The other day, I was making myself presentable in the downstairs bathroom when I thought, “Are we in May, or is it still April?”

I actually went into the kitchen to look at the calendar.

Sheltering in place is doing weird things to my sense of time.

I know it’s not just me, as I’ve read articles on this phenomenon, listened to radio shows about it and yes, read memes. I like the one that has the first part of each day of the week crossed out. It’s not Monday. It’s Day. It’s not Tuesday. It’s Day.

And, at least for me, it’s a generic Month as well. Whatever.

Alan Yuhas wrote an article in April in The New York Times headlined “What Day Is It? You’re Not the Only One Asking.” It’s about Todd Meany, a local news anchor in Cleveland, who  created a “What Day is It?” segment complete with “a dash of ’70s-style game show music.” It’s very popular. People are “grateful.”

Meany thinks people lack a “reference point” because so many of us rely on our phones, and don’t have paper calendars.

I see his point, but that is not my problem. I have a wall calendar, two page-a-day calendars and a Moleskine weekly agenda.

This explanation of time distortion resonates with me. Yuhas writes, “Psychologists say the sensation is a result of losing social anchors, chronic stress and anxiety, and drastic changes to normal routines.”

Life has been reduced to home, the grocery market and the outdoors within a five-mile radius. I work at home. I walk. Going to the feed store to buy compost was an adventure.

There are a few landmarks in the week. I have a meeting day twice a week. Then there are the shopping days. Otherwise, it’s just a Day.

Yuhas quotes actor Tom Hanks on “Saturday Night Live”: “There’s no such thing as Saturdays anymore. It’s just, every day is today.”

I kind of have a weekend, as I don’t have true office hours then. But Friday now often seems like Saturday. Which makes Saturday Sunday. I don’t know what Sunday is anymore.

This is so unlike me. I have calendar images in my head. I picture the year as a circle, with December and January on top. The months go counterclockwise. Usually I know exactly where we are on the circle.

I visualize the week as a calendar page, except that there are two bookended weekends in my head. In normal times. Now it’s gone all blurry.

Emily VanDerWerff wrote an essay in March for Vox entitled “What day is it today? The sun coming up in the east and setting in the west is real. Thursday is not.” She’s been updating it ever since, noting the current date at the end.

She writes, “To live inside is to lose distinction. There is a numbing effect that occurs when each day is the same, when our schedules are subsumed by what feels like an endless gulf of undifferentiated time.”

The only timekeeping skill that hasn’t left me is that I can still wake up in the middle of night and know exactly what time it is. Unfortunately, due to stress, I sometimes wake up every hour.

In the early morning, I might have a corona dream. In one, I was at work as a school librarian. I’d gone to the office for something when suddenly a crowd came in. They were a band or a chorus visiting from another school. I waited patiently amidst them for a few minutes, then made my way to the the door so I could get back to the library. Once back, I thought, “What have I done? Why did I stand there in the middle of a crowd?”

The dream was so real to me that it took a few minutes after I woke up to remember I’ve been practicing physical distancing since mid-March.

Which seems like December. If I could remember December.

There would always be days, in normal times, when I’d wake up on a Friday and think it was a Saturday. Or dream I was late to school, then wake up to realize it was Sunday.

But that is nothing compared to forgetting what month it is when your eyes are wide open and you have already washed your face.

VanDerWerff writes that, until we return to normalcy, we should “find a way to make time have meaning for you. Read a long book. Cook an elaborate meal. Take up knitting. Write an epic poem. Watch a TV show you’ve always meant to get to.”

And I would add, get yourself a calendar. I’d still be in April without mine.

 

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected].


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