Thursday, November 17, 2011

Slow as Molasses in January

Molasses, tortoises, glaciers, rush-hour traffic.  These are things that are slow, that move slowly, that shape the future slowly, and that can frustrate by slowing our progress.  Reading and writing are slow too--and often don’t match our current fast-paced, caffeinated, multi-tasked, instant-gratification-loving present.  But slow isn’t all bad.  How often do we hear that the goal is to “slow down,” “savor the moment,” and “be present”?  There is a whole movement around “slow food,” and we often read about vacations designed to let us see the world more slowly--by foot or bike or boat.  While life often feels like a time-lapse photography sequence--jerking us forward at an unrealistic and uncomfortable pace--the goal, the thing we seem to desire and hope to attain once we’ve “made it,” is to take ourselves off of the ever accelerating treadmill to nowhere that is modern life.  

So, these days--both because I have some unexpected time at hand and in order to be ready for that promised land where life miraculously slows down--I am trying to unlearn my short attention span, my scattered, sporadic existence--and I am trying to appreciate the slow.  It isn’t easy to unwind these habits.  My eyes flit from one piece of text to another, and by the time one page fails to deliver the jolt of meaning I crave or the dose of instant understanding I seek--I’ve dropped it, already moving onto the next shiny diversion.

The temporary fix for my wandering, procrastinating, philandering mind is to truly “get into” something.  Once engrossed in a book or a project or a conversation or an experience, the static of random images and thoughts dies down--leaving behind real focus.  But, the “getting into” the new experience can be difficult, and my spoiled, overstimulated mind can be like a crafty kid, who knows just how to finagle the candy or extend the bedtime.  The long-term fix, of course, is to make my mind a better behaved kid altogether--one who does homework right away and doesn’t skip out on chores.

But getting there will be a challenge.  Like most of us living a completely “on-the-grid” existence, it’s hard to unplug.  The email bings.  The cell phone dings, vibrates, or trills.  While doing research, ads pop up, and sketched caricatures dance and bounce on the screen.  LED billboards now line our highways, and the sheer volume of electronic and paper distraction forces us to develop mental filters--teaching us to ignore any stimulus that doesn’t deliver exactly what we want when we want it.  We learn to filter these modern, manic sounds and images subconsciously, but I find that the filter remains--even when I want to delve into something hefty, worthwhile, and often slow--making engaging with the initial words or pages of any self-assigned endeavor seem like easing my body into frigid water--filling me full of trepidation and leaving every pore pursuing an escape.       

The good news is that practice and discipline are concepts that a 44-year-old mind understands.  And, while I may not be in half-marathon condition now, I’ve been there before.  I know the path, and I know that the hardest part of training for a half marathon or getting in shape for a climbing class or preparing for a rough assignment at work is getting started.  The hardest run isn’t the race; it’s the first day of training.  And the hardest part of the climbing class and the challenging new work assignment is the self doubt.  

The even better news is that at 44 I know that everything I’ve already done now seems easy, simple, and trivial, and everything I’ve yet to do still seems hard, complex, and monumental.  But, I also know that all of those things that now--having moved from the “yet-to-do” pile into the “done” pile--also once looked hard, complex, and monumental.  It’s just the perspective, so if I kick, cajole, and trick myself into the tasks I believe have merit and will eventually prove meaningful, I know that the simple act of starting--however reluctantly or ploddingly I may begin, will eventually start to move the undone goals and will start to slide them along the timeline--eventually leaving them in the past--finally done, accomplished, no longer a big deal.

All of which makes me think of the lessons I’ve learned from my recent forays into baking--specifically, biscuit making.  Now, when it comes to making biscuits, it’s really pretty darn easy--requiring few ingredients, a little bit of mixing and kneading, and a touch of patience while the biscuits rise and brown in the oven.  But the result is so far superior to anything I could pick up at the grocery store that it makes the whole thing worth it.  I’ve also discovered that even with my excessively messy nature, I can still dirty a gross of bowls and spoons and cutting boards, but in the time the biscuits take to bake, I can have all of the baking paraphernalia into the dishwasher and have the counter wiped before either my tea or the biscuits are ready.  

