It seems appropriate that I finished a book on time over the weekend when the clocks rolled back in the US. Jenny Odell’s latest, Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock, is fairly difficult to summarize, so I’m going talk about the things I thought about while reading it, rather than my usual summary.
Odell writes about time as we think of it from a wide range of perspectives. Including how time associates with how we view work and labor, how we view leisure, how we view illness and disability, how we view the changing planet and geological time, and more. While reading it I couldn’t help but think not only of the way I use and view time, but also the way those around me and the society I live in does at large. Along with some current events, I started to wonder about a few things.
The auto workers strike ended while I was reading this book and at one point I turned to G, after we watched a news segment on the strike and the demands, and wondered if the current auto workers are producing in 4 days what the auto workers of 20 years ago were producing in five. I wondered this because one of their intitial demands was a four day work week. And in Odell’s book on the chapter on labor and work she very plainly lays out how much more productive and efficient we’ve become in our work and yet we still work at least 40 hours if not more. Why?
In talking about natural time versus a human lifetime, it’s hard for us to grasp so much of what is happening within the world. Even as the climate crisis deepens, we still can’t quite comprehend how long it can take parts of the earth to change and build back up. I live in an area that had a large fire three years ago and while much of the scarring is gone and many homes have been rebuilt, I’ve been keeping my eye on a natural area to see how it’s coming back. There has been some human intervention in the area, but as I walk near it the dead trees that were left are often full of woodpeckers. And, if left alone, I wonder how that area would change and grow. When would fire touch it again? Living in a fire prone region, I’ve come to the conclusion that fire is necessary, it’s how so much of the area around where I live renews itself, but how do we live with that and reconcile that with how we’re living in these areas?
Odell ends with how we think about life and death and illness and disability and that, for me, was the chapter I’ll reread and think about the most. Society wants everyone to fit the same mold, think of time in the same way, and yet it doesn’t work. We can’t all do the same things in the same amount of time and yet the expectation is that we can, which is ridiculous when you think about it. In addition, we try so hard to fight illness and death, to try and control every aspect of our lives (see some of my recent links on the wellness industry) and yet, in the end, we can’t.
At one point in the book, Odell recounts being in high school and asking her art teach what the point of life is. Is it to go to school, then work, then retire, and that’s it? Her conclusion later in the book is lovely:
Maybe “the point” isn’t to live more, in the literal sense of a longer or more productive life, but rather, to be more alive in any given moment—a movement outward and across, rather than shooting forward on a narrow, lonely track. (loc 4425)
Odell has left me thinking a lot about time, how I see it in day to day life, how the way I think about time shifts, and how our society views time. There is no one view of time, as she makes clear, which is why the book is so throught provoking and why I’ll be returning to the ideas as I continue to turn them over in my head.