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Splendid isolation: How I stopped time by sitting in a forest for 24 hours

The long read: My life seemed to be getting busier, faster: I felt constantly short of time – so I stepped outside it for a day and a night and did nothing

It was early summer, and I was on the verge of turning 40. I found myself entertaining a recurring daydream of escaping from time. I would be hustling my son out the door to get him to school, or walking briskly to work on the day of a deadline, or castigating myself for being online when I should have been methodically and efficiently putting words on paper, and I would have this vision of myself as a character in a video game discovering a secret level. This vision was informed by the platform games I loved as a child – Super Mario Bros, Sonic the Hedgehog and so on – in which the character you controlled moved across the screen from left to right through a scrolling landscape, encountering obstacles and adversaries as you progressed to the end of the level. In this daydream, I would see myself pushing against a wall or lowering myself down the yawning mouth of a pipe, and thereby discovering this secret level, this hidden chamber where I could exist for a time outside of time, where the clock was not forever running down to zero.

My relationship with time had always been characterised by a certain baleful anxiety, but as I approached the start of the decade in which I would have no choice but to think of myself as middle-aged, this anxiety intensified. I was always in the middle of some calculation or quantification with respect to time, and such thoughts were always predicated on an understanding of it as a precious and limited resource. What time was it right now? How much time was left for me to do the thing I was doing, and when would I have to stop doing it to do the next thing?

This resource being as limited as it was, should I not be doing something better with it, something more urgent or interesting or authentic? At some point in my late 30s, I recognised the paradoxical source of this anxiety: that every single thing in life took much longer than I expected it to, except for life itself, which went much faster, and would be over before I knew where I was. [ … ]

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Posted by Alexia Lin

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