So, here’s to things like fresh-baked biscuits and dark, sweet, rich molasses--some of my favorite slow things.

Cheers!  What are your favorite slow things?  What modern-day distractions cause you the most angst?  

12 comments:

  1. I love to sit down with a large cup of coffee on an early Sunday morning and hand-write a letter to a close friend or family member. It feels utterly decadent in this age of speed and multi-tasking.

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  2. Hi animprobablelife,
    Thanks for stopping by! Hand-writing letters is a lovely, nearly-lost art, and that is just the sort of slow activity that is so easy to forget about while we spend so much time rushing around. Sounds lovely, and I bet the recipients of your letters are so grateful for the gift.

    All the best!
    Lisa

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  3. Every week, I take a nice long soak in the tub. With a book, and then when the water is getting cold, I shave my legs. But I make the water as hot as I can stand and I stay in as long as I can, just enjoying the water and the read. Sometimes some bubbles or bath salts, sometimes just the lovely relaxing water.

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  4. Hi Writing Goddess,
    Wow! It's been a long time since I've taken a bath. That sounds wonderful. Not long ago I stayed in a hotel that had a HUGE tub, and the sad thing is that I didn't even get a chance to use it. :-( Anyway, sounds like a lovely way to wind down and slow down. I'll need to give the old bath a try very soon!

    All the best!
    Lisa

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  5. I also love biscuits. So very much. My favorite slow thing is to send and receive postcards.

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  6. Hi John,
    Yes, aren't biscuits awesome! I have to confess to being pretty bad with postcards. I've often come home trips with many of them still tucked inside a book--unsent. But, if when I went to the mailbox I received postcards instead of bills and junk mail, I would like mail much, much, more!!!
    Hope you guys are staying warm despite the cold snap up there! We miss you guys!!!!!
    Lisa

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  7. I love waking up slowly on a Saturday morning - no alarms, no thoughts of the work day ahead, just my cat on my chest waiting for her Saturday kitty massage - nice and long, not the rushed ones she gets on the weekdays (if she even gets one!).

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  8. Hey Jackie,
    That sounds like one lucky cat!!! I don't get a massage in the morning, but Brian has gotten me somewhat spoiled by making me espresso in the mornings.

    I hope you have a wonderful, relaxing Saturday morning tomorrow!

    All the best!
    Lisa

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  9. Starting over...blew my post away! Okay, love this post, which speaks of the underlying cause of so much of our anxiety, depression, disappointment. All good things TAKE TIME. Eush an essay and you have, well, a rushed essay! Ruminating is a slowly thing. In an age when expedience is all that seems to matter, it is hard to give ourselves permission to dawdle, to wait for the muse to speak, write, sing. She won't be hurried and the produce a miracle. I'm alone here in the house for a little while, and my company consists ony of my own thoughts. Well, turns out they are worth listening to. Discovering how I really feel about nearly everything is pretty enlightening, a place where I can get reacquainted with me! I have been on my own back burner for too long now. What results is staleness, disconnect, over-focused in the extreme, but on something, anything but myself. The memoir still beckons, is well into second draft, or is it the third, or have I simply lost count...and having more than one editor..now I have three...is a study in how singularly different editors are. They weigh me down, and frankly, I am disappointed that at the end of all this effort i can't even win a WIR contest, having written essays in those classes for nearly three years now. Maybe my future is in writing tracts? So I'm in the slow lane, discarding the terrible importance I have placed on the judgement of others, when even they can obviously miss the point.I do know what good writing is, you know.

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  10. And I do know what poor typing is...the result of....RUSHING!

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  11. Hi Barbarann,
    You're right. Good things do take time, and worthwhile things take effort. But as much as I know these things to be true, it seems I have to remind myself and re-teach myself these lessons over and over again. I think I am a slow learner!!!! And, I am in the slow lane with you, but we must not give up, and we should remember to enjoy the journey!
    Hang in there, and take care!!!!
    Lisa

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  12. I would say my favorite slow activity would be bread baking. I am always tempted to sit and watch the bowl to see if I can notice the dough rising. Bread making reminds me that some really good things take time and I can't rush them.

    Jane

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