I’ve always been bad about time. Not in an hour-by-hour sort of way; I usually have a moderately good grasp on the actual time of day (although I don’t own a watch). And not in a day-to-day sort of way; I usually know what day of the week it is. I’m sometimes a bit sketchy when it comes to the month, but that’s rarely a problem.
No, what I’m bad about is the passage of time. I have a massively flawed sense of how much time has elapsed between one event and another.
For example, I was recently asked when I moved away from Manhattan. My immediate perception was that it was probably three or four years ago. When I actually thought about it, I realized I moved away in 2001—a short time before the attacks of 9/11. That’s ten years ago. Ten years.
That’s a pretty harmless example. My temporal impairment becomes a problem when I agree to do something with a soft deadline. If, for example, I tell a friend “I’ll call you next week; we’ll have lunch” my sense of ‘next week’ could last a month. That’s a problem. It can make people think I don’t care about them.
I’ve recognized this as a problem for some time (don’t ask me how long, because I don’t really know—temporal impairment, remember?). But until recently, I never gave any thought to the origin of the problem—to why I have this problem. I probably wouldn’t have given the matter any thought at all, except that now the problem affects my daughter. When I tell her I’m going to call her, I damned well better call her. After having a conversation with her, I think I may have figured out why I have this problem.
I don’t get bored.
I think that’s the source of my temporal impairment. I can’t recall the last time I was bored. I must have been a child. I have a hazy recollection of telling my momma I was bored and having her respond something like this: “Then you’re not using your imagination. Go outside and find something interesting to do. No bored children in this house.”
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been…busy isn’t the right word. Engaged is more accurate. I’m actively engaged in something all the time, from the moment I wake up until the moment I fall asleep. It might be reading, it might be thinking, it might observing, it might be chores—but even if it looks like I’m just walking or sitting in a chair, I’m doing something. All the fucking time.
And that makes time pass really quickly. I get caught up in what I’m doing. I forget to eat sometimes. Sometimes I eat and a little later I can’t recall if I’ve eaten or not, so I eat again because I know I sometimes forget to eat. I make a decision to finish what I’m working on at that particular moment and take a walk afterward, then when I’m finished I realize it’s 8:45 at night. I’m aware of time passing, but not of how much time is passing.
The failure to be bored sounds like a good thing. Overall, I think it probably is. But it’s a pretty lousy excuse when you have to apologize for failing to call somebody you promised to call ‘later in the week.’ It’s a pretty lousy excuse when you’ve told somebody you’d get together with them during the summer, then realize Thanksgiving is only a week away.
In a very real sense, the excuse “Sorry, I lost track of time” is just another way of saying “Sorry, I was more interested in what I was doing than in you.” And that’s a pretty shitty thing to say to another person.