What is a Minute?
By Andrew Broadley | Illustration by Yi Jong
In February of this year I was working abroad and entering the final few months of my work contract. I had no plans to renew and was looking at a hefty contract completion bonus, a visa with time to spare on the end, and no real rush to start the next project. I left tabs open on my browser, simple listicles, detailing best sites to see and places to eat around the Korean peninsula, as well as across Japan, Taiwan, and even Melbourne. I had no tickets booked because I didn’t feel the need. How long I would spend in each place was undecided, my arrival back in New Zealand was undetermined. I looked at 2020 as being a vast space of time; with no definitive punctuation it felt subjective and malleable. Free for me to move about and to manipulate to my own desire.
Turns out, it was more of a black hole.
These tabs are long gone. Replaced now with an email that gives me 2 months of Skillshare free that I am yet to claim, The New Yorker open and unread, an unhealthy dose of some online shopping and YouTube’s premium lofi channel, ChilledCow, permanently on. February is August and 24-years-old is now 25-years-old and that aforementioned August is now October. I was right in my thinking, time is malleable. It’s just, I’m not the only one who gets to squeeze, stretch and bend it.
COVID-19 has taken to time in a manner that has been less Patrick Swayze in ‘Ghost’ and more ‘satisfying YouTube video of a hydraulic press squashing shit’. It hasn’t accelerated or decelerated; it's wiped it out altogether. There has been no conductor and no delicate brushwork Italian above the first bar of the year:
This particular composition feels like something so new to us. Like the orchestra all put down their instruments and stopped playing, while the conductor continued on conducting. And although all the music stopped, the pages kept turning and when the instruments were picked back up we were surprised to find that we did not pick back up on the same page. We had sat silently while the score rolled through the seasons and the closing of businesses and the shuttering of doors and events and the gatherings and the freedom to cough in public without a glare or to pack into a bus without a sense of anxiousness. And it has rolled through the people that have died.
The world is 13.8 billion years old.
So what is a minute?
Time is something we take for granted in the present and resent ourselves for in the past. I have learned the lessons of wasting away a morning on my phone, only to repeat them. I have learned the lessons of saying no to an event or excursion, only to lament myself for doing so again. When we were cooped up inside a few months back, there was a collective desire for the same horizon. A horizon where we could do all the mindless things only this time with mind. We could right the wrongs of our arrogance towards time. A horizon where we hugged and we danced at our local bar. Where we swayed together to some local band we hadn’t heard of but it didn’t really matter because we had learned our lesson of taking interaction and shared experience for granted. A few weeks after exiting lockdown I got to a gig too late to get in. A few weeks later I turned down the offer from a friend to go see another gig. Much like a horizon moves, so did this one. I left lockdown feeling as though I would walk up to it and grab on but that never really happened. Time had been stolen and when it was returned I too returned to not valuing it.
I have never been very good at time. I’m often late or in a frantic rush to not be late. I take too long to get dressed or I groove to the music too much and move to get things done too little. But I’ve also never really sought to combat it. I don’t have clocks around the house, I often leave my phone scattered on the bench next to the bluetooth speaker away from my gaze. I don’t plan my schedule or requirements or use any journals. I rarely set alarms. The other week when visiting my home in Wellington I failed to plan my own BYO dinner and missed the frantic messages of my friends until only 20 minutes before I was scheduled to leave.
Andy answer our messages
Andy did you book a place?
Andy what is the plan?
Andy we have booked a place for 7pm
Andy does that work?
Andy I will pick you up in 20 mins.
I miss gigs, I miss dancing, I miss parties with my friends. I miss the freedom of being able to take time for granted and I am angry at myself that even as little as a few weeks ago that is what I was still doing.
I miss gigs, I miss dancing, I miss parties with my friends. I miss the freedom of being able to take time for granted and I am angry at myself that even as little as a few weeks ago that is what I was still doing. I understand that we are in a pandemic and we shouldn't all be expected to use our time productively all the time. We are going through stressful times and for many of us it has been and is still very difficult. But I am not mad at how I spent lockdown. I am not even mad at how I have spent my time so far. I have seen many places and have had some amazing experiences. I am mad at how I have perceived time. It may be malleable, but only to a certain extent. Time is constant. A minute of heartache and a minute of euphoria can feel a lifetime apart but they are not. They are one minute. Time can feel slow and time can feel fast but time cannot accelerate or decelerate. It will continue to move and I will continue to grow older for every minute of that.
I hope I have learned some lessons from this time. I am lucky enough to have been relatively unaffected by all of this where so many others have lost so much. And this is what makes me so unsure of how I am meant to - tentatively - exit this time. If I use this as an opportunity to change my patterns, to use this as a period of growth, am I disrespecting the people who haven’t been as privileged? Who have seen this period as nothing but financial difficulty or heartache or even death? But if I go back to acting as if nothing ever happened, I go back to scrolling away in the morning, am I wasting an opportunity to truly change my perception of time? To recognise there is a tangible difference between 7:00pm and 7:05pm?
To understand, What is a minute.