“Slow” is just a Four-Letter Word

 

I’m watching the World Baseball Classic in the middle of a Maine snowstorm. Venezuela is playing Italy, and I don’t know many of the players, but I don’t care. Baseball’s back, after a dark winter.

When the time changes in March I often take my bicycle out, but the wintry weather discourages me. I skied home instead. There are many ways to get around without a car – almost all of them slower.

I named this blog Slower Traffic, as in “slower traffic keep right” on the road signs, but also because that was literally what I intended to write about: walking, bicycling, and public transportation. All of these are usually slower than driving.

But so what? Baseball is slow. Yet it’s also the most interesting sport we have, because there is more going on beneath the surface in a baseball game than in a season of hockey, football and basketball rolled together.

Maine is slow. When I moved back to Maine after 16 years in southern California, the phrase I heard most often was “quality of life.” This means that you can work well and still have time to sail, go camping, or enjoy a backyard barbecue. Everyone doesn’t live on top of everybody else, and we aren’t all rushing to get somewhere. Mainers make fun of people from Massachusetts, because they always seem to be in a hurry. Life should be less frenetic, and in Maine it is.

Willie Nelson is slow. His songs ooze out of him like warm maple syrup over a stack of blueberry pancakes. Who doesn’t like Willie Nelson? Even people who say they don’t like country music like Willie Nelson. He’s in his eighties now, but he was 28 when he wrote “Crazy,” a slow song for the ages.

Writing is slow – real writing, that is. Consider the paragraph, what E.B. White called the basic unit of composition. A piece of writing is composed of paragraphs, strung together like strands of DNA. The paragraph now finds itself in peril. We live in the age of Twitter, where wit passes for wisdom and the bulk of the population doesn’t read books. If we want to stop the dumbing down of America, here would be a good place to start.

How long did it take Charles Dickens to write Great Expectations? It took me a few months to read it, on the bus in half-hour installments. I wrote much of my own long novel on the bus. I can’t read or write in a car, though I know people who listen to books on tape while they’re driving. But I would have a hard time paying attention, I think, and an even harder time flipping back a couple of pages to catch something I might have missed.

Sailing is slow. So are badminton, curling, and cross-country skiing. What else is good but slow? Chess, and poker, and the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick and written by Arthur C. Clarke.

When did “slow” become a bad word? Maybe we could all use a little less speed in our lives. Maybe we would live in a saner world if we took the time to do slow things on a regular basis.

I confess that I drove to Belfast recently, and became annoyed at a slow driver on the way back through Hampden. But then I remembered the driver who passed us earlier that morning when we pulled over for an ambulance, just so he could nose into the drive-thru at Dunkin’ Donuts. Fast can be annoying, too.

On the other hand, I like my high-speed internet, and I’m a proponent of high-speed rail, though I’ve never ridden on a so-called “bullet train” like they have in Europe and Japan. When I moved to California in the 1980s there was talk of building such a rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Thirty years later, it still isn’t done. I guess high-speed rail is slow, too, at least in the United States.

But is there anything slower than the month of March in northern latitudes? “Just kill me now,” Julius Caesar said, on another cold gray day in Rome without a hint of spring in the air. The Romans knew about the slow precession of the equinoxes, but they knew nothing of Daylight Savings Time, or baseball. They just sat around in their villas drinking wine and waiting for spring. Only their Mediterranean climate saved them from sheer madness.

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