Monday, August 30, 2010

When There Is No Watch(er)

A few weeks ago, I took my great uncle's 1976 Hamilton watch into the little clock shop on Williamson St across from Grandpa's Gun Shop. The night before, I had hugged a student goodnight and in the process, somehow caught the watch on her backpack, which then snapped the pin out of the strap that holds it onto my wrist. After searching around for a needle-like object in a haystack-like hallway, I gave up, and decided I'd just get a replacement.

I entered the shop, which I had always passed and wondered about but never had cause to enter, owning only newer clocks, and in it one worker, an older man, crouched with a magnifying glass and glaring light over parts of a clock. His posture one of a jeweler, his intention one of a poet. I felt bad interrupting him, but the bell announced my entrance. He was a bit brusque being interrupted for such a small thing in the middle of a clearly larger, and more lucrative, project, but he quickly put in a new pin and charged me for it. He asked, as he handed back the watch with a scratched glass face I now felt self-conscious about, how it was treating me. "Well," I said, "so long as I don't over wind it, it does really well. I love it. It was my great uncle's." He grinned a half grin, and I left.

Of course, later that day, it stopped working. It was a bit like when my car is making a funny noise that it won't make for the mechanic - I thought, just watch, I'll bring it back to him and it will be working again. Instead, I took it off, suspected I wound it too tight and left it at home. I also realized that one of the watchband straps that hold down the other end had come off in the backpack accident, and didn't want to have to deal with getting a new band, now, too.

I haven't put it on since. At first it was hard to not have a watch - so many people operate with just their cellphones now, but I often don't have pockets and am habituated to having the time on my wrist, not on something I have to pull out to see. Mind you, I trust my cell phone's time better than anything else, but deep inside, I'm an analog girl, and I prefer to have mechanical over digital.

It turns out I prefer neither. Now, as time has passed - or so the calendar tells me - I have relaxed a bit, learned to trust my own sense of time. This weekend I taught a photography workshop and I tested out my sense of time - has it been half an hour? An hour? - in giving talks, during shoots, and listening to others give talks. For the most part I was spot on with the time. When I wore a watch I never bothered, and now, now I don't bother either, but I also seem to know the time and also, time is less important to me. That is to say, actually, that time seems MORE important to me (eg how I "spend" it) but knowing the exact time seems less important. I haven't been late for anything or blown anything off accidentally, so it hasn't really caused problems, and I have to say it has caused benefits to not have the hour so accessible all the time on my wrist.

Buddhism talks about "the watcher" in meditation - the seemingly separate part of ourselves that "notices" when, for instance, we've moved our attention off our breath and onto passing thoughts. It is said that of course there is no separate watcher, that what we are thinking and our awareness of it are one in an ultimate sense, and that we have to let go of that duality in the long run, so we aren't always policing ourselves and seeing a divided self. This is a bit how I've been feeling about time - I feel somehow more in time, on time, a part of time, and that feels natural - as if before, with a watch I checked often, I were more separate both from time and from myself. Weight Watchers feels like this - only the inverse case helped - not paying attention caused disassociation, while checking in with time passing all the time caused disassociation with time. Curious that. Habits are habits and can trigger duality, separation. It's not the system or structure that is inherently a problem, it's how I use it, what I associate with it.


  1. Hi Miriam

    I would love to have a more organic sense of time. I left my watch at a friends over the weekend and had to do without. Not being able to check the time was a source of anxiety for me--like if I didn't watch it, it would run away!

  2. I used to have neither watch nor cellphone (ohhh the glory days...) and found that I also had an internal clock. Often times, I could guess within 3 minutes of the "actual" time. Of course, I was less busy then, so extra kudos for not being late to anything!!! :)