On slowing down to smell the roses

I once participated in a roundtable discussion with Finnish academic and writer Merete Mazzarella, who I admire very much. It was several years ago and I can’t even really remember what exactly we were talking about, but I do remember her telling the rest of us about reflections she had made as she was standing at a bus stop watching the other people who were also waiting for a bus. Again, I don’t remember what these reflections actually were, but I do remember thinking I wished I was the type of person who stood at bus stops and drew philosophical and intelligent conclusions about humanity or whatever contemporary phenomenon I had recently been pondering. Afterwards I mentioned this to my colleague, whose immediate reaction was well why don’t you? And I thought right, why don’t I stop and make interesting observations about people and phenomena as I go about my daily life? I didn’t really know why, but I did have a feeling that I wouldn’t, and I was right, I didn’t. After the roundtable, I continued living my life the way I always had: rushing from one place to the next, and simply not having the time nor peace of mind to slow down enough to have any deep thoughts about people at bus stops. Besides, I always took my car so I hardly ever frequented any bus stops.

The other day I was sitting on a rock reading and I got that same feeling of longing again. I was reading Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin (a very interesting, entertaining, thought provoking, and at times somewhat horrifying book about motherhood on the Upper East Side) and in the book Wednesday describes how she decides to make an anthropological project of trying to understand and gain social access to the high-status mothers of her new neighborhood. Her reasons are personal as these mothers effectively shunned her when she moved there. What she does, is she spends days, and perhaps weeks, sitting in her car just observing these women as they go about their daily routine. This routine includes sessions at gyms, lunches, and shopping so they move around a lot outside, hence being able to observe them from her car. But that’s not the point. The point is that she is sort of doing what Merete does, except systematically and as part of a project. She is taking the time to simply observe people and her surroundings and she makes the most interesting observations. And it made me remember the roundtable discussion from years ago, and again I wished I could do that too. So I’m wondering what is this really about? What is it that is really triggering this feeling of longing in me?

Well, sitting on that rock, I came to the conclusion that the reason I don’t and the reason I want to are basically the same. The reason is of course that I always seem to be in a hurry. Or even if I’m not in a hurry, I feel like I need to be in too many places at the same time, which is kind of funny, because being in anything more than one place at a time should really be physically impossible, but in this day an age we regularly and instantly get transported in time and space through the little screens in our hand-held devices. Some would argue that’s part of the problem.

I’ve also read somewhere that when you do many things at the same time, i.e. multitasking, you actually get an acute sense of time running out, of it just slipping through your fingers. And I can vouch for that; I hate multitasking. When I do it, I feel like everything I do gets done a bit worse than if I gave each task my undivided attention. I like doing things one at a time.

Life is hectic and I know I’m not alone. But I also know that I really like it when I slow down enough to notice the pretty silhouette of leaves against the sky. Or the graphic pattern on the trunk of a tree. Or the stark contrast of yellowing reeds against that particular shade of blue the sea gets in September. I need to do that more. And maybe I need to spend more time at bus stops. Or not.

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