There is something wrong with our sense of time.


I have spent three years perfecting a rigid routine. As an un-schooled child, I rarely needed to worry about structure. Most of you reading this will be familiar with school lines, dedicated blocks during the day in which you fit specific tasks, and other various and innumerable limitations upon your day. I had to teach that to myself.

As a child, a few points in my day were structured. Homework in the mornings, play dates in the late afternoons. When I was older, homeschooling events would take place two or three times a week, filled with socialization and various forms of learning. But I never spent my days behind a desk.

As an adult, I continued that trend. I started college at age sixteen, but my parents were relaxed about grades and stereotyped success. I felt free to do as I wished, discover as I wished. I would come to regret not having advanced training in some areas, certainly — a flaw in all homeschooled systems that don’t contract with academic experts well enough — but in so many other ways I felt ahead of my peers. I could tackle classes that they struggled with, getting at least passing grades without trying, and I felt far freer to “follow my bliss” as Joseph Campbell said.

There were dark downturns, certainly: living with chronic illnesses, striving for hope and fulfillment in a world fraught beneath the heel of late-stage capitalism, and rising from literal homelessness as a young teen, all need to be respected as the powerful influences they were. But my overall progression has been up, toward self-betterment.

The last three years, I’ve gotten better at self-scheduling than most school-kids I’ve known. I’ve maintained a rigid routine that has included exercise, work, writing, housework; I’ve provided two to three meals a day for my incredible and overworked teacher partner; I’ve scrabbled to make every inch of my day work for me, to the point where I almost feel like time is a physical entity that I can grasp and bend.

And yet, through this, my soul has suffered.

Time is a lie

Human perception of time is a funny thing: it’s not accurate. We’ve tried to make it accurate; we’ve built atomic clocks that determine time on a level our instincts cannot comprehend. We have built our society around the ideals of orderly exhaustion; our reliance upon a constant pace of work and progression is so deeply engrained, so comprehensively assimilated, that we rarely pause to question “why,” let alone to ask if a simplistic cost vs. benefit analysis of human dignity and creativity can encapsulate what is lost in this frenetic pace.

For me, time is intimate. Living with chronic illnesses makes it so; that my father passed away young, when I was just 17, makes it so. For most of my life, I’ve ruminated on the hourglass containing me, and I have marked each grain as it fell.

My own frenetic drive has been based upon this to some degree: leave a mark on the world, do good, do better; time is running out.

In three years, I fairly perfected parts of myself that relied upon this urgency. I made certain that I hit goals I’d long since felt discouraged by. I lost a hundred pounds and put on muscle, I stopped letting me chronic illness be an excuse even as I showed myself greater compassion for the pain I felt; I learned to recognize many failings of personality and I worked diligently to correct them despite the whinging howl of my ego.

My effort to attend to the clocks around me, to the sense of limited time in which my partner lived, the social heroism of tight efficiency, allowed me to succeed in so many ways. I did not just weather the pandemic, I excelled in it; I found myself attaining goals that I had never before been able to realize. This was due, at first, to a society-wide quelling of the terrible capitalist norms we’d been tricked into believing were normal (the pandemic relief plans allowed many, like me, to reassess the stability and purpose of their lives). But, at the same time, I realized an inspiration in this sudden space of time free from contracted obligation: I did not merely sit around and exist during the pandemic. Instead, I dove into the trial of self-betterment, rejoicing that I finally felt free enough in time to do so.

And now, I have reached another point of change.

The turning point

It’s been getting harder and harder to maintain my good schedules.

First, our society is hell-bent on a foolish philosophic doubling down. Our elected leaders, through either their own inadequate and antiquated philosophical vision, or through willful negligence due to rotten campaign money, have failed to enact the sorts of changes that could lead us into a golden age. Instead, the “return to normal” has been repeated near and far, an incessant drone that fairly dulls the wits. Without freedom of time in our society, the individuals of the society suffer. My partner also needed to return to work full time. This left us exhausted as we struggled to support her — at the same time as we dealt with the trauma inflicted by the yet-raging pandemic, the repeated infernos scorching the countryside, the overwhelming dread of climate change, and the Other Plague: fascist ideologies that swept the lands.

I found a job that I loved: writing articles online for relaxed, friendly people who care about ensuring that the people working for them are treated well and paid what they are worth. I finished my Master’s degree. I began building my writing organization, Round Table Writers, and found solace and inspiration in the community there. And yet, for all that, I began to notice an increasing drag upon my energies.

The last few days, I’ve changed my routine. Instead of exercising first thing in the morning, I’ve exercised in the afternoon. It used to be hard for me to do that, but it’s becoming easier. I’ve been switching my routines up, feeling a sense of freedom as I changed how I interacted with the various elements of my life. That sense of friction, that drag on my energy, started to diminish.

And I realized something.

I was never a product of the factory model. I am, and have always been, a homeschooled child, bred on the taste of freedom. In order to succeed in the next phase of my life, I need to accept what my instincts are telling me, and allow the fluid nature of time to return to my life. Rather than rigid structure, I need the freedom to play. Because my work as a writer is play, and because humanity was never meant to be caged by time — we were meant to be supported by time, but we lost the memo along the way.

Since realizing this, I have been more productive where it counts. I’ve been more emotionally available to my partner — even though I’ve been spending more time doing my “own thing,” I’ve rejoiced at how much more present with her I’ve been able to be. And I’m still getting the hard work done: I’m still exercising, still doing the dishes and the laundry. But now I’m able to do so according to my own organic clock.

It’s good that I spent three years perfecting rigid schedules. I really, really needed that. But now I need to take what I have learned and build it into a more sustainable scaffolding that can support my life, and my dreams for what my life can become.

Hi there! I’m Odin Halvorson, a librarian, independent scholar, film fanatic, fiction author, and tech enthusiast. If you like my work and want to support me, please consider becoming a paid subscriber for as little as $2.50 a month!

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