The Grumpy Owl Guide to Navigating the Unfathomable Abyss of Free Time

Both the shock and the excitement have worn off. Instead of finding yourself in an action packed apocalypse with some motley band of outcasts, you now realize that, really, you’re just stuck at home. Maybe you’re with the people you love. Oh God, why those people? Why not the people you like instead? Or maybe you are alone. Whomever you are with or not with, you are still there. Constantly. There is no escape. You are there. All the time.

Whether alone or with people, you now notice some strange shape creeping from the corners of the room. Some frightful geometry oozing from the vents. You hear it creeping closer in the silences outside your window. You sense it but are afraid to look at it. Some dim mammalian memory, lodged deep in your very cells, knows that this thing is dangerous. The howls of dead ancestors warn you that to stare directly at this thing is to invite madness and despair. This thing is Free Time. Some maniac has freed time.

This guide will hopefully help you to navigate the bottomless expanse of Free Time that you may now find yourself tumbling through without signpost or compass. This guide cannot save you. At best, it can only serve as distraction — a distraction to keep you from staring into that soul-rending void. It is, at best, a bauble jangled in front of a cat. Look at the bauble. Bat at the bauble. Do not look at Free Time.

It is already looking at you.

Morals Wither in the Void

People often look at time in moral terms. They talk about wasting time. They speak of good and bad uses of time, of having a good time and a bad time. And, indeed, this approach had some value when time was safely chained up deep below the ice-caps, when it was dolloped out in finite doses and, never having enough of it, one had to figure out what to do with their time. Oh, what a wonderful and quaint era that was. When people thought they owned time. When we decided what to do with time, instead of time deciding what to do with us. When we could, in our hubris, think of good and bad times. When we were so safe and arrogant in Reno to shout “LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL!” If only we knew what rolling time really meant. We know now. Unchained, freed time is rolling right at us.

The good times roll through an endless pitch black void of abject nothingness.

Even in times without a crisis, it is not unusual for people to cling to old and obsolete habits. Sometimes, this is simply because adaptation takes time. I, for example, am walking around Korea speaking English. It takes time to change a habit like that. In other cases, these habits provide some small comfort. A person, for example, may curl into a fetal position and suck liquid food in through their belly button, because it reminds them of happier times — the era before they were expelled out of the soft liquid warmth of their mother’s womb and into a world full of sharp edges, corners, and spicy things that get into eyes. Habit even seems built into nature. Is there, for example, any real reason for my wife to have webbed toes? Or for me to have bones where my wings used to be? Not really. It’s just biological memory. These things may again be useful. And so may a moral view of time. But not now.

At the moment, these attitudes about good and bad times, about using time in good or bad ways, are an atavism. To start with, the moral sense of time is rooted in capitalist ideas of efficiency. When time is money, one learns frugality. Time is bought and sold and we all look for a decent return. But time is now in a supply glut. Time has never been cheaper. It’s not so important whether you make good or bad use of time. And waste? Wasting time?

Are you fucking kidding? We are in The Wasteland of Time.

Take Instruction From the Indolent

Let’s not get carried away – for now, you may just have to talk to one.

This is some advice I never thought I would give anyone and it pains me to do so now.

As this crisis goes on, as the horrible mass-less body of Free Time grows upon us like a tumor, we must look to people who have some familiarity with the subject. That is –God help me, deep breath– artistic people. We must learn from artists, writers, and other creative indolents. You may already know some of these people. Amazingly, they now have some use. I know — none of us saw that coming. Least of all, them. Faced with this responsibility, don’t be surprised if they run out, get a haircut and a job. It may be less work.

These artistic types are the priests in The Cult of Free Time. Many of them have long lived with Free Time. In some cases, they have domesticated it. Most often, they have a simple working relationship with it — a relationship that sometimes boils down to “you don’t bother it, it won’t bother you.” But, most often, these artistic types worship at the bone altar of these endless hours. There, on bent knee and with bowed head, they pay blood tribute to this horrible and disorienting abyss and seek to summon more of it into the world.

Being loyal servants, they have earned some favor with the swirling void. They’ve had to earn this favor. They’ve needed to learn its ways. Their service to Free Time and their summoning of Free Time is their real art. All that stuff they make and try to sell you? That is just the waste product of this relationship with their Shadow Master. Their art is only the smoke escaping the censers. Confronted with Free Time, you may start producing a similar form of pollution. Don’t be frightened. It will stink. That’s normal.

