“There will be a time, not so far from now, that you will look back on this phase of your life and instead of condemning it or beating up on it… Instead of blaming or guilting, you will feel appreciation for it, because you will understand that a renewed desire for life was born out of this time period that will bring you to physical heights that you could not have achieved without the contrast that gave birth to this desire.” — Abraham-Hicks
It’s been a hell of a summer. I know that summer didn’t really start til June 20, and that it won’t really end til September 22. For me, though, the change in the season happened on Memorial Day, when spring’s boundless potential started to shift in directions I didn’t and still don’t quite understand. I’m feeling like – or at least hoping – that Labor Day will bring calm to the waters I’ve been treading for the last three months.
The author takes on the following Slow topics: The Age of Rage and Do Everything Faster situate the Slow movement in opposition to our increasingly mechanized, routinized, and optimized lives. He points the finger at Ford and Taylor for pushing us in the direction of ‘time sickness’, and quotes Milan Kundera: “Our period is obsessed with the desire to forget, and it is to fulfill that desire that it gives over to the demon of speed; it picks up the pace to show us that it no longer wishes to be remembered, that it is tired of itself, sick of itself; that it wants to blow out that tiny trembling flame of memory.”
Slow Is Beautiful then introduces the Slow movement and its proponents: individuals, groups, and societies that are exploring different ways of living, finding precedents in the Romantics, the Transcendentalists, and the Arts & Crafts movement, among other, more contemporary examples. I think it was around this point – 50 pages in – when the capitalization of Slow started to wear on me.
Food: Turning the Tables on Speed: A lot of knowing nods while reading this chapter. We all lived in Ann Arbor, the Portlandia of the Midwest. We knew about or were involved with SELMA. We went to the farmers’ market. We had or dreamt of having gardens. We prayed at the great altar of good food. We know and value this stuff, but I’m willing to bet you rolled your eyes at least once.
Cities: Blending Old and New: In lieu of discussing this chapter on new approaches to urban planning that favor pedestrians, mixed use spaces, and the ever popular ‘third place’, I present a Talking Heads interlude:
Mind/Body: Mens Sana In Corpore Sano: meditation, yoga, SuperSlow weight lifting, and other physical activities that join mind and body in deliberate, slow motion. I read this chapter while completely zoned out after 90 minutes of aggressive exfoliation and massage at King Spa. My mind and body were totally disconnected, and I couldn’t have been happier, though had I put this book down at this point, I might have, in fact, been happier in the long run.
Medicine: Doctors and Patients: anyone who has spent any time utilizing the American health system could have written at least half of this chapter. Every week for the last two months, I have spent three hours at the orthopedist’s office. Of those 180 minutes, 5 each were spent with the x-ray technician, the nurse practitioner who took my vitals, and the doctor who told me that everything was basically the same as the previous week. Slightly more time was spent with the person who applied and removed my cast(s). And this doesn’t reflect the amount of time spent on the phone with the incompetent practice of my primary care doctor, as each visit to the approved specialist requires a separate referral. When you’re working with a system built on billable hours, usual and customary charges, and enormous malpractice premiums, it’s hard to see any other way out. Also homeopathy and alternative medicine are cool.
Sex: A Lover with a Slow Hand: did you know that Sting is into Tantric sex? And that you can have better sex if you actually communicate with your partner and try to understand his/her body and desires? And I quote, “It was a revelation. I really had no idea that there was another approach to sex that was about giving time to each other, about bringing your head and your heart completely into the sexual relationship.” Whaaaaat.
Work:The Benefits of Working Less Hard: After decrying the recommendations of Taylor etc, the author then advocates working smarter, not harder, and more efficient rather than longer hours. Hmm. I’m also reading Timothy Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Workweek, which makes the same, albeit considerably more self-satisfied, argument.
Leisure: The Importance of Being at Rest: we work too hard, and we play even harder. I’m guilty of the latter, if not always the former. Slow activities like knitting and gardening and reading books can help. I was fascinated by the part about how contemporary performers play classical music too quickly, but it quickly devolved from there into high-art Slow Music concepts. Moving on.
