I don’t really believe all things happen for a reason (I do). But when seemingly unrelated events/moments/ideas coincide, I’ll pick up that old tried-and-vaguely-true mantra and preach to anyone within ten feet of me that fate is a thing that really pulls life together (and apart). Like, for instance, when the two ideas I’ve been toying with writing about pair up neatly and I get the opportunity to knock them both out in one go. Such is my luck today, sitting down in front of the enormous clock in Waterloo Station, realizing my unintentional theme is time.
We use time to boundary everything. It’s usually the first reason we can or can’t do something, tied with or just ahead of money. At work, it is without a doubt my most familiar adversary, and if not having enough time was a Buy Five, Get the Sixth Free punch card situation, I wouldn’t get through a week without a freebie (or five). When someone or something gets a sense of entitlement about just how high they should rank on your priority list, there’s that embodiment-of-an-eye-roll argument that we simply MAKE time. Like we’re wizards that are one agenda notebook or scheduling app away from adding three more hours to the day.
Worse – and maybe I’m alone here – time seems to have two distinct versions. There’s how it feels on a day off, and there’s how it feels on a day on. One second you’ve got a handle on how to manage your time, but then you turn around and your Saturday has gone by in an impossible flash, and NOTHING has gotten done. Unless watching a season of Sons of Anarchy for the billionth time qualifies.
So how do you pick? How do you know what matters and what doesn’t? When you eventually find a way to magic in a few minutes here and there, how do you know what to do with it?
There’s no single answer, but I’m going to try and help anyway.
I Knew Him, Horatio!
Two weeks ago I was in the office at my store, having the wily kind of Tuesday where in the middle of editing Excel spreadsheet formulas you decide that despite your borderline illiteracy in the subject of Shakespeare, it’s time to get a tattoo of that one line from Hamlet that you quote all the time.
I have this thing about famed literature, where it doesn’t stick with me in a big way, but I retain bizarre but specific details that then carve out a spot in my heart for said literature regardless. These details and the resultent pseudo-obsession have no respect for the fact that this will almost definitely manifest in me embarassing myself when I try and talk about books I haven’t touched in ten years, a la Bridget Jones and Chechnya. A prime example of this – the obsessive specificity, if not the Bridget Jones part – is that I couldn’t write you three sentences on what happens in Catcher in the Rye, but until I die I will be able to recite the completely under-valued line “LIBERATE YOURSELF FROM MY VICELIKE GRIP”, spoken by Holden Caulfield when, with the senseless surety unique to late-teenaged boys, he executes the decision to put his friend in a headlock while he’s trying to get ready for a date. Give me a few years and I’m sure I’ll find a reason to get that tattooed too.
Where Shakespeare is concerned, you’ve got the course I took during my English Lit degree, where I relied entirely on my friend (and Drama major) Suzy to get me through, and then you have my more prominent memories of the abridged collection of Shakespeare plays my aunt bought me in seventh grade. Hamlet was the first play I read, and I don’t know why, but the only thing that really stuck in my bones was that line: “Alas, poor Yorick!” (Well, that, and the image of Ophelia’s dad hiding behind some curtains, which my twelve-year-old-self thought showed some pretty weak hide-and-seek game). Real talk, though? I didn’t ever bother to look up what the hell Hamlet is even talking about when he says the line until that two-weeks-ago moment in the office.
But then I did, and I decided that in fact, the skull of the court jester from Hamlet’s youth WAS something that should definitely live on my arm forever. Because when Hamlet says “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio”, he’s not just musing at a skull, as you do. It’s a bit of an “Oh shit, I knew the person behind this skull, he was pretty funny, and here he is, dead. Wow, life’s short,” moment. Life IS short, Hamlet. So thanks, Will Shakespeare, for your keen wordsmithing, and for giving me essentially a hip and highfalutin version of my own YOLO tattoo. It’s no punch card, and Yorick hardly actively gets involved in helping me prioritize my life and manage my time better. There’s a large case to be made, though, for having a bit of a black comedy reminder that even should you make the WORST decision when prioritising your time, we’re all Yorick in the end.
#empressmatilda Gets Involved
Two nights ago, Yorick fresh on my wrist, I was participating in the universal tradition of needlessly scrolling through my newsfeed one last time before going to bed. I was on an old post of mine (#narcissist) and accidentally tapped on one of the tags I’d used – unsurprisingly, given the post’s content, the Empress Matilda hashtag. And while generally speaking there’s not much happening in that tag, on this particular evening, there was a post from Dix Noonan Webb, an auction house in Mayfair, advertising several lots of coins going up for auction.
