The Paradox of Slow

Deb’s comment on my “Slow Life” post got me thinking.  What does it mean to live “Slow?” I think we’d all agree that a slow life isn’t really slower in terms of labour or tasks in the day.  Or is it?

Slow Food developed out of protest against “fast” food: mechanized, highly processed, void of soul or nutrition food that was/is (?) making inroads in Europe and attracting people away from their rich traditional practices.  Slow Food became so popular as a movement that folks began to figure out ways to apply the philosophy to all other forms of their lives: money, sex, music…life.  In the last 10 or so years, Slow Food has become the Slow Movement.

I haven’t considered myself part of a slow movement, per se, even though I’m happy to have joined Slow Food Vancouver Island this past spring.  The slow food movement is deeply involved in the issues that concern me: industrial food systems, the politics of food, as well as an investment in preserving traditional food cultures around the world, which, in light of the first two can be a highly political act.

When I got the idea for the “Day in the Life” meme, though, I thought about what kind of life I should name.  I didn’t think it was fair to call my life “Sustainable” or even “Self-Sufficient” as yet, and “A Day in the Transitioning to Sustainability Life” was a bit of a mouthful. 🙂  So I thought “Slow” might be a better fit.

Slow means, to me, that my rhythms of life revolve around our human-scale relationships and tasks.  Our time is devoted to meeting our needs in the simplest, most direct way possible, within the bounds of our current society.  This is a hard thing to describe!  Life is not “pre-industrial” by any stretch of the imagination, nor is that really a goal.  I am wary of nostalgia for “how things used to be”, idyllic dreams of which do permeate the environmental movement as they did the Back to the Land movement in the 60s and 70s.  At the same time, I am drawn to the vision and appeal of a time when the scale of life of life was still human and community-based rather than caught up in a mass-mechanized, petroleum boom.  I look back regularly to techniques for how people used to do things when they had no choice but to them themselves, and I work to make sure that knowledge isn’t lost.

But, of course, Slow does not mean easy or relaxed!  Meeting my needs more directly is clearly more labour and time-intensive.  BUT, I now understand that time and labour is what we have in our lifetimes and we use it up over our years on earth one way or another.  The question for me is not about saving time or labour, it’s a question of making sure that my time and labour are used in ways that I believe in and feel deeply connected to.  I would argue that the dream of leisure time for the masses was a corporate schtick designed to get the masses to buy more stuff in the post-war boom (while understanding that some of these labour-saving devices did enable women to enter the workforce in numbers that revolutionized their rights and recognition–a post for another day!) But I realized long ago that for me, simply trading my time and labour for money in a corporation was not a goal I could strive for.

My life is not slower, in the sense that it is full and busy.  But it definitely feels slower, because I am not multi-tasking at every moment, stuck to a crackberry, spending my day on the road, with little time and energy left over to do anything but crash out on the couch eating frozen food in front of the tv.  The point of “A Day in the Life” was precisely to illustrate that, in fact, if you’re looking to change your lifestyle, it is possible, rewarding, soul-restoring, and, truly, more full.

Which sometimes translates as busier.  But somehow, spending all day in the kitchen processing tomatoes doesn’t feel “fast”.  I grew the tomatoes from seed, and my relationship with them spans months.  In June, it felt like they were taking an eternity to grow!  And now that I’m watching them die in October, I’m aware of the months that will go by before I can plant them again.  As I develop my planting plans for next year, kicking myself for not planting more to get us through the fall and winter (!), I’m both wondering how we will ever accomplish everything we want to before then, and savouring the winter ahead as the time to relax a little and enjoy this part of the seasonal cycle.  And that is the paradox of Slow that I seem to be living at the moment.

So happy fall and Thanksgiving (if you’re in Canada), and here’s hoping you too get a few slow moments here and there.

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5 thoughts on “The Paradox of Slow

  1. Hi Toni, There are few things in life that give a bigger feeling that “all is right with the world”/”I am ready for the long cold winter”, than looking in my store room or freezer and admiring all of the fresh food arrayed there, waiting to sustain us until we can once again gather it fresh from the garden. Just knowing where it came from and how much work was involved gives me a huge feeling of accomplishment! These are some of the things that I give thanks for. Enjoy the “Slow Savour” and Happy Thanksgiving to you as well!

  2. Very well said. I can easily afford to pay others to do the many things I choose to do for myself and my family. The point is though, that I choose not to. My life fills more “in the moment” and well lived for being more intimately involved with the day to day process of ensuring I have food (and good food at that!) to eat, shelter, and heat for myself and my family. I am in a fast paced and high tech profession and I love what I do and am good at it – but chose long ago to live my personal life much more simply. In fact, I think it is part of why I am so successful in my career – as daily “slow living” keeps me grounded, confident, and calm.

  3. Thank you for devoting some time to this. I did very much want to participate in the “Day in the Life” meme, but never got around to it because, like you said, slow-lifers are busy people! But it is a wonderful kind of busy, isn’t it, a self-scheduled, in-rhythm-with-the-seasons, time-for-a-cocoa-break kind of busy. I stayed up last night till almost 2am trying to can the last of the green tomatoes (not the first time nor the last), but I wouldn’t trade this life for ANYTHING.

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