Children:Raising an Unhurried Child: None of us currently have children, and I don’t know if any of us are planning to procreate, so our responses to this chapter will likely be more smug than those of actual parents – however, I agree that like adults, kids today are too damned busy. However, childhood is a relatively ahistorical phenomenon, so while we may have fond memories of endless summer days riding bikes with our friends instead of studying languages and being ferried to volunteer gigs to build our college application profiles, it really isn’t that long ago that we would’ve all been working in the factory or on the family farm. So what’s the happy medium?
There’s a lot to be said for the Slow movement. I feel like this summer has been a constant, unrelenting reminder to slow down, to be intentional, to make connections, to live simply. But the people who need that advice probably aren’t going to indulge in 300-or-so self-satisfied pages of case studies of couples who have slowed down – and those who don’t probably don’t also need another reason to pat themselves on the collective back.
So I spent most of the summer in a cast, but just before that happened, I spent the day at the beach. Karen and I packed snacks and drinks and books and met up at Montrose Beach on one of the hottest damned days of the summer – 106 at 6pm, so I don’t want to think about how hot it was earlier in the day. We spent the afternoon alternating between soaking up sun on our beach towels with our books, sipping cheap-ass margaritas that were cold once upon a time – and running as fast as we could across the crowded, scorching beach to wade out into the lake as far as the teenaged lifeguards in rowboats would allow.
I’m a new beach-goer. Last summer was the first time I really understood what you do at the beach – which is to say,nothing. You do nothing at the beach. A whole lot of nothing. If you’re anything like me, you’re not used to doing nothing – but that’s the subject of another, long overdue post.
Last summer, for the first time in my life, I got a sunburn on my butt from lying on the beach at Devil’s Lake. We laid there long enough that I read a thick issue of Vanity Fair cover-to-cover. I wore my vintage-esque strapless suit, occasionally ventured into the very clear water, and generally idled away a lovely afternoon. When we got to Madison the next day and I used a real shower, I was shocked to discover the red lines on my butt – and took them as an indication of how relaxed we’d gotten by the midpoint of our week-long vacation.
The beach and the associated burns were signature elements of my early summer – M and I getting burned at the Dunes, then again on an overcast day on a Chicago beach in May. Biking to Foster Beach to meet Carrie and Stef, the former avoiding sunburn despite her porcelain skin and aversion to sunscreen, while I burned stripes on my back because, oops, I forgot that I would be in the sun for an hour before getting to the beach and applying sunscreen. M and I falling asleep by the ocean in Imperial Beach and waking up with possibly the most absurd sunburns ever.
The sunburns went along with a fair amount of beach reading: Let the Great World Spin in Indiana, the bleakness providing a strange contrast to the exceptional beauty of the sand and the lake. Hemingway’s letters by the ocean, reading about him falling in and out of love with Agnes von Kurkowsky. Finishing Hack for my book club on the beach at 12th Street in the middle of a day of biking all over the city – brunch with Mike in University Village, east to the lake, north to dodge a storm, further north to Foster, south to Lincoln Park for iced tea and Lush, east to the beach after the storm broke, northwest to Wicker Park for drinks and gelato with Julie, then finally home, 36 miles later.
I was reading The Other Boleyn Girl at Montrose the day I broke my arm, and finished it over the next few days full of hours spent in the emergency room (4) and assorted waiting rooms (2×3). I have to say – I’m pretty sure it is the perfect book to read in those circumstances. It’s trashy enough – a young married girl seduces a king! who is then seduced by her sister! who convinces him to leave his faithful wife and take on Rome in order to get her in bed! and then maybe seduces her brother because she can’t manage to give the king a male heir! – to pick up and put down between dips in the lake or shots in the arm or x-rays. It’s enthralling enough – lush descriptions of food and dancing and sex and the countryside, at least reasonably accurate English history – to keep the reader distracted from the fact that her arm is in traction and her summer plans have been derailed. And it’s thick enough, at 672 pages, to last through those interminable appointments, waiting for bad news but hoping for good.
In short: an excellent beach read. Maybe not an excellent read, but an excellent beach read, and just what the doctor ordered for my broken arm summer.