Island Time

The Persistence of Memory

The Persistence of Memory

I remember long ago, as a grad student flying from Denver to Honolulu, reading about island time in an in-flight magazine:

"Hawaiian Time is very much like the concept of mañana - but without anywhere near the sense of urgency".

It's a much-maligned concept, and yet so much a part of to life in the islands that I thought it deserved some of its own space in this blog.

Having lived on O'ahu for a couple of years, and spent a fair amount of time on Maui, I've witnessed, and contributed to, both sides of the island time equation. It's a concept that drives visitors and new residents crazy, and considering the culture they're coming from, that may be understandable. In my experience, there are two prevailing points of view about island time:

Island Time is an excuse for lazy and unreliable people who show up only if it is convenient

On the mainland, you have millions of people who have to learn to get along in some sense of, if not harmony, then at least coordination. Those numbers of people impose a certain pressure on the rules people need in place to avoid what I've heard of as "the rat effect", or too many people together with not enough goodwill or rules to keep them from biting each other. People perceive time as a rigidly-advancing ticking clock (what will we do when everything is digital and silent? Children are already having trouble with concepts like "clockwise". But I digress.) and with a large body of people, small perturbations of schedule can cascade downstream into a total mess.

With the exception of parts of of the coasts, effects of tide and surf are irrelevant. The only sort of nature-related effects that legitimately impact schedules and commitments tend to be sufficiently extreme to make national news, like tornadoes or blizzards. There are no "surf's up" excuses, and anyone who places something like an especially beautiful sunset ahead of a business appointment is considered an asshole.

Island Time is the result of people embracing priorities beyond "civilized" or "mainland" expectations

I used to do a lot of sea kayaking. And in the Pacific Northwest, especially up in the San Juan Islands, you lived by the tide tables - or more specifically, the current tables. Paddling routes could be easy or impossible depending on whether you followed nature's schedule. Crossings could be trivial or highly risky if you didn't read the tides and the winds correctly. Where you pitched your tent or when you made dinner largely depended on things greater than yourself. For a lot of people I paddled with, that aspect was one of the main reasons they loved the sport - having to give in, flex and adapt to what the planet had to say about their schedules.

Even before that, as a bar manager in Boulder, we stumbled upon a brilliant idea: since we had plenty of bartenders looking for shifts, we instigated "Bad Attitude Day": the rule that, once a month, if a barkeep gave us at least one-hour's notice, they could get out of their shift - they could literally say "I'm not coming in tonight because, well, I just don't feel like it" and we'd cheerfully let them off. Being empowered to do that once a month helped morale to soar.

I use these examples to suggest that island time exists in a lot of forms in a lot of places. In a culture like the one found on Maui, the community is small by comparison, and interactions, at least in my experience, tend to have a more personal nature. Social networking existed here just fine, thank you, long before Mark Zuckerberg decided to productize it. People appreciate the influences family, friends, weather and yes, surf may have one one's original plans.

And nature is a big deal here. Believe it or not, a lot of people actually move to Maui to live next to the ocean. They come here so that they can go kiteboarding after a long day of work. They come here to savor sunset after sunset with their love-ones. They come here to slow down, perhaps experience a certain amount of grace, placing relationships with people and with their environment at the center of their world ahead of clocks and organizers and email.

At least, that's a part of why I'm relocating. I won't say I don't get frustrated sometimes if a person misses an appointment or leaves me without an answer. I will say that, as I anticipate landing in Kahului, driving up to Kula and starting a new life, I am determined to embrace the human and the cultural and the natural aspects of a situation before I decide to get pissed off because someone went surfing.