I do everything slowly. I walk slowly. I eat my food slowly. I get dressed slowly. As a kid my slowness was a constant source of frustration to my mum. In the morning she would urge me to hurry up so I wouldn’t be late for school. Stop being a snail was a common refrain. I was always the last kid out of the school doors at the end of the day. I guess my mum’s first clue should have been the fact that I was born five days late and even then I had to be delivered by cesarean section because I hadn’t turned around yet.
To be fair, my slowness is sometimes a source of frustration for me too. Without a mum to hurry me along in the morning, I’m often left to rush around at the last minute. I have missed many trains.
As well as being slow, I’m also a quiet person. I don’t say much. Not because I don’t have anything to say, I just don’t feel the need to put everything in my head out there in the world. I also have a quiet voice. I find it hard to make myself heard in a large group and when I have to speak in front of people, someone will inevitably interrupt me a few seconds in to ask me to speak louder.
It can be frustrating sometimes, being slow and quiet. I feel hurried. I feel annoyed at people who joke about how quiet I am or tell me to speak louder: why can’t you listen harder?
I’m a big fan of to do list. At the moment I’m using an app called Todoist. I use it to track my to do’s and assign deadlines. I’m always far too ambitious about what I can do in a day and then I chastise myself for not doing enough, for not being productive enough.
I long for an empty to do list. I dream of big, wide, open spaces in my schedule. I only work three days so technically I have a lot of time on my hands. I could spend my days off reading, take the dog for a long walk, cook a nice, slow lunch, and savour it. Instead, I fill my to do list and try to cram as much productivity into the day as possible. On the days when I do work, I feel as though there is barely time to pause.
The world is a loud, fast-paced place. I’m reminded it of this as I walk from the train station to my work in downtown Toronto. The walk takes me along Bay Street, a busy, multi-lane road full of cars honking their horns. There’s always somewhere important to be. I pass tall office buildings. I feel small and lost in the speed and noise of it all.
When I read books or watch films about ambitious people, I envy their drive. Last weekend we went to see Free Solo, a documentary about Alex Honnold’s free solo ascent (climbing without ropes) of El Capitan. Honnold has given his life over to climbing. He lives in a van so that he can spend as much time as possible out on the rocks. After finishing his free solo ascent, instead of going to the pub to celebrate, Honnold returns to his van to train on his hangboard.
Of course I have ambitions – I want to be a writer (I am a writer, but you know what I mean). But my ambition doesn’t consume me like some people’s does. I write fairly often, probably more than some and less than others. But I also spend a lot of time just thinking about writing while doing other things: going on long walks with the dog, watching television, reading books. For the last 5 years I have been working on a history of urban nature writing. It’s taking a long time partly because it’s a Sisyphean task – as soon as I finish reading one book, a new book gets published. But it’s also partly because I haven’t dedicated every spare moment I have to the project. I’ll spend a few weeks working on it, then I’ll go off and work on something else for a while. Of course any writing or reading is good for the literary muscles, but it doesn’t get things done and that’s the one writerly maxim I have always clung to: writers finish things.
I suppose, in the end, the project will get finished. It’ll just be on my own, slow terms. Maybe one day I’ll publish a book. Sometimes I worry about the urgency of this task. It must happen soon or I won’t be young enough for it to count. We live in a culture preoccupied with youth. And yet:
Toni Morrison: 40
Mark Twain: 41
Marcel Proust: 43
Henry Miller: 44
JRR Tolkien: 45
Raymond Chandler: 51
Richard Adams: 52
Annie Proulx: 57
Laura Ingalls Wilder: 65
Frank McCourt: 66
Harriett Doerr: 74
Harry Bernstein: 96
No, you’re not too old to publish your first book.
— Allison K Williams (@GuerillaMemoir) August 19, 2018
Some things worth doing, are worth doing slowly. In Search of Lost Time wasn’t written over night.
As I’m finishing this post (several weeks after I started it – I don’t even work in downtown Toronto anymore), sunlight is steaming in through my window. The house is quiet, the dog is sleeping. The day beckons me, wide and open. I know I will fill it with to do’s: assignments that need finishing, vets that need calling. But it will be okay if I don’t tick everything off my list. There will be time enough.
If you like this post you might enjoy: What if all I want is a mediocre life? I re-read it from time to time and it always brings me solace.