Time Out: Resonating Anxieties

For the past few months, I’ve been watching and writing about short cartoons on the World Animation Discord, as a way to keep me engaged with animation in a more casual fashion. Most of these are suggested by the people from the WAD, and it inevitably results in me rewatching shorts I haven’t seen in a good while. One of the great things about this is discovering new things about old cartoons, and occasionally having enough of a reaction that I end up thinking and writing a fair bit about it.

That’s pretty much what happened when I revisited Aeg Maha/Time Out, Priit Pärn’s 1984 short which is considered something of a seminal classic around parts of the WAD. I’d seen it a few years ago back when I was starting to get serious about my cartoon fandom, but this rewatch struck a surprisingly personal chord.

The short is about a cat, stuck in a room where they’re constantly scrambling to try and do anything such as hitting their alarm clock or washing their face. However, the things they need, such as the stool to reach the shelf where the clock is perched or the glasses they need to see, are arranged in awkward positions where to obtain one thing involves having to move something else like a towel sitting on the stool or a broom that’s in the way.

The first two minutes are spent with the cat running all over the place, moving objects, removing them, placing them in odd spots, and then having to do the whole thing over in shifting orders which forever make it impossible to get even the simplest thing done. This reaches a fever pitch when the alarm clock, which all too quickly starts going off again before the cat’s even washed their face, suddenly breaks as the cat is frozen in indecision.

A hand comes in from beyond to take the clock away, and for the next several minutes, the cat is free to do whatever they like. They go off on ridiculous adventures in strange worlds, they can shapeshift to accomplish things otherwise impossible, and although there are constant reminders in the background of the various objects within the cat’s room, their life is full of spontaneous joy.

Sadly, this comes to an end when the hand returns the clock – now fully repaired – and the cat finds themselves stuck in their room once more, frantically moving everything without ever getting anywhere.

Time Out resonated with me on this rewatch because I saw the cat as being utterly ruled by their anxieties. They can’t do anything because a million things keep getting in each other’s way, and they can’t stop for a second to just think and do things differently. Because that’s all it would take, really. If they simply paused and considered moving the alarm clock closer to them, placing the towel on the end of the bed, or leaning the broom against the wall, then they wouldn’t be so hurried.

But then it’s hardly that simple, is it? I oughta know, since I do pretty much the same things and suffer the same issues as the cat.

I’ve never been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and I wouldn’t consider self-diagnosing myself in that regard to be particularly useful. However, I do have a high-functioning form of autism, which can share some symptoms of ADHD depending on the individual, and I have (undiagnosed but incredibly obvious) anxiety issues that can rear their head.

These can manifest quite strongly when I get into this mindset that I have to do everything in a particular order at a particular time, even when it’s very simple stuff that I could do whenever. Whether it’s going for a walk, doing a bit of writing, vacuuming the house, I convince myself that it must be done a certain way otherwise I can’t do it at all. As well as being arbitrary in the worst way, it also means I put a stupid amount of pressure on myself when it comes to things that should be very easy to do, which of course makes them seemingly impossible to do.

For example, the house I live in has a traditional shower connected to an immersion heater. This is a big tank of water that heats up over a period of time, so I have to flick it on and wait before I can use the shower. During this time, I try to gather the clothes I’ll need afterwards, the talcum powder and deodorant, the hairdryer, and the towel. IF everything is there, I then pass the time until the tank gets hot enough for me to use the shower.

This is all before I do any of the actual shower stuff; washing, shampooing, drying, etc. It’s tedious enough as is, but it’s very easy for complications to get introduced such as there not being enough clothes in the hot press, or other things happening around the house which make me self-conscious to use the shower since I still live with my parents. These are small things that shouldn’t be an issue, but they become an issue in my head.

I often have problems doing basic things like going for a shower, remembering to have lunch, or even brushing my teeth because of how badly I get stuck in this immovable logic where everything is awkward and strange. If I only took a few seconds to stop and think things through, try to consider other perspectives or try to change things so they’re less awkward, then I wouldn’t be so hurried and anxious.

I suspect all the above paints a picture of someone who’s not very good at taking care of themselves, but I actually manage fine when I’m in a more independent situation. If I’m minding someone’s house for the morning and there’s an electric shower, I just bring along what I need beforehand and pop in whenever since there’s no waiting time. I’ve managed to do plenty of things of my own initiative when I’m out and about, easily accomplishing multiple tasks I wanted to get done. I even did this big day trip some weeks ago where I walked the mile or so it takes to get a bus, ride that into town and then get a train to another town – something I’d never done on my own – just to prove to myself that I could actually do it.

Like the cat, when I’m removed from the nonsense of my personal awkwardness and anxieties, life becomes an exciting adventure where anything can happen. The cat’s carefree nature, the memorably barmy sights, and the rambling joy of the jazzy soundtrack are the things I feel when I’m not stuck in my head. Just to be able to live freely, unrestrained by nonsense, is a thing of beauty.

But it has to come to an end. The objects from the cat’s room appear in their adventures, as ever present reminders that they have to come back eventually. And like that, I eventually have to come back. We both return to scenarios where the worst thing about them is our mindset, making things out to be infinitely more complicated and stressful then they really are. It makes the ending of Time Out feel somewhat crushing, after all that joy and freedom.

And yet, it’s somehow useful too.

Often when I’m reading or searching things on the internet, I’ll stumble across comics or posts where people discuss their experiences with anxiety – particularly with ADHD – and the mindsets which enforce those anxieties. I don’t find those at all helpful, even though I understand they’re well-intentioned and can mean so much for people to commiserate their experiences or at least feel like they’re not alone.

They’re not helpful to me because I see myself in the candid explanations of those thought processes, and so I tend to internalize and repeat them in my head. Obviously, this isn’t the fault of the people creating these posts or comics, it’s my problem that I interpret them in a more unhealthy way than was ever intended. But it does mean that I’m not able to see the good in them.

Meanwhile, Time Out isn’t inviting you to think about anxiety or ADHD or whatever. Everything I’ve talked about is simply one way of interpreting the short, not the entire idea behind it. What the short does is ask you to observe the cat’s struggles, leaving you to think about and interpret it however you do.

So, without the thought process being displayed for me to internalize, I look at the cat and feel the cat’s behaviour is needlessly convoluted and arbitrary. It’s just a clock, they only have to wash their face, they can move things around one at a time or even chuck unneeded things out. They don’t have to live like this.

In turn, I try to consider my own anxieties and hold-ups as similarly convoluted and arbitrary. I don’t need to make a big fuss out of daily habits or even minor things like deciding how to pass the time, just because everything’s not in a particular order or happening at a certain time. I don’t have to live like this.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to think or say this stuff out loud than it is to accomplish anything. It’s been months since this rewatch of Time Out which inspired all these thoughts, and I’ve not been very good at trying to overcome my issues. It’s hard to convince yourself to think about in-the-moment stuff and routines differently if it’s so hardwired, either by yourself or your surrounding circumstances.

But I want to keep trying anyway. If nothing else, at least Time Out‘s given me the chance to re-examine this stuff on my own terms. I’m grateful for that.

Special thanks to amicus from the World Animation Discord for linking me to the copy of Time Out I used for taking the screenshots seen in this article, and to Nobaddy for ripping and uploading that copy in the first place.

Special thanks to Section42L from the World Animation Discord for reading the article draft and giving feedback.

FrDougal9000 writes for hardcoregaming101.net as Apollo Chungus. When he isn’t writing about video games, he is cultivating his love of animation that’s only increased over the last few years as he’s explored the wide, weird and wonderful world of the medium.

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