They say time is linear, but it feels more like those sticky hands from the ’90s, expanding and contracting with grace or nightmarish speed. Days drag, years fly, weeks are long or short depending on their emotional tenor (but never the speed you want). No matter how much we all talk about time — the way it stresses us out, can’t come soon enough or slips through our fingers — there remains a certain mystery to it: an inevitable uncertainty surrounding what time actually means or why it matters. Perhaps that’s what makes the concept so intriguing.
Below, in partnership with Baume Watches, Harling, Emma and I spoke with three women for whom time plays a particularly interesting role in their livelihoods. Jacqueline is a comedian, tethered to set times and an industry framed in minutes and hours; Aparna is an artist and teacher, splitting her time between the minute-by-minute chaos in the classroom and the quiet peace of painting; Sasha is a freelance creative and single mother, navigating a busy schedule in too few hours. Read on to hear their as-told-to stories.
Jacqueline is a comedian and writer living in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter here. Interview as told to Haley Nahman.
The first time I did stand-up at an open mic, my understanding was that I needed five minutes of material. I didn’t think I had it — I had three jokes. I remember Mike Birbiglia, who talked me through some of my first comedy moves, was like, “Well, you can go short. You don’t have to use your whole time in an open mic.” I found that really freeing.
In comedy, “having five minutes” is meaningful because it’s the expected time of a late-night set. To me, it feels like there isn’t even enough time to take your coat off. I’ve handled that by going narrow. When I did James Corden, I talked about pizza, and on The Tonight Show, I went with french fries.
Eight to ten minutes, the next common set time, feels like a stop and chat; you can settle in just enough to get somewhere and then get out. Then from there up, it’s much more luxurious. These days I’m just focusing on the hour — that’s what I did when I was recently in Scotland for a month. An hour every night was the most satisfying comedy experience I’ve had.
Since I tend to get lost in the present moment, I need outside tethers to cue me on time. I’ll bring my phone on stage to keep track or request they flash a light when I have two minutes left. I go on tangents a lot and always feel that when I return from the tangent, time should not have passed, since I’m going back to where I was on the planned timeline. l’m usually surprised by the sight of the light. Oh what? We’re done? I just got started! We just sat down to dinner! I’d really love a watch tailored to my 60-minute stand-up hour that only has a minute hand…and instead of numbers there would symbols of the material to keep me on track. I might have to DIY that.
In a more general sense, time passing and the question of productivity used to be my primary source of self-flagellation. What’s annoying is that panicking about time itself takes up time and energy. I talked about this in my book How to Weep in Public, how back in the depression days, I once stopped dating entries in my journals because the date always felt like bad news. Like, Oh god. It’s 2018? It’s already December?
These days, I try not to spend too much time worrying about time. I kind of follow the flow instead of trying to control time so much, clear everything out of my life that isn’t something I care about and then let time take care of itself. If I do that, I find I actually get more done.
P.S. I’ve always felt I’m on a 25-hour circadian cycle — based on my sleep patterns — and I like to imagine it’s due to alien ancestry. A past life on another planet?
Aparna paints the brown femme body in shifting, mythological spaces. She is an artist and teacher in Brooklyn, N.Y. To see more, visit aparnasarkar.us and @parpo10 on Instagram. Interview as told to Harling Ross.
I’ve been a teacher at a school in Brooklyn since 2014, when I graduated from college. Even before I moved to New York to start the job, I knew I wanted to focus on making art at the same time. I was a full-time math teacher at first, and I was working out of my apartment trying to make better paintings on the side. Things shifted over the years, though. Now I’m a part-time math teacher, and my priority is painting. I teach for a few hours, four days a week and devote the rest of my time to painting and drawing in my Bed-Stuy studio and printmaking at a shop in Manhattan. The third big activity in my life is dance. Teaching, art and dancing are my trifecta.
Teaching requires all my attention when I’m there. Every minute of the time I’m at school is occupied with a task, which can feel chaotic, but knowing I can rise to the occasion every day is exciting. In contrast, painting is almost the complete opposite, allowing me to be present in a completely different way: I’m all alone, my studio is quiet, and I work pretty slowly. It takes me many hours to complete a painting. I’ll start with one layer or one idea for a piece, and then everything that happens after that is mostly waiting and sitting and processing as more ideas come to me. Dancing is the perfect complement to both teaching and painting because it helps me get out of my head and into my body.
The time that I give to my students when I teach and the time that I take for myself when I’m painting or dancing are both really important to me. I feel really in harmony doing all three simultaneously throughout the week. Ultimately, though, my ideal relationship with time is impossible to achieve. I don’t know anyone in New York who feels like they have enough time. I think it’s because most of the people I know who live here (myself included) like to do a lot of things. But there’s an important distinction between pursuing all the passions that enrich your life and getting to a point where your schedule is oversaturated and you’re stressed about making everything happen. I definitely need to get better about scheduling time specifically to do nothing. I’m terrible at that, you know? But I’m slowly trying to figure out how to do that in ways that feel right.
Sasha is a freelance creative — she writes, tells stories, develops art programming. She is also a single mother to Sofia, 7. You can find her work here. Interview as told to Emma Bracy.
I tell the stories of Black women — in mundanity, through struggles, daily lives, as artists. Because I’m basically working around my daughter Sofia’s schedule, my life is pretty much built around creating my own work without feeling guilty about being an inattentive mother. Guilt and creativity are both constants, but I try to keep them balanced. I’m a much better mother when I’m creating.
Sofia is 7 now, which makes it a little bit easier; we’re getting into our rhythm. When she was really young I literally put “how to be a Black woman artist and a single mother” in Google. The first thing that came back was about Toni Morrison, also a single mother, who would wake up in the morning before her boys to get three hours of personal writing in. So I adapted that into my lifestyle — I wake up at 4 a.m. and write until 7, my own personal work. Then, during the day, I do my freelance work.
Before becoming a mother I felt like time was endless. Now I’m just much more aware of it because the days go by so quickly, and I’m constantly thinking about how to schedule. I think that I’m living in a bit of a restricted space by thinking about time so much, although, practically, I have to. I would prefer to be living a space where time doesn’t exist; aging isn’t something that I think about.
Having a child reminds you of time because you have this person who is growing and evolving in front of you every day: Their language, their physical structure, their hair — everything just seems to be much more illuminated, whereas I look the same as I looked five years ago. I’m constantly comparing her growth to mine and trying to mimic it so that I can be growing and expanding, too.
Before Sofia, I was working in public relations because I thought I needed to have a proper job — some place where I went and I clocked in and I had benefits and all that. Then when I had my daughter, I realized that I couldn’t tell her that she could do whatever she wanted if I wasn’t living in that truth myself. I didn’t want to be that parent who said things but didn’t practice them. So I decided to apply to grad school, came to New York to study creative writing and changed the entire trajectory of my career. I’m really happy with that decision.
Photos by Edith Young. Styled by Harling Ross. Makeup by Maggie Mondanile.