In March 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic began to press on our lives and many of us, the lucky ones could retreat to homes and yet continue to fulfill work responsibilities. Everyone experienced time anew, and I think those cloistered, Working-From-Home few especially. Or, perhaps it would be better to say we lost time or track of time. It certainly existed — our clocks still spun — but the experience of time changed its flavor.
What is a weekend, if the work week ends up feeling the same? By the beginning of summer I found the slide from Sunday to Monday moved without signposts or notices. Faint new clues determine the day of the week. My weekly vitamin treasure chest, for example, with its seven little boxes aligned with trap doors, give me a clue: S, M, T, W, T, F, S. If I open the W, I think to myself, it must be Wednesday. That’s the method my father used, I think, to keep track of the days in his final years.
This slippage of time’s barriers is more disturbing and prevalent than you’d think.
BBC’s “The Life Project” explored the German notion of Feierabend — a clear cut of the workday yielding to an evening of other personal activities. Pandemic-enforced “WFH” muddled the mundane tricks and rituals that many Americans used to make the break from work, namely, the car commute home from work.
The Beeb elaborated on the issue: “For workers struggling to adapt to remote work – and as many freelancers well know – one of the largest issues with the shift is that there’s no clear end to the workday. Even if you work abnormal hours due to other demands in your life or personal preference, remote working makes it easy to put in more hours than you should. Many Germans would argue that a clean disconnection is needed — and that’s where Feierabend can help.”
Feierabend is a marker, a habit engrained in a particularly hard-working society that helps people gauge time and set pace. Feierabend might improve worker productivity, but it certainly provides people with a measure of life that they control and can shape.
Or you could look at it this way,” my wife told me as she was thinking about isolation and lockdown during the pandemic. “You can think about it as practice for when you retire.”
A dreadful thought.
My wife’s view of the transition to retirement heavily weighted the change of a perception of time. It’s no mystery. My father joked that the only thing he regretted in his retirement — which he began in his mid-fifties — was that “you lose your weekends.” They simply mush into weekdays. The Covid-19 pandemic accomplished much the same for people who could work from home.
For time and pace, which is a measure of our feeling for the passage of time, I hope to explore the markers of passage and the essentials of time and its meaning when, supposedly, all time is my own.