Slow and slower

Last November, some maple sugar growers from my part of the world went to the Terra Madre Conference in Turin, Italy to share their experiences with what has come to be called the Slow Food Movement. The idea of Slow Food wasn’t new to me—in both California and Vermont, and I’ve been excited by the careful attention to good food and the rise of small growers and farmers’ markets. What I didn’t realize is the reach and popularity of the idea of “Slow”—Slow Parenting, Slow Travel, Slow Money, Slow Gardening, Slow Art, Slow Reading—even Slow Software Development. There are books, articles, blogs, exhibits, organizations…. It’s only been a few years, but the idea is in danger of becoming a cult or, at the very least—chic.

For someone who’s always aspired, not very successfully, to Fast, it’s a relief, even if we do seem incapable of having ideas without turning them into fashions and fads. Any day now I’m sure the notion of slow will be used by advertisers to sell any and everything, possibly even fast foods. The movement, of course, is a reaction to our cyber age, which in turn is the culmination an ever accelerating centuries-old march to Fast. It’s about time we slowed down enough, at the very least, to give our pace of life some serious thought.

Photo by Just a Prairie Boy, Flickr, Creative Common license.

The most influential book so far is Carl Honore’s In Praise of Slowness (2004). Apparently, he was moved to write when he discovered himself thinking about buying a collection of One-Minute Bedtime Stories. He suddenly realized that the pressure to speed had gotten so out of hand he was trying to cut short the very precious time he spent with his children at the end of each day. When I was ever so briefly a member of a writing group, I learned that there were contests to write stories of only 500 words, to write a novel in a month, to write a story about what ever the leader comes up with in ten minutes. I can’t do any of those and I’m not sure I should be able to. I remember when I wanted to learn everything there was to learn I watched a speed reader on a bus go through a Saul Bellow book in an hour-long bus ride. I envied him, but I knew that there was something not quite right about it. Something about feeling and understanding.

I have a friend who, without articulating it in slow movement terms, reads very specifically and slowly or, as Sven Birkerts puts it in The Guternberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, takes “slow and meditative possession of a book.” I’ve watched over the years as she’s read, not a whole book usually, but a few paragraphs of something especially provocative, and then read them again and again, studying them from every angle, making the ideas her own. She’ll be surprised to learn she’s been doing something for all these years that’s finally “the rage.”

The wonderful thing about the word “Slow” in all these contexts is that it’s come to mean more than slower-paced. A painting is to be contemplated and not just glanced at—we’re meant to discover its layers of meaning, to relish it, to respond to it. In the process of beginning research on this subject, I discovered Deborah Borlow whose blog, Slow Muse, is a marvel of thought on what slow means in art. Michael Kimmelman, art critic with the New York Times, is another thinker on the subject worth reading.

One of the oddest kinds of Slow turned out to be Slow Blogs. Well, why not? Blogging is like everything else in the world of cyberspace. There are many days when I feel I have little to say and wonder why I’m doing it at all, except that I’ve put pressure on myself to deliver. Apparently, some bloggers, giving it some slow thought, have not only slowed down, but quit. But the subject is one I want to take some time with, and so, in the interest of Slow, I’ll be putting up more posts on it in the next week or so.

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