: Made to Measure :

an excerpt by Sue Allison


There was a period in my life when I knew the increments of an hour with pinpoint accuracy. What happened was this: my watch broke and when I didn’t immediately replace it, for reasons I no longer recall, to my surprise, I soon discovered that I didn’t need a watch, at all. I started by clocks on buildings or the position of the sun or, when it was cloudy, the quality of the light. But though it happened gradually it seemed that all of a sudden I simply always knew what time it was. It was as if I had acquired a sixth sense. To be free of the tic of constantly checking my wrist was liberating. I always knew not only where in the world I was—41st and Madison, say—but also when.  That was a time in my life when what time it was mattered and, without a watch, I told time the old fashioned way: by physically moving through it in space. This is simpler than it sounds if you live in New York, which is an easy place to tell time if you are afoot. A Manhattan block running along the north/south axis is about a twentieth of a mile and since I knew it took twenty minutes to walk twenty blocks at a brisk and even pace, I could not only calculate my arrival at my destination, but also self-correct along the way, calibrate, as it were, the measuring mechanism that was me. Late, I speeded up; later still, I ran the lights. I may have been a point on a graph, a walking Cartesian equation, blithely mapping my day with precision, but the physics of being in time felt less like science and more like dancing.