Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Slow The F Down

Yes- that's something I've been known to yell either standing on the sidewalk or out of my car window at other motorists whizzing past me in my neighborhood.  Whizzing by at inappropriately high speeds- as I have arbitrarily deemed.  Like some sort of demented over-grown school crossing guard drunk on the power of a medium sized fish in a tiny pond,  and maybe one too many vodka shots in the diet coke can.

Not me-- the crossing guard.

Oh hell.  Maybe me too.

In any case- this phrase that I have so dutifully taught to my children whilst they are inhabiting the passenger seats of my road-rage filled Volvo- I find has some legs. In fact, this phrase frequently wallpapers the inside of my brain as it relates to many instances beyond automotive.  And I wonder at the power of its message.  And I wonder at my alacrity to adopt such a phrase so often in my life.

And I wonder the most if I am rather alone in my continual adherence to and upholding of this particular demand.

Because here, smack in the middle of 2013, teetering on the very western edge of this great American country we call home, I notice most people don't seem to really do a whole lot of slowing the f down. Most people would much much rather speed up.  High speed internet.  High speed car chases. High speed rail.  High speed cameras.  Everything's better that goes faster- that gets us there, that's provides us the information, that captures our moments-- fast fast fast now now now NOW!

I, on the other hand, still might be inhabiting the 20th Century.  I enjoy reading books made of paper- mostly used books.  I eat slow- taking many little bites- chewing my food until it's so smooth and paste-like, I could feed it to my baby, were I a mother bird.  I carve out as much time in my life as I can to sitting around in my family room listening to records by myself that I have recently purchased at the one or two remaining record stores in the greater Los Angeles area while wearing my 70's and 80's thrift store clothing concoctions. I read and re-read liner notes (also printed on large sheets of paper or paper products known to us old folks as 'album sleeves' and 'album jackets.'  Turns out, albums apparently don't wear any pants.  Sort of like the three little pigs.  But I digress.)

I also find myself internally trying to slow down all the time.  To do less, more often. To really take stock of what it is I think I need to be doing all the time, and just look at my list out loud and say- Nope.   No.  Just not gonna do a bunch of that stuff.  And I'm certainly not gonna do it fast.

It takes work- you know!  This slowing the f down!  And yeah yeah, it probably started somewhere in the early naught years for me in the yoga classes.  Finally learning how to meditate.  For real like.  Not just closing my eyes and not saying anything while holding my body stiff and still in the same uncomfortable cross-legged position for over 5 minutes.   No- that was the first year or so of mediation.  Then over time, I learned how to actually quiet my mind enough to not want it to end immediately.  (Now?  Are we done now?  How about now?) Took work- took so much work.  And frankly, I'm so long out of practice now on the meditation front that I believe I'd have to go all the way through that whole fidgety cramped leg, mind whirling around wondering if it's been five fucking minutes already process all over again.  Meditation is NOT like riding a bicycle, I've found.  Like slowing the f down- it is a skill that needs to be oft attended to or else it wears off like new car smell in the summer heat.

And yet- what has remained for me, what continues to be cultivated by this grumpy introspective artist chick is the residual effect of what years of meditation eventually brought on.  And that is the strong desire to slow down- take another minute at the table before clearing the dishes- take another "to do" thing off the list-- take another breath before internally berating myself for not having everything all DONE ALREADY.

I do not see the progress in speed.  I do not see the benefit from extreme multi-tasking.  I feel part of our continued moving away from each other and from real connective moments together is this cultural obsession with doing a lot of shit a lot of the time and doing it all at the same time. But I don't get it!  I do not see the "us" in Busy!  (Though it is there- the us.  It's the second and third lett...ok...anyway.)

And yes- I do hear some talking points on TV and internet awash in this sentiment.  People are nodding toward the need to get back to basics.  Slow down. Spend "quality" time with each other.  (How about just any time?  How about just doing nothing "purposefully" or "goal oriented", either alone or together?  Like, for a few hours at a time? That's what I'm talkin bout.)  But somehow it rings false for me.  Like "slowing down" has become just another bullet point on the endless list of Honey Do.  If it was anything else, we'd be less than American.  We'd somehow be -gasp- OUT OF STEP with the rest of society.

It takes skill to sit around and not do anything for some time.  And not just because we don't value it at all, but because so many of us have simply forgotten how.  We're so enrapt with our gadgets and our devices, not to mention the actual real stuff we all have to do to keep the construct of our complex lives afloat.  But any way you slice it, so much of these tasks and attention to the machines of our information age really just serve as distractions away from real awareness.  From having to actually check in and be like-- Hey, you (meaning ourself), hey- how ARE you?  What's UP?  What's going on inside there?  How's life treating you?  How are YOU treating you?  What's happening right now in this tiny space of this moment right here?  Do you have any idea, or are you too hopped up on your Cheeto bag of iwhatever information?

