No Time

I have gone missing from this blog for most of the summer. Yes, I’m still mourning the loss of Leila and still being surprised by her absence in odd moments.  The prime explanation for my silence, however, is that I’ve been writing elsewhere. I’ve been working, pushing ahead on the research and drafting of a book I’ve had underway for too long now.

This week may see a let-up in the pace of my work. The forecast is for temperatures in the 90s, approaching 100, with heat indexes (indices) already higher than that thanks to the sticky humidity. My brain grinds slowly in hot, humid weather, and I’ve found it wise to be forgiving and set my expectations low. I don’t have air-conditioning. That’s my choice, not a complaint. It’s enough to be sealed inside the house all winter with a gas furnace blasting. I don’t want to spend my summer in a refrigerator. Instead, I adapt to the heat.

My first adaptation is to remove my watch, which pinches my sweaty skin. The word “watch” is fitting, because I watch mine compulsively. Going without it frees me somewhat from the constraints of time. (I can still cast glances at the top corner of my computer.)  I have been living in the 1870s the last few weeks, anyway, reading microfilmed newspapers from 1877, the year the railroads came through my hometown from every direction, the year my great-great grandfather retired from blacksmithing, the year McCormick farm machinery and sewing machines and pianos peppered the advertising sections of my hometown newspaper.

Now, to get myself through this hot week, I’ve moved back two more centuries. Last week I happened upon an essay, “Tidens historia” (the History of Time) in a collection by the Swedish historian Peter Englund titled Förflutenhetens landskap (Landscapes of the Past).  I found this book in a Little Free Library standing near the hardware store in my neighborhood. I’ve begun taking my own Scandinavian cast-offs there, to trade with the unknown reader of Swedish who left this treasure.  Englund points out that the minute hand on the clock wasn’t developed until the 1670s, the same decade in which people who could afford them began carrying miniature clocks on their persons. Before then, there was no standard way to divide time into such brief segments as a minute, and even the measure of hours was irregular, different from one locale to another. Only after the introduction of the minute hand did time begin to be seen as a measurable commodity, with a monetary value, or, more germane to my situation, the moral expectation that each minute be put to good use.  Moreover, humans living in the 1670s could still travel no faster than a horse could run or a ship could sail, Englund says.

So what’s the rush? This week there will be none, and if there’s work produced, I’ll welcome it as a bonus. As long as I’m living outside of time, I need not feel bothered, either, that I haven’t written a blog post before now.

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