Light Chaser Life is introducing a series called In Between Islands by both of our writers. This is the third post from our new series of life in an archipelago.
I used to wear a watch and felt naked and incomplete when I didn’t have it on.
Even on vacation, I would strap on a plastic Swatch, waterproof at 10 meters. When I got dressed for the day, putting on the watch was the step before pocketing the keys and stepping into the rest of the day.
The watch didn’t really add to my day other than: when I was under the sun a lot, a tan line developed on my right wrist as the holiday progressed. When I took off the watch before bed, the skin that had been beneath the watch would glow in the bathroom light like a stripe on my arm, physical evidence that I used to glance at my wrist to tell time while outdoors.
I’m thinking about the watches I used to wear as I notice, here on the island, how the tan line from my watch has disappeared from weeks of not wearing one. Now my right wrist is the same exact shade of tan as my left wrist. Sans watch, I am evenly painted with the sunshine.
Maybe if you’re a millennial, 18-33 years old and born in the age of the internet, you won’t understand why this is important. You’ve grown with smartphones that adjust themselves to the time zone you find yourself in, and found it unnecessary to wear a watch.
Indulge me a moment.
You see, time has always been the master of my days. I woke up at the same time each day, and I did the same things after I woke up.
Time as a master of days
On weekdays: Make coffee, drink coffee while bookmarking articles on Twitter to read that week. I’d rise from my perch after the coffee, maybe pour cereal and rice milk into a bowl and eat it while checking email to create that morning’s schedule. Then I checked phone messages. All telling me that someone needed me I had to do something, and the time of that day would carve itself a rhythm from those needs.
By the time I was showered and dressed (putting on a watch as the last step), it would be time to go to work. The same commute every day. If there was bad traffic that morning, the watch would tell me I was running late.
The day’s schedule was like a warehouse with deliverables, stacked high upon each other. All demanding time. Time to start, time to end so I could make it to the next box of time in the stack.
Every day, I glanced at my watch and rejoiced when the list of tasks and needs were met within the time it was scheduled. And when things overran or there was a crisis needing more time I didn’t have that day, I’d sneak nervous glances at my watch under the table, impatience gnawing at me like a hungry, hungry rat.
Time was the most scarce of all that I had in my life.
And I didn’t have much, by way of life. The days were divided into taking care of someone else’s needs and errands that made up my life. Monday, groceries. Tuesday, clean the kitchen. Wednesday, take the dog to the vet. Thursday, answer the emails piling up that weren’t part of the crises the previous days. Friday, well, Friday I would pretend to socialize by going out to dinner with friends. But I’d be bushed, not really good company, wishing I had time for myself.
I would be glancing at my watch under the table, thinking of a nice warm shower, clean pajamas and oblivion.
On weekends, Saturday was best of all. Unless of course, it was a working day. The company culture was all about busy-ness, making sure the boss knew you were hard at work all the time.
So they’d make us come to work on Saturdays. On Saturdays, people would saunter through the day, intermittently looking busy at meetings. Invariably there’d be a lot of people at the cafeteria having tea breaks. Sometimes, four times in the day.
Just before clocking out time, there would be a long line of people wanting to punch the card just at the end of work time, their bellies full of tea.
If you were efficient and got your work done from Monday to Friday, it wouldn’t matter. You knew that Saturday was a work day. So you’d take lots of tea breaks on weekdays, too.
If you were efficient, and knew how to do work on weekdays, you’d spend a lot of time glancing at your watch under the table while everyone ordered tea to break up the monotony of the meetings.
When you were efficient, the watch was your friend.
When you had to be inefficient, the watch was your friend.
The watch as a keeper of life
Your watch was the accompaniment to your syncopated days, a strangely regular and reliable metronome to a schedule that didn’t quite organize itself into accomplishment.
And you accepted it, you ran your days by the time the watch gave you, because it was just the way things were.
You never could have imagined life without your watch, telling you where to go and what to do at what precise time.
Here on the island, I wear no watch. The first few days felt strange, as if I were walking naked, as if I was floating in a land of forever having no goals, no appointments, no solutions to create, no needs to satisfy. As if I was a different person, no longer tethered to limits of time.
And now time is the most abundant resource I have.
If I want to linger over an extra cup of espresso in the morning because I am inspired to write and keep writing, I can.
In the beginning I used to keep my phone beside the laptop when I wrote in the early mornings. As if someone would ping me to a crisis that needed my presence to solve. As if there was a scheduled meeting, and another, and another. As if the day was sliced into episodes of existence singularly for the ambition of crunching time into a to-do list. (And maybe a tea break two, three times at certain points.)
And, with this new stretching of time, I find productivity soar. In a month, I’ve written over 40,000 words. Produced an ebook. Almost finished a novel. Coached several people into resourcefulness. Finished (and enjoyed) reading 14 books. And learned how to organize the communication architecture of an online business.
But that’s not really what I’m most proud of.
What I’m most proud of is that I have cooked healthy dinners for my mother, spent time with my brother and sister in law, and supported friends through their own life crises with exes and children and future goals.
When I was chained to time that belonged to someone else, I was traveling through life with restraint. Like marionette strings, my watch, keeper of my schedule, keeper of my life, pulled me in specific ways that did not allow for freedom.
And like the tan lines on my wrist during holidays, those strings did not really disappear. Every hour, every minute was someone else’s property. The last day of the holiday, I’d strap the watch on and that click would be the sound of chains around my wrist, pulling me through the hours of days that happened to me.
Now my time isn’t something I rent from someone else. I don’t dread the passing of time on Sundays as I used to.
Because Monday, and Tuesday, and the rest of the week is mine.
And the time stretches, for the meaning which I create.
I don’t need a watch now. Now, I own time.