I find myself at times staring into space when I'm waiting for my son at his tutor/waiting for my daughter at her fencing practice/waiting to pick up my children from school/sitting in the car at that nutty red light that lasts over 2.5 minutes at the corner of Lincoln and Venice- (it really does. I've timed it. 2.5 minutes in any direction.)  Sometimes I look around me during those periods of waiting.  And I see so many others not staring into space.  They're emailing.  They're on their ipads. They're on the phone.  They're talking about the brief that needed to be filed yesterday.  They're discussing the catering plate that needs to be picked up in three hours for the fundraiser.  They're people firing on all cylinders- every waking moment of their days filled with productive conversations and the exchange of important goods and information.

And yes- a lot of the time I look around me and I feel sad and lonely.  And not because I want to be one of them.  Not because I think I should be engaging in all this power career track continual balancing act where each day consists of keeping upwards of twenty plates spinning in the air in all moments.  I do admire these folks in a way.  I admire their tenacity and grit and cultivated ability to be able to do all that so often and for so long and not come down with acute Sinusitus every 7 weeks.

But I really feel sad and lonely because I imagine there's only a small handful out there like myself who suspect that there's something deeply, inherently desperate and not right about all this behavior.  That all this busyness -- all this "progress"-- is not really progress at all.  What is it progressing?  What are we doing, doing all this stuff all the time?

Some would argue- and rightfully so- that we are busy making money to keep ourselves and our families alive with a roof over our heads, and food on the table.  That we are doing this to stay alive.  But that's not really true.  We have so many means to merely subsist, most of us.  All this busyness, I think, most of us believe is ENHANCING our lives.  This is all the shit you GET to do when you're beyond merely killing the wooly mammoth and sweeping out the cave.  All this stuff somehow makes life BETTER, people would argue.

Well hm.  I think not.  I think it makes life meaningless.  I think it focuses the spotlight on all the things with apparent value, instead of valuable things.


I plopped myself down on my shrink's couch the other day.  Sitting- - I never lie down, somehow that would seem inauthentically stereotypical.  (Though of what ERA, I know not!)  And as I ploomped myself and all my bourgeois ennui down on his overstuffed neutral toned settee, I sighed grandly.  "I'm not doing great." I say.  "Ah - you've come to the right place."  Says he.  "I think--  I think I've gone and lost my sense of humor today."  Says I.  "Oh no.  You're not gonna get all Christian on me now, are you?" Jokes he.  I smile a bit.  Ok- so maybe it's not all gone.

We tread down the well-worn path of my constant low-level distress.  The back burners are always on-- simmering pots of death anxiety, fear of total annihilation, despair of being totally invisible and completely powerless.  Sometimes things happen in my life that cause more extreme emotions- positive and negative.  But the stove is always on, regardless.

This time as we examine and discuss the contents of my simmering pots, my therapist has me do an exercise.  "Ok.  Ok, Hol.  Just for shits and giggles. Let's pretend you rule the world.  Seriously.  Not like a king or a despot, but like a god.  Like you created and rule the world.  You made it the way it is.  You made everything- you made people. What would your world look like?  What are the tenets of your societies based on?  How does it all roll in your universe?"

It was a harder task than I thought.  But I found myself answering this way.  Like a child would, I believe:

"Well- in my world.  We'd have different priorities and kind of not give a fuck about a lot of stuff we seem to now.  No one would really care who had more toys at the end and who was in charge and who was doing a great job and who wasn't.  We'd not be so concerned with who was to blame for messing everything up and with making progress and taking over this world.  We'd stop killing each other and live alongside animals and the natural world.  We'd help each other.  There would be more campfires and maybe smoking pot or drinking some nice wines together-- taking care of each other's kids.  Maybe singing songs together.  Trading recipes.  Hanging out.  Not having so many goals and concerns about winning.

But mostly I think we'd really not do nearly so much as we do now.  We'd all really just slow the fuck down."

Is what I said.

My therapist said. "Yes.  Yes, that's right.  I like your world.  Can I come live there too?"

I said "Sure."

So, at least I know there's two of us here.  Kicking it here by the campfire with a bottle of good Pinot and a guitar.  His kids watching mine ('cause they're older.)  And in between puffs on the old peace pipe, we're just hanging out and yelling at all those flipping cars driving by way too fast to "Slow The F Down!"

For god sakes.  And ours too.

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