Two lots included coins minted in the name of Matilda during the Anarchy. (Brief history for those new here: Matilda never officially reigned as England’s queen, but she got pretty damn close, and controlled most of the West Country during the nearly twenty-year period of time known as the Anarchy in the 12th century. More importantly, I’m highkey obsessed with her). The day and time of the auction? THE FOLLOWING AFTERNOON, A TEN MINUTE WALK FROM MY WORK.
The first coin was valued between £700- £900, which was quite obviously outside of my price range. The second was a mere £200-£300, so still out of my league, but I went to the auction in hopes that nobody would bid for it (the history world isn’t quite as obsessed with Norman Feminist Icons as me….YET) and that they’d kick it down to £100 or so. With my hopes thus raised, I took the train in for the twelve o’clock start time, signed up for a bidding paddle, and made my way to the Wellington Room of Dix Noonan Webb, 16 Bolton Street, ready to get my auction on.
Upon entering I helped lower the mean age of the room by about thirty years, and I immediately grabbed a seat in the back row, a few chairs over from the only other woman present. She was around my age, maybe a little older, but was seated with such chilled composure that I was absolutely certain this was not her first Late-Anglo-Saxon through Plantagenet Coin rodeo. She became one of my favorite humans when she leaned over and said, “All the women in the back then, eh?” I liked her even more when later in the afternoon I heard her chatting with another bidder and she genuinely uttered the sentence “Oh, I haven’t seen Dennis in yonks!”
The auction started with Lot 299. I was interested in Lot 432. So I observed a fair amount of bidding while waiting out my Matilda coins, watching a few valued from £200- £300 go for closer to £1,000, while others – namely the most expensive coin of the day, one from 975 – went for a cool £8,000. (Who are these people and how do I become them). A handful of technical difficulties later, we made it through to the Norman coins, and finally, at 1:20pm, my time came. The Matilda coins went up, and I didn’t even get a chance to raise my paddle, because those motherfuckers went FOR £1,200 AND £4,300. I watched it happen, grinning like an idiot from my seat in the back row, because even though I clearly wasn’t going home with those coins, Matilda’s popularity, long-overdue, was clearly on the rise.
Yorick was very fresh when I attended this auction, still encased in Dermalize and looking rather worse for the wear as the ink and plasma gooped a bit beneath the bandage (you’re welcome for that visual). He sat with me, not judging the fact that I didn’t have that kind of money to drop on medieval coinage, but more importantly, justifying my decision to sit in the Wellington Room in the first place. Because as much as I’ve just spent a lot of your time trying to convince you that we all die in the end, so do what you want with your time, sitting in that auction room gave me an amazing flip side. That this collection of coins – gathered by countless people with page-long provenances, if anyone had kept a record of their entire existence – showed that even if after we’re all dead and buried, humans are such that even a smashed up penny from the pocket of a noble in 1139 has value, almost a thousand years after its owner was dead an buried. After the monarch printed on it, who actually never even reigned but fought like hell for the right to, was forgotten by most of the world.
& Waterloo Station
When I saw down to write today, I picked a new writing spot. I was sneaking in a writing session before a closing shift, something I don’t do often because my writing sessions are almost exclusively the territory of days off. The past 48 hours had me filled with words, though, so I plonked down at a coffee shop at Waterloo Station, surrounded by hundreds of summery Londoners, and stared at the giant clock suspended from the ceiling.
It doesn’t matter what you do with your time, but in the best possible way. All of that pressure that you feel is absolutely temporary. You can look at it from the perspective of YOLO Yorick, or of some nine-hundred year old coins. Yorick, the jester, being dead, when once he was funny and jovial and very much alive. Those coins, with Matilda’s seal stamped into them, surviving hundreds of years, into a world Matilda herself could not have imagined, being in a small auction room in Mayfair, where some mysterious bidder dropped over four grand on them.
Time is ceaseless. It’s there whether you do the thing or you don’t. Whether your priorities are always the same or change every day. Whether it’s 2019 or 1139. Whether you’re cracking jokes or impossibly sad. It just keeps going on. It’s a little terrifying, but at the same time, strangely comforting. There’s not a lot in life you can bet on never changing, but the passage of time is one of them. And like Achilles says in the 2005 cinematic masterpiece, Troy, “Take it, IT’S YOURS!”
Sure, he’s actually talking about immortality, but his aggressive demand is one I’d encourage everyone to echo. Your time IS yours, and you should spend it how you want.
And if you’re waiting for the right moment for some change, think of Yorick. This might just be it.