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  • Writer's pictureShanti Chu

Time and Temporality

I have been thinking about time and temporality a lot. Recent birthdays and finally having downtime have afforded me the luxury of doing so. With so much going on in the world, it can be difficult to focus on one’s “personal” endeavors and dreams – it feels selfish and at times immoral to focus on these seemingly trite things. Trying to survive, get through one’s daily tasks, share one’s self with others during one’s allotted leisure time all result in a lack of reflection. Of course, Albert Camus (1942) put it perfectly in the Myth of Sisyphus how easy and tempting it is to live robotically, yet the 'why' is awakened as a part of the human condition:

It happens that the stage sets collapse. Rising, streetcar, four hours in the office or the factory, meal, streetcar, four hours of work, meal, sleep, and Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday according to the same rhythm—this path is easily followed most of the time. But one day the ‘why’ arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement. ‘Begins’—this is important. Weariness comes at the end of the acts of a mechanical life, but at the same time it inaugurates the impulse of consciousness. It awakens consciousness and provokes what follows.


Having been so busy, I’ve been reflecting on how much of my days are spent doing what I love with people I love (and my dog). It can be easy to get swept up in the incessant hustle culture, the never-ending work, the never-ending goals. But with every passing birthday and death, I ask myself: “What should I be doing with my free-time or how should I be spending my limited days on this earth?” So many things are done with a sense of obligation and duty. When most of one’s day is comprised by duty and obligation, is it truly a fulfilling life? When do desires turn into duties? When does creativity turn into obligation? Can I just exist? Why is there guilt with solely existing and how does one navigate that guilt?


On one hand, we know that change guides reality – everything is transient, we’re born, we age, we die, people around us die, relationships change, our inner states change, the world changes. On the other hand, we are shocked, terrified, and disillusioned by all of this inevitable change. So pondering time has become a shield, a way of coping with all of what’s unknown. Yet thinking about time is inescapable. My work is structured around semesters: fall, spring, summer, then the cycle continues – there is an existential anxiety paved with every new semester and every semester’s conclusion: excitement and hope resulting in exhaustion.

Sequoia trees
Sequoia trees


Should we stick to jobs, practices, hobbies, and relationships out of habit – a duty to consistency – does it feel immoral to be inconsistent? How will we be judged by our interlocutors, by strangers when we do change the content of how we spend our days? An individualistic response is typical – “do you, do what makes you happy” – but we inevitably impact others, we live and work among others. So should other people’s judgments matter? It might be delusional to think otherwise.


I am at the point where embracing ambiguity and intentionality seems to be the only way I can "answer" these questions and cope with my daily existence – embracing ambiguity with how we spend our days, how feel about others, how we feel about our work and hobbies, how we feel about the world. I don’t enjoy the concept of forcing myself to do things for the sake of consistency. But I do differentiate consistency from duty and obligation. Duty and obligation can be the consequences of love and responsibilities. I strive to be hyper-conscious of how I spend my time, how I fill my days even if I feel like a passive robot checking things off a list. Being aware of this feeling and the process of transience contribute to my consciousness even if it feels like I am failing at times.


But it is important to remember that the concept of “failure” can be an internally constructed concept in relation to an externally/socially constructed idea. The lines between internal and external inevitably blur, but by remembering that such a concept is frail, tenuous and ever-changing can help one cope with the anxiety of failure.

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