Mindy’s step-dad, Steve, warned me when I first came out here that the biggest challenge I’d face would not be the different politics, or the different climate, or even the threat of getting eaten by a wild animal.
It would be how slow country life is.
I’ve spent the better part of my adult life working at a frenetic pace, or recovering from working at a frenetic pace. The jobs I’ve held where 40 hours a week is the maximum have been rare — try more like 60. And that doesn’t take into account commute time, which in Seattle, can easily add three or more hours to your work day. When I look back even a few months ago, it was not unusual for me to spend 14 to 15 hours out of the house each day, just working. Or driving. Or in meetings. When I came home, I was exhausted. On Saturdays — if I had Saturday off — I had to have an afternoon nap, whether I wanted one or not. My body wouldn’t permit me to push through, because bodies aren’t made to keep working without rest.
For me, I think that living in the city played into overworking in a number of ways. Firstly, of course, there was the type of work I did: part of my time was spent working in a tech startup, an environment which is known to demand long hours and fierce discipline; the other part of my time was spent working as an organizer, which makes working at a tech startup seem easy. Those were choices I made, and I’ll own them. I enjoyed working at both places, enjoyed the work I did, and value the friendships I built as a result of working there.
This is not to speak ill of hard work.
Hard work is necessary, in the city and in the country and everywhere in between. But there’s something about cities (and the type of work that I did) that values work for the sake of work. It’s the disease of “busyness.” It’s not uncommon for people across segments — sales, service, tech support, organizing, and so on — to work from 9 to 7. That’s average. And while we may be told we get a half hour or an hour for lunch, in practice that time is usually spent working. In a city like Seattle and its surrounding areas, something is always open, which means there’s always another meeting that could be held, or another shift that could be picked up, or another project that can be packed into the day.
I was in graduate school at BGI at Pinchot when I first encountered the Slow Movement. Ironically, it was one of those things that I heard about, filed away in my memory bank to learn more about someday, and then continued what I was doing … I don’t even remember what I was doing. Probably working.
The basic principle behind the Slow Movement is that life is too fast: we must slow it down, make meaningful connections, and make better decisions about how we spend our time, our money, and our energy. If you’ve encountered the movement, you’re probably familiar with Slow Money or Slow Food, which are probably the two most well-known off-shoots. There’s a slew of other slow movements too, though, including Slow Travel, Slow Gardening, Slow Parenting, Slow Schooling, and so on. Each movement essentially works off the notion of time poverty, or life lived too fast: when we slow down, we experience life in a fundamentally different way. We become more present, and we form deeper connections within our families and communities.
I have slowed down in the country. I do not know if I am entirely present yet, nor do I know what that would even look like. I know that I value hard work; I have worked hard since I got here. I also know that I value rest. I love having more time to spend with Mindy, and to be more intent and present during the time I have spent with her. I love getting to know Mindy’s family, which is my family too — all the nieces and nephews, sisters and brothers-in-law, aunts and uncles and cousins, Mindy’s mom, even Steve. I love doing activities for fun that my grandparents and great-grandparents would have recognized: pinochle, cribbage, horseshoes.
I love watching the seasons change, and I mean really watching the seasons change. I haven’t done this since I was a kid. I used to walk to school, the same route, every day, and I grew to know the leaves on the trees, the color of the bushes, the smell of the air. It feels the same out here. I’m learning the water level of the creek, the early signs of a tamarack changing, the length and darkness of shadows as the sun makes its way across the sky.
I love seeing the stars at night.
And most of all, I love seeing how life can unfold out here.