There are a few general rules that this ancient priesthood of ridiculous beatniks can teach us. They often have schedules of varying strictness but it’s often not a 9-5. Indeed, they often measure time in ways not directly related to a clock. They count time not in passing minutes but in word-counts, progress on some painting, and, in one strange case, a notorious poet even confessed to having ‘measured out his life with coffee spoons.’ Time is treated as a space in which things happen but not as a measurement of the things that happen. So set yourself a few minor goals each day and do those things.

They don’t need to be good goals.

You have seen your prematurely retired aunt’s paintings? You’ve actually read your uncle’s self-published novel? You’ve heard your bother in law’s band? If they can live with that, so can you. Shame is pretty healthy for most people. Many artists are incapable of it. You too must learn to put shame aside. (Unless it’s about going outside or having dirty hands. You should be very ashamed of these things — right now and for the foreseeable future.)

You may have also noticed that many of these artists have periods when they’re doing “research” or, sigh, “working on themselves.” This simply means that you can’t be productive all the time. Part of being productive is, sometimes, doing nothing. You have to absorb raw material in order to expel the sickening pollution of art. Take some time to absorb. The excretions will surely follow. But fuck’s sake, this is not the time to learn an instrument.

It never has been.

When speaking with artists of any type, you may also have noticed some pretty obnoxious presumptions and attitudes about “the norms”, “conformists” or some such thing. These attitudes are often based in a basic contempt towards perceptions and uses of time that infringe on Free Time. Rather than thinking of time as money, your typical beatnik tends to view time as a slow and painful march towards the grave. This, of course, explains their generally morbid demeanor, if not the berets. But the grave does have some value as a guidepost. The grave ends time. Unless you’re religious. If so, good luck with that.

Talk to an artist you know about this. They have the time to help. They have a lot of Free time. They always did. That dirty little secret is out now.

Embrace Death and Vanity

Vanity has gotten something of a bad rap over the years. A lot of these reasons are simple sexism. Male artists have long enjoyed drawing nude ladies for rich men to stare at and, to disguise their prurient intentions, they’d show these nudes looking at themselves and dress the whole sordid pornography up as some sort of sanctimonious disapproval of ‘vanity.’ There was also that Smurf.

The most odious of all the plants – the flower.

But once you accept that Free Time only has one end-point and one guidepost (the sweet oblivion of death) then you are presented with a different view of vanity. Everything is vanity. Your job, car payments, your love of family and friends. It’s all in vain. Nothing will help. Nothing will rescue you. You will die. Everything points towards the grave. All will be forgotten and none of it means a damn thing. That being the case, why not a flower?

Whatever you do is probably going to be pretty pointless. This was always the case. Now, you just have to acknowledge it. But this isn’t an excuse to do nothing. It’s not an excuse to faint dead away and give up on everything. This only brings aesthetics back into life. It makes aesthetics as important as economics. Given a choice between pointless and ugly and pointless and beautiful, you should choose the beautiful, even if it’s ugly. You have the time for both. You don’t even need to pick. You can just fuck around with appearance.

My wife puts makeup on me and I put me on the Internet. Vain?

Sure. Of fucking course! But so is fantasizing about a vaccine or worrying about the stock-market. At least, maybe, there’s the off-chance that some rich weirdo can get themselves off to me. The sort of rich weirdo who masturbates to the stock market? That’s the sort of person who is probably busy being the president of some mess. The grave awaits them too.

Summary

The first confrontation with Free Time is often the worse. It’s terrible non-euclidean geometries stretch into a harrowing and repulsive eternity. There are horrors hidden and squirming below the opaque membrane of Free Time. Unthinkable horrors. My parents, for example, now want to Skype on some sort of regular basis.

Enduring this takes some adjustment to our attitudes. We cannot import our old attitudes and moralities about time into this new world. It’s not good or bad, useful or wasted. It is just an endless expanse — a complete wasteland that we must structure ourselves. Your local artist may be able to help with some of this. (Times are, indeed, quite bad.) And the good news is that even without capitalism, there is still a way to measure time. We need only look to our forgotten future graves and understand the basic vanity of the human condition. We can also understand that this vanity is basically fine. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, who really gives a fuck? Be an idiot. Your idiocy may be more helpful than your pride.

The terrible blob like formlessness of Free Time will eventually take some shape. These shapes change. What works to fill your time for the first few days may not work in a week. Your best tools might fail you tomorrow. You’ll make new tools. Your tactics will change. Your sleeping schedule might alter. You will have to adjust. You will get used to it.

Needs must when the devil drives.

And he’s driving now. Hail Satan!

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