Other Side of the World
Argentina may be three hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time but for the past three years, I have been six months behind. In the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are reversed, and my internal clock has never been properly reset.
Each year when the weather turns warm, I get depressed. I have a June birthday, and I begin to stress over if I will celebrate getting older, and if so, where, how, and with whom. I start to resent having no locker to decorate, I worry that all of my friends will be away at summer camp, and I have terrifying flashbacks of my 18th birthday, when the evening consisted of my brother buying me scratch off lottery tickets (I didn’t win) and watching a rented movie on the couch with my best friend. At the same time, I get excited because the second and best half of the year is yet to come. And then I realize that it’s December.
When it starts to get cold, I feel relieved. One year is about to end and another is about to begin. I can finally put to rest all of the unfinished business that has been haunting me and embark on new projects and resolutions. Besides, months of good cheer, food, and gifts are on their way. And then I realize that it’s June.
How am I possibly supposed to keep track of time when all of my external cues are upside down? I still can’t get my head around listening to my parents talk about losing power in an ice storm while I am sitting in the dark drinking ice water to keep cool. And the seasons aren’t the only think I’ve had difficulty adjusting to since crossing the equator and changing time zones. As it turns out, within the circadian rhythm there is room for variation.
In Argentina, people leave the office at the hour considered by most Americans to be dinnertime, and eat dinner between 9-11pm (past my parent’s bedtime). On Sunday mornings when my Argentine friends complain of being tired and I ask what time they went to bed the night before they reply, “Early. Like 4am.” In the States, if an event is planned for 6-8pm, people arrive dutifully at 6pm and make their way to the door at exactly 8pm. In Argentina, 6-8pm is the period of time during which it is acceptable to arrive. The event starts at 8:01pm and ends when the last person leaves. In the States, people respect each other’s time. In Argentina, people respect each other’s rhythm. Time is definitely relative, at least culturally.
Now that I think about it, I’ve never had a fixed concept of time. When I was a child, a year revolved around my birthday, because the universe revolved around me. While I was a student, the year only had nine months. According to my agenda, the year started mid-September and ended mid-June. July and August went on sabbatical. Since graduating from college, I have measured time using a series of milestones: an anniversary in Argentina, a trip home, the day I began my job, the day I quit my job, a first date, the last time I had sex. A year doesn’t always have 365 days, and sometimes I have more than one year happening simultaneously. Because for me, a “year” is just a convenient way of saying “time between important moments.”
The calendar is a useful tool for coordinating the logistics of your life. Like making sure you pay your taxes on time, or that you don’t go to work on Saturday, or that you take your sweaters out of storage, or that you don’t forget to call your friend on her birthday, even if it is in the middle of the summer. But the calendar is pretty useless when it comes to assessing personal growth and development. We all have our own way of calculating a year, and our own rate of emotional, mental, and biological maturation. Yet we obsess over the numbers, measuring our progress, determining what we should be doing right now, and judging where we should be in our life by how many 24-hour days we have been alive.
Clock time is just a guideline. It is not a rule or a law. So, if December 31 doesn’t feel like the right time to stop what you’re doing, or if January 1 doesn’t feel like the right time to start something new, don’t worry about. They are just two more days. Personally, my new year is going to start on February 25, when I board a plane to New Zealand.
We seem to think that life is a choreographed routine, and that we’re all supposed to be dancing the same steps to the same music. Like pre-schoolers at our first ballet recital, we spend the entire performance staring at our feet or looking around at our peers to make sure that we are on beat. But each of us has our own unique soundtrack. We can’t pick the play list. All we can do is dance. Or in the words of Prince, “party like it’s 1999.”
And with that said, Happy New Year!