Posted in Today's File, Writing

A Smashmatician Ponders Relative Time

Galileo and Newton measured linear time with pendulums and water clocks—and that type of time measurement is one I can wrap my head around.  Einstein had more flexible ideas about time and relativity, and though I confess the physics of Einstein-time are fuzzier to me, there has to be something to it, just based on my observations about how time squishes relative to deadlines.

I haven’t figured out why a series of near-identical articles can take me half an hour apiece to write, until I have four left with an hour till deadline.  I still haven’t missed a deadline, haven’t (yet) been late by more than ten minutes—but man, I always take it down to the wire.  Why is that?  I’ll have 24 hours to write 20 articles, and I’ll wait 18 hours to start.

© Kana Tyler

I can’t explain that behavior on my part, and I really can’t explain how time squishes differently as I get closer to the deadline.  I swear I’m working at the best pace I can when I’m three hours away from deadline, but somehow I’m smashing more words into the same amount of time (or so says the clock) when that deadline looms closer.  I haven’t figured out the math or the physics behind that, except by concluding that I’m some sort of Smashmatician.

No doubt these same elastic properties of Time are responsible for things like how much shorter a year is than it used to be when I was a child, or how much longer Mondays would last compared to Saturdays (back when I had to go to an office-job),or why the clock on the dashboard moves so quickly when I’m stuck in traffic and supposed to be somewhere else, or why Christmas-Eve-Day used to last longer than any four normal days, or why the day-before-Exams when I still needed to cram a library’s-worth of material only lasted a few hours, or why a flight takes so much longer with a fussy toddler on my lap than the exact same trip when I’m accompanied only by my book, or why the kids’ football and soccer games last so much longer when it’s cold or rainy…

It’s undeniably a fact that my method of waiting-till-deadlines-loom enables me to spend less time on my freelance writing than I would if I started earlier, given the accelerated pace of work that magically (Smashmatically) happens as the deadline gets closer.  If I started my work when I first got my assignments, I’d no doubt be working at that more plodding pace that seems to be my “best effort” when I’m not yet in deadline-danger.  Time is clearly relative–the sundial measures an hour as if it were always the same amount of time, but my word-counter says it just ain’t so.  Smashmatician I may be, but I really can’t explain an extra thousand words per hour unless Time is doing some squishing of its own.

My husband wickedly points out that “Smash” is also a current bit of Hawai’ian slang…  We stream a Honolulu station over the internet—when the DJs chit-chat about celebrities hooking up, the conversation runs along the lines of, “He wen’ smash wid her!”  So now that I’ve hit my deadlines for the day, maybe I’ll power down the iPad and see what other kind of Smashmatical powers I can test…

courtesy of


I am... a writer, an explorer, a coffee-drinker, a recovering addict, a barefoot linguist, a book-dragon ("bookworm" doesn't cover it), a raconteur, a sailboat skipper, a research diver, a tattooed scholar, a pirate, a poet, a spiritual adventurer, a photographer, a few kinds-of-crazy, a joyful wife, a mom... a list-maker! :)

32 thoughts on “A Smashmatician Ponders Relative Time

  1. Aloha Kako’u, Much Mahalos for your word choice. Somehow “Squishmatician” just doesn’t seem to roll off the tongue as well. By the way, my high school football coaches used almost the exact same sundial when timing me in the 40 yard dash. A Hui Ho’u, Ko’u ‘Ele Makule


  2. “I work better under pressure”. That’s what I tell myself and others. It’s also procrastination which, if I could get paid for it would make me a wealthy woman. Good post!


  3. I’m not so sure I work better under the pressure of a deadline…
    I have set deadlines for finishing a piece of writing, but I find I tend to go too fast and do sloppy work. Or I exhaust all my ideas and since I can’t wait for my flow of creativity to catch up to my writing, I write dry boring stuff and my story does not have the vibrancy in it that I had been planning.
    But I am a procrastinator, especially with writing… so maybe a deadline would be good every once in a while.


  4. I think Mickey is absolutely correct. Too many times I have seen that last minute brilliance occur, not just with my own writing deadlines, but with artists and writers I have worked with over the years. Time doesn’t shift – but certainly our focus becomes laser guided and we turn off the background distractions. So far – touch wood! – I have never found the well empty when I needed that last bit to drink.


  5. Great blog Kana! I have to agree that there is something about coming up on a deadline and pushing yourself to write fast, that you can end up with something really good. I think the pressure does force us to focus on just getting the writing done and not second guessing our words. I seem to be able to consistantly pull this off myself, as well. And I love that you included the Calvin & Hobbes strip for this blog. “Last Minute Panic” is defintly one way to prod our inner muse to divulge her inspiration.


