Slow Down, You Move Too Fast…

Image by givepeasachance via Flickr

Simon and Garfunkel sang it on Bookends, their classic 1968 album. However deeply unfashionable, it’s worth trying, especially now there are so many harried, frenzied ways to save time — often leaving us too depleted to to enjoy it.

This year, we re-did the bathroom, our only one, after 20 years of putting up with a nasty, shallow tub that always left my knees cold. Now our tub is 21 inches deep, the deepest you can buy. When it’s full, the water completely covers my shoulders. The challenge is filling it, a process that takes at least 20 minutes. It’s so slow. It takes so much time. That’s exactly one of the reasons I like it so much, the anticipation of that pleasure equal to the pleasure itself.

I don’t own a microwave oven and never have. I know all the reasons it’s a great thing, but there’s no room for one in my tiny galley kitchen. I don’t miss its artificial haste a bit; you can re-heat or cook many foods in 10 to 20 minutes using a cooktop or oven. As important to me as the additional space is the additional time this forces into my day and my thinking. It slows me down. Experience has taught me that getting so hungry I can’t wait to eat is unhealthy and likely to provoke me into shoving whatever’s closest into my mouth. Eating should be something you enjoy, not just re-filling the fuel tank.

I hate rushing. I hate being rushed. I’m not a slowpoke, have almost never missed even the most difficult work-related deadline, even with pneumonia, and can get dressed and out the door within minutes. But time constantly compressed into false urgency makes me crazy. I attended a boarding school where our every day was set to bells — 6:55 wake-up, 7:05 walk around the block, 7:25 breakfast. Living by their pre-set clock meant hurrying through the potentially pleasurable activities of waking slowly and calmly, dressing leisurely, walking mindfully and appreciatively. The need for speed was audible, relentless, daily. Horrible!

It’s how most of us live without — literally — hesitation. 

Two of the newspapers I write for, The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, have sexy new elevators in their midtown Manhattan office towers — outside the doors, you push the floor you want and you’re told which elevator to take, which gives you mere seconds to register which one it is, position yourself in front of it and duck in before the doors whoosh closed. Why am I moving to accommodate the speed of a mechanical device designed to make my life easier?

There are a few hopeful signs. Even legendarily bustling Times Square, pretty much the working definition of noisy, moving chaos, recently added tables and chairs, carving off a piazza for people to…sit. Think. Watch. If you’ve got some spare time in Manhattan, there are few things as delicious — even in winter — as settling into one of the dark green chairs, eating lunch slowly at one of the dark green tables and sitting beneath the light-dappling tree-canopy of Bryant Park, a calm and lovely oasis so complete I sigh with regret whenever I exit.

Not surprisingly, I love the 2004 book “In Praise of Slowness” by fellow Canadian and Globe & Mail alum, Carl Honore,. Here’s a terrific video of Carl talking at the TED conference. Beware! It’s 19:14 long, but I watched it to the end and it’s worth every minute if this issue matters to you as well.

Here’s another evangelist for slowing down, American author John de Graaf.

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