(As usual, if you aren’t in a space to want to engage with talk of the current pandemic, please skip this post with my blessing. Take care of yourself. Though this one is a little less pandemic heavy than the others.)
There’s this joke I have with my partner about how easily I get lost in time and space. It has roots in some actual issues with getting lost (especially in space) and losing track of where I am (especially in time). But it’s also partially a joke, because I’m less likely to get lost in time than he is, and when a car isn’t involved, I rarely get lost in space either.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about lately, largely because my potential to be lost has been very different over the past year than it has been at any point prior. I just wanted to share some thoughts and reflections on being lost in time and space and what that means to me right now.
The Problem with Cars
When we were in college, I didn’t have a car, but my then boyfriend (now husband) did, so I got a parking permit for his car since I was a year ahead and got priority for a permit. This meant that we could do things like grocery runs or going to an off-campus doctor with less hassle. I knew (even then) than I had a tendency to get lost while driving. (For reference, this was in the early years of Map Quest and before ubiquitous GPS and smart phones.) I had a doctor’s appointment the next day, so I printed off some directions, and went to find the office so I wouldn’t get lost.
I got lost.
In my defense, it involved several one-way roads, missing one turn, and being unable to figure out how to get back on my route. This particular incident ended in me pulling into some parking lot crying, calling my boyfriend and his roommate bringing him out so he could drive me home. This was not the last time this happened while we were in college.
To avoid a repeat of the issue, my boyfriend drove me to the appointment the next day. Partially due to my inability to navigate without a GPS and partially because he gets motion sick very easily, my partner does almost all the driving when we’re together, even now.
If I have a human to navigate, a GPS to talk to me, or I’m the one in the passenger seat giving directions, everything is fine. But put me in a car without audible directions and I just can’t seem to functionally follow the directions to where I’m going and focus on driving at the same time. Put me on my feet with a map, and I can get to and from almost anywhere (that I can find on the map). It’s just something about the added stress of driving (which is arguably the most dangerous thing I do on any given day) that completely robs me of my sense of direction. (Not that my ability to recognize right from left is particularly good at any time.)
The Problem with Human Perception of Time
So, the human brain is really good at lying to itself. Your eyes are even in on this. There’s a blind spot within our field of vision that our brains just fill in for us. Our eyes do this weird movement thing during which we do not see and then it lies to us about the passage of time to cover up the moment of blindness. Humans are actually incredibly bad at measuring the passage of time without something mechanical or electronic counting it for us.
So, we’re all starting out with a deficit when it comes to not getting lost in time. I then have the compounding problem of focusing in. While it’s not generally debilitating for me personally (I have a lot of strategies to keep it from affecting my life negatively) this is actually one of the symptoms of attentive type ADD. I focus in on something to the detriment of everything else. As a child, this manifested in interesting ways, like running into walls when my focus was directed somewhere other than where I was going, or being so focused on the TV (even if it was just a commercial!) that you had to touch me to get my attention to move elsewhere. In adult life it looks more like spending hours on a task without realizing it and forgetting to take a stretch break or eat, or just being unaware of time passing so that I’ll miss a meeting if I don’t set a timer or alarm to pull me out of my work.
What is Time?
This is a phrase my friends and I toss around occasionally in the current pandemic moment to express how the passage of time and all the usual markers for it are a little off right now. For a variety of reasons life is a little weird right now (I’m not going to get into the state of the world with this point, but it’s April 2021 for future reference). I’m currently working from home instead of commuting to my office, which is the big thing that’s messing with my ability to situate myself in time right now.
Since I’m very rarely leaving the house these days due to pandemic restrictions, it’s pretty hard for me to be lost in space right now. Something else would have to be going on for me to get lost in someplace with only six rooms and only two places where there are options for branching directions.
Time is a completely different matter.
Working from home limits my movements. I have a back issue, and the best accommodation to keep it from being painful or getting any worse is having a standing desk. I’d made do with jury-rigged solutions prior to the pandemic, but when I was suddenly spending 40 hours at my desk at home, it was worth spending the money to get a proper standing desk. That means I spend almost all of my time at my desk. It’s where I work for 40 hours a week. It’s where I write in the mornings, evenings, and on weekends. It’s where you set up craft projects that will fit on the desk surface.
For a while I was even eating my lunch at my desk, like I used to at work, but I’ve had to stop doing that. There was no mental separation from working if I wasn’t physically leaving my desk during my lunch break. The switch from my desktop to my laptop computer (the strategy I used back at the office) just wasn’t working well enough. I’m much more productive in the afternoons when I eat out in the living room hanging out with my partner and the cats for my lunch break.
The problem this feeds into is sameness. Every day looks almost exactly the same. Yes, there’s some variation on weekends, but even those are often spent mostly at my desk. There isn’t physical movement to demarcate different days. I’m not having a meeting in someone’s office with them, or walking across campus for an every-other-week meeting with another unit. I’m at my desk, on my computer or Zoom for everything. The days run together. There isn’t enough about any given one to help my brain distinguish between them. This monotony leads to not noticing the passage of time. It doesn’t feel like we’ve been in pandemic conditions for over a year now.
Counterintuitively, I’m also having the opposite problem. It feels like it’s been forever since November, since last year, since things were what I used to think of as normal. I’ll think about the last time I saw my family, or a friend, or when we got our new cats, and it will seem like all that happened just a few weeks ago or several years ago (depending on the moment) but it’s been about a year (slightly more in the case of the cats).
Part of this is probably a defense mechanism to protect me from the stress that has been underlying for several years now. Part of this is the subjective nature of my perception of time. Part of this is completely normal and nothing new. I’ve always been bad at noting the passage of time. When someone asks how long my partner and I have been together 95% of the time, I have to consult him for the math or count on my fingers from the year we started dating or got married. The only reason I can easily tell you how long I’ve been at my current job is because I started in 2015, so I know it’s on a five year, so 2020 was five and 2025 will be ten.
Does It Matter?
That is the question in the end. Does it matter that I’m losing track of time? That I have to rely on GPS apps on my phone to get almost anywhere in my car? Is it a problem that my days blend together and I’m not noticing the time slipping away?
Yes and no.
In many ways, the monotony and sameness of my days right now is an incredible luxury. I am insanely lucky that I haven’t had to risk exposure, no one in my household or extended family has gotten the virus, and none of my close friends have either. The days that stick out the most in my mind are the ones when I was worrying about a friend who had an exposure risk, or when I had to go out into the world for a doctor’s appointment or some other something that I couldn’t do from home. There have been no personal, close to my heart disasters in my world over the last year. And I am incredibly grateful for that.
I’m not complaining about the sameness, or even my inability to not get lost in a car without help. I’ve just been thinking about time and space and where I find myself in it (whether I know where I am or not) quite a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about how different the world is right now, and how we’re all coping with the strangeness that has become normal and the normal that has become strange.
As a way to wrap up that thinking, I wanted to list a few things I’ve been grateful for that have come out of the strange normality we find ourselves in right now. These are in no particular order.
- Having a regular wake up and go to bedtime every single day has vastly improved the quality of my sleep.
- I’ve spent more time on craft projects in the last year than in previous years.
- I’ve picked up new hobbies.
- I’ve found new and different ways to connect regularly with friends and family.
- I’ve gotten to spend my days at home, where I can pet my cats and hug my partner on mini breaks from work.
- I have a real standing desk at home now.
- I am healthy and safe and soon to be vaccinated.
I hope all of you are able to find some things to be grateful for in these strange and uncertain times.