Like many people, Bowie has been much on my mind since his passing on Jan. 10. I’ve been a fan for such a long time (since the late ‘70s or so—yikes!) it’s hard to believe he’s not in the universe anymore. At least not corporeally.
So when I realized the other day that most of the things I’m working on are slow-moving, “Speed of Life” popped into my head. The speed of my life, my work, is generally slow. Embroidery, beadwork, writing fiction and poetry, reading—all take time. Not that I’m complaining; I like it that way.
When I got to contemplating it, though, I realized that the activities I engage in aren’t so much slow, as they just take the time they take (which in some cases can be a lot!). Finding the right word for a poem or tone for a scene takes time (as well as an inordinate amount of refrigerator cleaning and sock drawer organizing). For me, writing also requires time away from the writing—fallow time to let things gel, for new ideas to percolate. I usually write first drafts in long-hand (with an actual pen). It helps me access the non-linear part of my brain, and is less intimidating than a blank screen. But it does take time.
The kind of art I love to make also takes time. I’ve estimated that one square inch of dense embroidery takes about an hour—choosing colors, stitching, threading needles. I don’t time myself while I work—partly because I forget to, but mostly because it seems antithetical to the creative process.
So it is a slow form of art, but again, it takes as long as it takes. Which doesn’t bother me while I’m stitching or writing, but at the end of the day when I have a few square inches of stitching done and some words on a page, I kind of wish I had chosen faster creative forms. I wonder where the day went. I start to feel the pressure from the outside world creep in—the dozens of productivity gurus telling me how I can get more done in less time, the world that seems to be screaming faster, faster, better, more!
Which leads to an uncomfortable paradox nibbling at my gut. I love the pace of my work, the deliberateness and attention it requires—and I find myself wanting to see results more quickly. I want to get more work done so I have a larger body of work to show and to shop around. I want to finish a first draft, damnit! I tend not to buy into the productivity craze, but I do sometimes find myself evaluating how I spend my time outside of creative work. Should I turn off email? Only respond once a day? Quit Facebook? Work till 10pm? Then of course I think I’m spending too much time figuring out how to save time, and my head starts to spin.
I tend towards cutting out a lot of the noise of the world, self-censoring my intake of pop culture and news. But I also sometimes feel like huge chunks of modern life are flying by me, and I wonder if I’m missing anything of value (usually the answer comes back quickly—no).
I’ve come to see that this process of slowing down and cutting out much of the speediness of the world is a way of stumbling toward contentment. I know the speediness is there, and I certainly fall into it at times, but I know it’s healthier for me not to get too immersed in it. I also don’t want to feel resentful of the speediness or reject it completely. That would just make me angry and unsatisfied. There has to be a balance.
I think what I’m writing myself toward is that the speed of life is variable, and that’s a good thing. The second side of Bowie’s Low is slow, brooding electronica. Bowie and Brian Eno playing with sound and voice. I admit that I haven’t listened to it nearly as much as side one, but it is starting to grow on me. So R.I.P., Mr. Bowie, and thank you for showing the way once again. For showing how to balance the speeds of life.