“Slow down, you move too fast You’ve got to make the morning last Just kicking down the cobble stones Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy.”
The 59th Street Bridge Song
Paul Simon wrote the above lyrics during the nanosecond in history when it was in fact cool to use the word ‘groovy.’ (How is it that much, much older words, like ‘cool,’ or ‘hip’ can remain cool and hip seemingly forever, while a perfectly good word like ‘groovy’ immediately lapses into full blown dorkdom?)
He wrote the song in 1966, when the hippie counterculture was flourishing (1968 saw it begin to sour), when themes of ‘dropping out,’ and going ‘back to the land’ were ascendant among young people. (Both Bruce Cockburn and Canned Heat were “going to the country.”) Some of those young people left the city to form rural communes, which almost always disintegrated in a matter of months, as individual goals and disparate personalities clashed with the communal ideal. Reality can bite down hard on those who believe that the peaceful serenity of the natural world can easily be reflected in the messy functionings of humankind grouped together, even where they share a common purpose.
Carl Honoré, a Canadian living in London, referenced the 59th Street Bridge Song in the opening passage to his 2004 book, In Praise of Slow. In the text he suggests that, “The Slow movement is on the march,” that is people everywhere were steadily joining the ranks of those practicing slower work, sex, food, medicine, even weightlifting. In closing the book he asks, “When will the Slow movement turn into a Slow revolution?”
Well, from a point in time almost ten years later, the answer would seem to be ‘not yet,’ and ‘not any time soon either.’ Today, technical innovation continues to drive change in a way that makes the pace of 2004—no YouTube, no iPhone—look almost placid.
No, slow is not easy to attain these days, and nor, for that matter, was it back in the sixties, not in any successful, final sense at least. Slow has to be a deliberate choice of course—say, to leave that demanding job and pay the price in both dollars and status—but there is something counterintuitive about going slower that should be recognized by all those looking to step off today’s fast train. It may be nicely summed up in a quote that Honoré serves up via Edward Abbey, cantankerous American author and environmentalist:
“Life is already too short to waste on speed.”
If you want to expand your life, include in it more by way of experience, fulfillment, payoff, it’s not to be done by going faster. Speed is the mortal enemy of memory, and even on Galiano, I have to remind myself, when I arrive and set about the myriad of tasks always awaiting, that if I try to do too much, stay too busy, I will almost instantly find myself at the departure point. When that happens, it feels like I just got caught in a revolving door, whirled around a few times, then immediately dumped right back where I began. Like I never did exit onto the other, island side.
As in all things, the challenge is one of balance, and the key commodity here is what I call engagement. There is very little to be gained by ‘dropping out’ entirely; it’s an act of defeat, of surrender. There are many, many fascinating components to stay abreast of in today’s world, and the very best thing about the internet may be that it makes such engagement easier. You can be a part of a whole plethora of communities, without ever leaving home.
Stay engaged. Never stop learning. Keep looking for fun in new knowledge, skills and experiences. But don’t kid yourself; we are all on a fast train which is hurtling toward oblivion. If you want to hasten the journey, stay busy. If you want to remember the trip, expand the experience and consciously enjoy it more often, step off once in a while, kick a few cobble stones, see if you can conjure up a little groovy.