    1. Ha, I actually did teach Physical Science to eighth graders… Possibly my most adventurous job to date: a room full of 30 hormone-crazed teenagers doing labs with fire and acid… I still occasionally run into former students (all “grown up” now) who invariably greet me with a shout of “BOOM!”–I was evidently famed for getting very excited about my in-class physics demos. :) Bill Nye ain’t got nothin’ on this Smashmatician!


  6. We’re finding out that this isn’t just focus or perception. Time does shift, is not linear, and molds to our intentional energy like Quark Silly Putty. Smashmatics Rule!


  7. Ah, mutable time. I’ve been pondering this a lot lately, and I’m convinced that time really is moving faster the older I get. There just aren’t enough hours in the day sometimes, even when I manage not to procrastinate.

    Next job for the Smashmatician — figure out a way to slow it down. :D


  8. Love the Calvin and Hobbs inclusion! SOMTIMES, not all of the time, by any means, a deadline just burns away all the chaff, leaving only the “good kernels”. Other times, I do better to let the original word-image idea float around in my psyche, writing its own story, sort of. And I have found that cruising around and soaking up from my old and new favorites on the internet generates a kind of electromagnetism that “dresses” the characters and the action in sticky feathers of plot and character detail. Not that there is anything even close to plagiarism. What happens feels more like riding on the rails in that parallel universe “just over —-THERE! Your mention of Einstein’s thinking about the space-time continuum reminded me of research I have been reading about on the way neutrinos travel faster than light, appearing to travel backwards in “time”. That is, our man-invented notion of time! Maybe that is what happens to your writing process/effectiveness the close you get to a deadline–your ideas travel backwards to your original best concepts of your projects!


  9. Don’t know the science but I certainly know the feeling. At this point in my life, all time is fast time.


  10. I totally agree with just about everything you just wrote about your Smashmatician. I’ve often wondered why procastination brings out the best “kernels” at the last minute. I must confess, though, I don’t always do a bangup job when I rush. I’m best putting anything down on paper at the latest no later than half-way to deadline and then using the remaining time rewriting.

    You always write such thought provoking posts. Thanks.


  11. So procrastination is a good thing – I think my kids would definitely agree – you can fit so much more in that way (a movie here, a concert there . . . paper for college final at 2:00 a.m. ). I especially relate to the “elastic property of time.” I’m in a very happy time of my life right now and time is flying by . . . . Excellent post!


  12. I do the same thing! Ive been awol from the blogging world, partly because I went on vacation (yay!) and partly because Ive left too many assignments and work projects get down to the wire and I had to forgo my internet fixes to get it all done! Now I have to play catch up reading all my favorite bloggers posts! Happy (belated) Thanksgiving to you and yours!


  13. It has to be because of our simian hind-brain. One minute we’re shmoozing along the savanna grasslands minding our own business, then this bloody great sabre-toothed … something… comes up behind us and wants to sample our gizzards for lunch. Simian hind-brain says, “Run you silly hominid.” … and we run. The we stop running and continue shmoozing along through the grass. The sabre-toothed critter long forgotten.


  14. An hour at a boring job seems like eternity, an hour over lunch with a beautiful girl seems like five minutes, that’s relativity. Einstein said that. Really, that is relativity.


  15. I’m currently somewhere around 5500 words in a 7500 word paper that I could have written all semester. This post seems perversely appropriate. I keep trying to remind myself: it’s a privilege, it’s a privilege.


  16. In general put off till tomorrow anything you don’t fancy doing, I often found that it saved me doing stuff that nobody needed in the end when I worked for a big corporation where the chief execs kept changing what tiny minds they had


  17. So very true! It’s amazing how fast something can come together in the last minute. I was never able to figure out how it works that way either. I’ve such a horrible sense of time/timing that stuff frequently ends up done in a hurry at the very last minute. Amazingly it usually turns out just fine though. My lack of time sense is probably why I insist my kids start all their school projects the day we get them from the teacher ;D Now if I could just organize my life as easily as i do theirs ; D


  18. you know i feel pretty much nearly the same way about time. And it’s passing. When it comes to time I think the only way to conceptualize a moment is simply as: user defined. And leave it at that. Why mess up a perfectly good mystery with analytics?

    I had deadlines this week and I knew that I would meet them and I knew that the right words would come to me when it was time. When that creative moment arrived. Of course none of us has control over when any given moment will arise and all we can do is practice for it and try to be open to it….

    I back tracked from Sandy-Sue’s place to you. I can see it was a good thing to do. I think I will follow you.



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