I want to talk to you about the concept of a week (and the reasons I hate it). Here’s why:
My publisher, Civil Coping Mechanisms, has a new project called “7 Days of Coping.” The concept is that, during the first seven days of each month, a new author posts on the topic of “coping” (or anything connected to that idea, interpreted as broadly as that author prefers). I’m excited to have been asked to take part in the second iteration, happening now in the first week of July (Alexandra Naughton got things started last month, setting the bar high). For the next few days (well, seven to be exact), I’ll be “coping” with the idea of trying to say anything reasonable at all about what people cope with in life and how they manage to do so. I consider myself a terrible judge of human behavior and am wildly inept at being a person myself, so we’ll just have to see how this goes.
One way I deal with my own ineptitude is by approaching things as methodically as possible (and, of course, another more common and “natural” way I deal with ineptitude is by approaching things in a state of total disarray and abandon, flailing about and tripping over myself, but today I’m going methodical). I often entertain and act upon the entirely illogical notion that if we break something down into small enough parts, or into a finite number of boxes, then we can address them one at a time, fully and with care. This thinking is, by and large, bullshit. But sometimes I need bullshit to do anything. To move, at all. To get out of bed. Take a step. Eat. So this is the bullshit I’ve chosen for today: to believe the lie that addressing the small parts of something can help us conceive of and take control of the whole. In that delusional spirit, I’d like to address the first portion of my assignment: “7 days” — or a week.
I am of the opinion that the week is a useless, foolish, and absurd unit of time. It’s the worst.
Yet somehow, the week is also immensely popular. Like: it’s up there (I think we can all agree) among the most popular units of time available. People the world over employ the week as a system of time management and as a guiding force in their lives. When you wake up and think, “ahhh, it’s Monday,” so do a few billion other people. It is pretty much everywhere. In the realm of useless, arbitrary things (which the week fits easily into), that’s a real accomplishment. I can hardly think of a more popular or universally accepted bit of total nonsense. To that end, I respect the week, for its sheer audacity. A king among pointless things.
But let’s back up. What is a week, exactly? Seven days, of course. But also: seven uniquely named days, which are today broken generally into two categories — regular weekdays, and the weekend. As a unit of time, it’s a pretty special case. Unlike a year, for example, it doesn’t correspond to the completion of something like the Earth’s orbit around the sun. When a year is over, we can say that something has happened. When a day comes to completion, we can rest assured that a milestone has been reached. But when a week is over, we can maybe say that something almost happened, I guess? In our imaginations? A week corresponds to roughly 94% of a quarter of a lunar cycle. Yikes. In this way, a week’s length is pretty arbitrary. We could just have easily gone with a third of a lunar cycle, or half (a fortnight!), or an eighth or tenth or fifth.
Of course, units of time are awash in arbitrary distinctions. The fuck is a minute? Or an hour? Or a second? A bunch of crap, really. But the week stands out even amid this sea of haphazard distinctions. Why? Because we didn’t name each individual hour. We don’t have titles for every passing second. And we sure as heck didn’t name all the seconds or hours after individual gods and planets that have nothing at all to do with them in the first place. (Thursday. Thor’s Day. Of course.) And, so, the week really is a special case: it is both arbitrarily defined and egregiously imbued with extraneous meaning. It sections the progression of time into useless chunks, and then applauds itself for doing so by taking on the names of the Gods. The week is the worst kind of awful: simultaneously useless and self-important.
A week’s stupidity is proportional to its primacy in our lives. I mean: You literally cannot escape it. You will always be in it. “7 days of coping,” forever. All this despite it not being real. The concept of the week is so omnipresent in my own life that I have come to conceive of it almost as a physical object. That is, when I imagine myself moving through time, I can see the week as a “thing,” can see its shape and its form, with individual days forming undulations in the grand structure of the larger network. I see myself along its length, approaching its end, floating like a dust mite over rocks (a somewhat unimportant, but still compelling note: when I imagine passing through the week, I always imagine it happening from right to left. No idea why.). No doubt you too may have a mental image of what a week “looks like.” Which is absurd. Because it doesn’t look like anything. It isn’t anything. Yet we still know its face.
And the week puts its little fingers into almost every part of our lives. Our work schedules are framed in accordance with it. Leisure time, too. Not only the “day of rest,” or the weekend, but the number of weeks that we might enjoy vacation. The number of hours worked in a week often determines eligibility for benefits like medical and dental. There are laws and regulations built on the foundation of this jumble of random cut-offs and mythical attributions. In some places, you can’t buy alcohol on Sunday. Businesses operate on different hours on weekends. The garden at my neighborhood bar is open two hours later on Fridays and Saturdays. The week is nonsense, yes, but it is also woven deeply into the fabric of what we do, when we do it, how we do it, and even if we are allowed to do it at all. In this respect, it starts to seem less absurd that we’ve named its parts after Gods.
The religious connotations and historical origins come vividly into focus. When considering the week, Genesis is often referenced. The world, created in seven days, yada yada. Work, rest, and progress. Yet the religious/week connection no doubt goes even further back, notably to the Babylonians. Their creation epic, Enuma Elish, was recorded on seven tablets. Those seven tablets informed later creation myths, and ultimately form the foundation for each day of the week. In which case, the week might in fact be a real thing after all. Except, if the week is a real thing, it’s just a bunch of old rocks with some carvings on them. And what do those carvings describe? Some people squabbling for power and position in their place of employment.
The tablets’ power struggle, too, is of unique interest. It begins in a formless void, a massive whole that is indiscriminate and inseparable from itself, not unlike the concept of time. Then, the Gods begin to name things and draw distinctions in the fluid darkness. They cast arbitrary lines between one thing and the next (an animal, a rock), so that they (and we too) might have a sense of control over the endless parade of chaos all around us. By breaking it into smaller, nameable, parts, we have the illusion of agency and power. The week, therefore, is itself borne out of that very same lie that brought me here today, the lie that addressing the small parts of something can help us conceive of and take control of the whole.
Which, as I’ve said, is pretty much bullshit. Yet it’s some of the only bullshit we’ve got. And, so, here we go. It’s going to be a great week!