Quartz Movement

There are dozens of metaphors for life, all of which are somewhat true. But the one I’ll use here is the ticking wristwatch. There are two main ways watches move. In the early days, it was all mechanical, and you can tell if a watch is mechanical because the second hand sweeps smoothly around the face. But most of today’s watches use quartz movement. You can tell it’s quartz because the second hand ticks forward once every second.

It’s generally nice to observe mechanical watches, because they push forward smoothly, without breaks. It gives a sense of progression.

It’s what the American education system feels like. It’s designed on the idea of smooth progression. But then when we’re done, we’re told in one swift swoop: “Your life is now about survival.” And all of the sudden, our lives turn into quartz watches. They tick forward occasionally, and pause indefinitely. But ever since I’ve returned to school, I’ve felt the mechanical progression; I’m comforted by the external force that pushes the second hand forward smoothly and without failure.

But then I have weekends like this one.

Working in a newsroom has taught me how to focus in the face of anything. I’m able to turn on a switch and spew out productive work on demand. But this weekend, it all came to a screeching halt and I couldn’t do anything. I wanted to sit still and think. And I was not OK with this; I felt guilty.

So, in an attempt to be productive, I made myself think about what’ll happen when there’s no longer that external force pushing me forward — when life turns back to the herky-jerky quartz-like movement and pauses indefinitely between bursts of progression. I wondered if I’m OK not being a mechanical watch — not moving smoothly around the face of the watch, moonwalking past the “12” one-thousand-forty-four times a day.

And I concluded: Yes.

Mechanical watches spin and spin, returning to the same place over and over again. It moves; it’s productive. But it progresses no where. Quartz watches don’t go anywhere either. But, at least, they pause every second to think about — and enjoy — the next inevitable move. And I assume, sometimes, they even stop between ticks to do nothing.

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