moving hares, I have always had trouble keeping pace. My grandfather’s childhood nickname for me was The Great Pa-Diddler. I liked to study things. I liked to crouch and peer at things like anthills and sandburs tangling my shoelaces. But these days, like many of us trapped indoors by the pandemic, largely living remotely, I peer at my monitor. The astonishing number of emails in my digital inbox has multiplied time’s elastic qualities, and I find I’m not alone in being mystified.

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Scientific American reports time distortions are common now from our being locked down, and researchers are busy noticing. Why? Because rubbery time perceptions may indicate a disintegration of one’s mental health. Especially if you’re having trouble sleeping. Are you?

While awake, time may fly by past mealtime, days vanish into night, weekdays skip by without stopping to identify themselves. Those familiar mileposts of weekends rarely appear. Sometimes the hours drag, and my eyelids grow heavy. Other times it’s a lost weekend, only it isn’t the weekend, it’s a blur. It’s Thursday.

Emails and podcasts and Zoom-ification proliferates, television becomes a vacuous lifeline, a welcomed distraction of visits to the Bronx Zoo on Animal Planet or remodeling a Mississippi hometown on House & Garden. Here at our house, we’re rationing our intake of news, as it can often lead to my shouting at people on screen, deploring in long speeches the state of the union, and leading to a dour crankiness hard to shake.

We’ve been so thoroughly locked down at our house that meeting a neighbor near the mailboxes, talking through masks, is a thrill. Isn’t it amazing the way eyes can smile? You can see it if you look for it. Outdoors, the birds sing more beautifully too, I notice, probably because they have no elections.

In all of this I am lucky to be here in a state where our governor is not a stupid dolt, where most people keep their distance but wave and wear their masks. I trust most Vermonters are washing their hands, too, and often did even before the pandemic. But I am most fortunate in my companion, who allows my bad behavior on occasion, a favor extended to him as well. We agree that our mothers would be mortified sometimes by the state of our kitchen.

Is there an end to this?

Not knowing, not seeing the horizon, or a lighter rim of sky with a rising sun, could be shaping a large part of this rubbery time perception just now. It’s like those old familiar cartoons of someone deserted on a tiny island in the middle of an ocean — only what exactly is the punch line? Hey, do you see a shark fin circling in the water over there? Coconuts, anyone?

Rickey Gard Diamond is a columnist for Ms. Magazine and editor/co-publisher at Rootstock Publishing. Her most recent book, “Screwnomics: How the Economy Works Against Women and Real Ways to Make Lasting Change,” was a 2019 Independent Book Publishers award-winner.