Lately, I have been trying to slow down. I think it began on our recent vacation. I’ve noticed lately that I do everything quickly. I walk fast. When I walk with the Little Miss, holding her hand, she often says, “Daddy, you’re walking too fast.” I try to see how quickly I can empty the dishwasher, looking for ways to make it more efficient, each time. I find myself trying to pre-prep the kids for whatever we are doing next. “Do you have your shoes on?” “Have you brushed your teeth?” I talk fast. I read email fast, mostly skimming. Doing everything fast can be exhausting. And I’m no longer certain why I do things fast.
So I have been trying to slow down. On our vacation I walked slowly–it seemed slow to me anyway. The Littlest Miss still occasionally complained about my pace, but less frequently. It’s a strange feeling, to deliberately slow myself down when I walk. It is like when I would give readings at science fiction conventions, reminding myself to deliberately slow down when I read. It sounds ridiculously slow to me, but more natural to an audience, I guess.
There are other things I have been trying to slow down. When asked a question, I usually have an answer almost at once. And yet, I really admire people who mull things over before they respond. I know a few people at work like this. And when I read about people who do this, I often wish I could do it. John Adams once noted how George Washington “possessed the gift of silence,” by which he meant he didn’t immediately respond to inquiries, but gave them thought before answering. I’ve tried doing this, considering my answers before giving them. It seems terribly unnatural, but I am keeping at it.
What I am trying to do is slow down the rhythm of my life. I’ve often complained that things are too fast-paced. I’ve blamed it on where we live. We live in a fast-paced town. Los Angeles was also a fast-paced town so I’ve had decades of accruing that fast-paced lifestyle. I think this is what attracts me to places like small-town Maine. The people there seem deliberately slow to me. They don’t rush when filling a coffee order. They take their time packing groceries into bags. It isn’t slowness, but deliberateness. They stop to wave on the street. They say more than just “hello,” but engage in brief conversations. They walk slowly because what’s the rush anyway.
The life of a parent with kids spread between kindergarten and middle school, in a town that is famous for its fast pace can’t help but make such deliberate slowing down a challenge. Everything is highly scheduled. Our family calendar is often more filled on a given day than my work calendar. Schools start and end at different times for different kids. There are an array of activities spread over the calendar, gymnastics, soccer, flag football, each of which has set time for practices and events. Everything around me says to hurry, hurry, hurry. It is difficult to tune that out, but I am trying.
I walked slowly this morning, thinking of the old guy I see most mornings, and how he walks slowly, listening to his music, always with a smile on his face, and a wave and few words for those passing by. At the local grocery store, I saw that they finally put in four self-checkout stations while I’d been on vacation. I tend to prefer those because they are quicker (so long as you don’t require assistance). But the regular checkout had no lines so I went there instead, another attempt to slow down.
On our road trip, I set the cruise control to the speed limits on the blue highways we drove. What was the rush? And besides, I wanted to see the surroundings as we passed through them.
I take fast showers, often not even bothering with the hot water during the summers. But I’ve tried to slow down there, too. Showers are like idea nebulae, the birthplace of ideas, and a time during which I have absolutely nothing else to do. Why rush something like that? What is the hurry, after all?
About the only thing I can’t bring myself to slow down in the pace of my reading. I listen to most non-fiction audio books at 1.7x, having worked my way up to that speed over the last five years or so. There is just too much to read in the world to slow down my reading. That said, I’ve been better at taking notes on what I read which helps with remembering what I read. And I’m not opposed to re-reading things I’ve read in the past.
Before bed, I’ve been trying to slow down, too. Rather than read, the last thing I’ve been doing lately before going to sleep is watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’ve never seen all of them, especially the early seasons. One 45 minute episode each night before bed helps to slow my mind, quiet things down, and maybe even helps me to sleep a little better (the jury is still out on that). I think I would rather reading, but reading before bed has its own set of problems, not the least of which is that I often can’t stop reading when I should.
I’ve even been slowing down when I wrote these posts. In the past, I’d write whatever came to mind and publish it as soon as I finished. Nowadays, my process has changed. I often write these posts days in advance, returning to them to tweak a line here, cut a paragraph there before they are finally published. Sometimes, I’ll even decide the post isn’t
with worth publishing and pull it before it sees the light of day.
I’m still at the early phases of this slowing down. But I’ve noticed that by slowing down, I feel a little more grounded, I’m not always keyed up for whatever is supposed to come next. It’ll come when it comes. In the meantime, I like the feeling of this new rhythm. That’s generally a sign that it is working for me.
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