When you’ve been moving fast, slowing down sometimes feels nearly impossible. Especially if you’ve been flitting like a hummingbird from task to task, as we so often do in our speed-loving, app-happy, instant-everything culture.
For example: every single time I sit down to write, I have to relearn the most basic of lessons, which is: Going slow is the fastest way to get the job done. Because there is just no way to do it besides: One. Word. At. A. Time. It’s like bricklaying: it happens brick by brick. Or, to use author Anne Lamott’s famous example, if you are writing a school report about birds, you have to go bird by bird.
Last week, I activated my new smart phone. Oh, the new high-speed horizons! But something unexpected happened on the way to my new 21st century lifestyle. In my eagerness to embrace all that my new toy had to offer, I brought my four-year-old laptop into the computer store for some upgrades. Long story short, something somewhere got miswired in the process and I ended up making four trips to the store and spending quite a bit of the week without my number-one tool: my laptop.
Fortunately, I picked the right week: no looming work deadlines. But I still felt like I’d been handcuffed. Sure, I had my sparkly new phone. But you can’t write write on a phone. And yes, I own pens and pencils and I used them plenty last week. But for 25 years, my habit has been to scribble unedited thoughts and reflections in a journal and then compose anything more formal than that with the help of a keyboard: a real one, not a slippery little wallet-sized touchscreen.
So, for five days, I did what I could with the tiny screen. And on my four treks to the computer store, while waiting for various attempted fixes, I did a lot of window shopping and a tiny amount of actual shopping at the other shops in the glamorous University Village, which, in its quaint early days, was the shopping center of my childhood and featured a Woolworth’s, a Singer sewing store, and best of all, a tiny bookshop called Kay’s Bookmark, where I spent hours of my young life.
By visit number four, I was so done with the U Village and so fed up I knew what I badly needed was a slowness break.
I packed a notebook and a pencil. I headed for the Washington Park Arboretum. When I got out of the car, a light rain had just begun to fall. I found a tree by a pond, its leaves thick enough to keep most of the rain off my head, and sat down. I wrote a little, word by word, recalling memories of the daydreamy, poetry-writing Arboretum rambles of my adolescence. But mostly, I watched the raindrops dance on the pond.
I wasn’t there long; maybe half an hour, before I got the call from the store and headed on to the Village. But what a difference that slowness break made in my ability to brave the final round of laptop-repair-stress.
In a recent survey by the Trust for Public Land, Seattle was rated ninth in the nation in quality and quantity of public green spaces. These parks are ours. Yours, mine, ours! Claim them. Try a ten-minute stop sometime soon and see how different you feel. Back away from all your gadgets—phone, computer, car—and take a slowness break. You might just find it’s the fastest way there is to restore your ability to get stuff done.
Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available.
Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.
Love it, but half an hour isn’t enough. I’m thinking that if you hadn’t had your flipping phone with you (by the pond at the Arboretum), you’d probably have some poems.
Pencil rocks! Double-rocks if you’ve got an eraser.