To the Tune of Slow
Monday, October 19, 2009

Americans seem hard wired for speed. I remember learning to ski in high school, after quitting gymnastics. Some of my best friends were great skiers, and my first foray into negotiating the slopes was by being shoved, in an ever-so-friendly way, off the top of the mountain. After I somewhat got the hang of it, we would spend our ski days whizzing side to side like maniacs, competing down the slopes--seeing how long we could last without taking a break. Skiing was a frantic race to the bottom.

Then, long after, I spent several days skiing with an Italian family who lived in the Alps. They brought a picnic along, talked about the beauty of the day, of the mountains. They giggled and played games and sang while they leisurely carved mellow tracks in the snow. Sometimes they raced, but they also took breaks and sunned themselves--even the energetic teenagers. Skiing was not about making it to the bottom--it was about the journey to the bottom--a way to embrace a beautiful sunny day, a time to be together and enjoy the gifts that the mountain offered.

And it's not just skiing that Americans like to take at super speed. We eat that way--chomping our food in the car, in enormous gulps. We race in and out of grocery stores, always in a hurry, we buy faster and faster machines--computers that can connect to the internet in one second instead of two. We tap our feet when someone at the bank has a question and holds up the teller...

I'm worried that with all this racing, we Americans are going to zip through life like summer storms--blowing into town in an afternoon, throwing some lightning around--having never seen the place we're raining on. I'm worried that we're losing the ability to look into each other's eyes and really see or care what's there.

The bizarre paradox in this speedy game seems to be that we rush around so that we can then plop ourselves in front of the TV and eat bag after bag of Doritos. Or we sit in front of our computers uploading pictures onto Facebook for hours--did I run that red light today just so I might eat my microwaved dinner over my keyboard?

And new writers have this same tendency--of wanting their work to be finished in a day, and published the day after. I know I'm impatient in this department, but in my writing life, in my work as an editor, and in my personal experience as well, I've learned the importance of the word Slow. If you're a writer, I encourage you to slow down. The process of writing teaches us more than just about the work we're creating. It allows us to live life through the lives of another, to learn those lessons the characters need in order to grow, and to patiently find the best in our words.

My husband and I have been trying to fight this cultural paradox for our twenty years of marriage, and what a battle it is! A daily battle--me against driving too fast and liking barbecue potato chips way too much, and him, well, he's got it better figured out than I do.

I'd like to encourage my fellow Americans to join with me in slowing down. We've tried it long enough to know it's possible--and that life without a television can be rich indeed. One way I've slowed down this last year is by heading to the beach once each week to simply dig in the sand, or watch the plovers, or just walk. I've made a short video, using some of my photos from those times. I'd love to hear some ways--some Slow ways--that work for you...