making our own days


Town’s suddenly changed.  Halloween, in all it’s elongated and commercialized glory, is finally over, and Provincetown has taken a sharp turn toward winter. Today marks the season’s penultimate end—the first step having been taken at Labor Day, and New Year’s marking the final transition. More storefronts are dark; men and women are climbing ladders all over town, pulling down signs and boarding up windows. It’s particularly striking to me because it’s unexpected. Rationally I understand it, and on reflection it’s no surprise. Yet, it’s odd to experience the world turning to according to a clock to which I’m not synchronized.

In 1847, British railways adopted Greenwich Mean Time, ushering a process that created one of the small tyrannies of contemporary life:  standardized time. In the greater scheme of things this is still a novel concept, but it’s so pervasive a norm that it’s become invisible to us. While our bodies may resist the clock’s conformity (how many times do we have to hit the snooze button?), and we may compensate by imbibing stimulants (afternoon espresso, anyone?), we don’t generally question the logic of standardized time. Sure we’ve carped about the shift from Daylight Savings to Standard Time over the weekend, but we’ll adjust soon enough—and then take a perverse delight in complaining again, albeit briefly, when we spring forward in March.

And if clock time goes unnoticed by us, calendar time probably means even less. We possess wardrobes and HVAC systems intended to keep us humming at the same pitch on everything but the most ruthlessly hot or cold of days.  Yet, it takes scant reflection to realize that there’s no logical alignment between standardized time and the varieties of our biological rhythms at all. Our mammalian instinct toward hibernation is all but ignored by the expectations of modern life.

Surprise aside, I like living in a place that still adheres to a kind of local time. There should be more opportunities for us to listen to our bodies in relation to our environment, and more flexibility to make our own days.

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