It’s a strange thing to be glad of a pickpocket, glad of a heist. I mean, of course, when you are the victim and not the perpetrator; when you willingly step up to play the fool at the carnival, or the innocent in the den of thieves. I myself wandered into such a scenario last night. In case you wondered, I lived to tell the tale.
Early yesterday evening there was no indication of the unusual events which were to occur. As reported in a non-existent local paper:
“The heist occurred between the hours of 11:30 p.m., April 14th, and 7:41 a.m., April 15th. Within this roughly eight-hour span, the victim completely lost a sense of time-related urgency and succumbed to the well-known hallucinatory effects of the game Stardew Valley, which – sources say – has recently received an update. Although the victim had previously logged several hundred hours with the game, this was the victim’s first time playing the game with the update. Authorities are investigating.”The Imaginary Times
Yes, that was me. I stayed up all night, and I am happy to report I made it to Level 10 Fishing. I’ve never been so glad to lose my life. Well, a part of it. I suppose I lost eight hours, but it was a fair trade. Contrast this against the usual urge to flit, hummingbird-style (minus savoir faire and irate chirping) from project to project every few seconds.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve experienced that strange sensation of time slipping away with absolutely no sense of urgency. “Take your time,” said no one ever. “Go on – take it. It’s free!”
Imagine – a time-buffet. The price of entry is being born. What a strange concept: quite flawed, demonstrably untrue in practice, yet a seductively exotic luxury of which to snitch glimpses. I could argue that a lot of the more popular vices share this common motif: they alter the perception of time towards something that works for, rather than against, our delight.
Laura Vanderkam writes about this sensation of enriched time in her book Off the Clock, and argues that it can be cultivated in one’s life. It’s one thing to read about in the tidily law-abiding confines of a self-help book. It’s another thing to apply that advice in one’s own life.
But what if you are interested in more than a personal stash? What if you wish to – as it were – corner the market on high-quality enriched time? The cultivation of this illicit substance is the business of writers and other creation-workers.
To put it bluntly, it is our business to hold up our readers (viewers, users, customers, etc.) and say: “Your attention and your life.” And if we’ve done our job well, they’ll say – just for a moment – “Why, certainly.”
We are faced with the question of how to steal time and give back fulfillment. It almost sounds like a virtuous act when I phrase it that way – practically a public service.
But although many of us like to talk about truth, we aren’t completely honest. We don’t mirror life precisely; rather, we reflect back an abundance of the things usually trapped in time’s bottleneck. Love, action, wisdom, good fortune, and their inverses as well: they’re judiciously harvested, distilled, and bottled for consumption at leisure. The mix is intoxicating precisely because these experiences are so rarely available when people have the time to savor them.
If we’ve done our job well, the product of our efforts offers something that sidesteps time’s demands. It offers our targets – ah, readers – the chance to experience their humanity free from time’s constraints, for a moment or an hour or an evening.
Later, when they check their pockets and find themselves short on time, they’ll find in its stead a receipt. It reads:
“Life is held only partly in the moments it is lived. The price for expanding it is the time you didn’t think you had. Memory, contemplation, introspection, understanding: all these take place beyond time’s concern. You’re welcome – and please come again.”
Please note the header image is a screenshot of the Stardew Valley opening screen. I do not claim any rights to any part of Stardew Valley or its creator, Eric Barone. However, if you are looking for an excellent way to lose time, I dearly love that game and highly recommend it.