Introduction to “Scribing Slowness: An Ode to Slow Living in Fast Times”

Issue 2021, vol. 75

Healing the Time Sick

Time sickness: a phrase added to my vocabulary just months ago. The first time I heard it, I had a hard time wrapping my head around the concept.

Imagine a world in which every aspect of our lives are governed by time. Imagine. Imagine grabbing the phone beside your bed every time you wake up. You pick up the phone every single time to check the ungodly hour. Perhaps you are late for work. Perhaps you’ve awoken from a bad dream and are trying to discern how early in the morning it is. Perhaps you simply have nothing better to do than to stare into the piercing void of a lit screen, unintentionally keeping your mind overworked and overused.

As one can imagine, time sickness came as a bit of a shock to me. And yet, it made sense. I read the words “time sick” and thought: “That’s me. That’s me, for sure. And now I have a diagnosis. I am time sick.”

More so than anything, it became emblematic of a broader issue: that we live in a time-sick world. While I think we all recognize it, I don’t think we fully understand the implications of it. We preach good mental health and yoga solutions right alongside bigger and better opportunities for careers, relationships and entertainment. We use candlelight, books, the spare five minutes in the morning before we go to work to be “present,” while the TV is blaring in the background and our phone is sending us a million notifications a minute. We listen to speakers who promote slow living and we nod along to their words, emphatically agreeing, even as we insert another obligation into our Google Calendars.

Time sickness was introduced to me by a book called In Praise of Slow by Carl Honoré, as featured in a brand new class to Bethel’s curriculum: Slow Art for Fast Times. Led by Dr. Rachel Epp Buller, the class explores a wide range of art history topics, mostly contemporary, and finds ways to incorporate slowness into our daily living. In addition, the class studies aspects of slowness that have been explored by different groups of people, especially contemporary artists.

While Mennonite Life can feature the visual arts, its strong suit lies in the power of the written word, of scholarship, and deep, reflective communication. The essay series, “Scribing Slowness: An Ode to Slow Living in Fast Times,” was inspired by this particular class and the ideas it incorporates. In addition, it seeks to integrate Anabaptist/Mennonite culture and thought through personal experiences, histories, shared identities and explores the unique styles of a wide variety of recent Bethel graduates. You will read a reflective piece on the influence of nature and the practice of “hay bale yoga,” as well as a short musing on discovering personal visions for slow living. You will read about slow care and suffering through the pursuance of relationships. You will read about slow writing processes and the impact of theology, as well as a piece on the implementation of slow practice in flower arranging.

As you read, please take time to appreciate the meditative process of our writers, their incorporation of “slowness” into their work and the current cultural relevance of slow practices in a fast-paced world. Perhaps, we seek to reverse some of the effects of time sickness.

My grandmother was a lovely woman, Mennonite in the truest sense of the word. Born and raised on a farm in Freeman, S.D., she moved to Kansas and attended Bethel College in the 1960s with my grandfather. Though she has been deceased for nearly 26 years, she holds a physical presence in my home through my mother. We recently added a photo to our fridge, stuck with a sweet little flower magnet. It’s an image captured right outside of Memorial Hall on the day my mother graduated from Bethel. Though previous copies of the photograph had been old, sun-faded and worn around the edges, this one was recently printed. Two smiling, round faces peer out from behind the camera lens.

There are other things to remember her by. We see her in the photographed faces of my great-grandparents, the Preheims. My grandfather talks about her. There are Christmas tree ornaments, photographs and old china. But more than anything else, there is evidence that she was a maker, a creator, a crafter. Someone who understood how to design, build and construct tangible things. While I understand that this comes from a long-standing tradition within Anabaptist communities, I never had a full appreciation for it until the past year.

To say that I had time on my hands last spring and summer is a wild understatement. I had time on my hands. As many of us did. And maybe that speaks to a particular privilege, one that acknowledges a relatively stable household income and the ability to embrace boredom without worrying about how the bills will be paid. During this time, reading lists circulated like crazy as people had the opportunity to appreciate literature, perhaps for the first time in their life. As a humanities double major, I can’t say that I’m not happy about that. But for once, books didn’t cut it for me. I had no taste for fiction, nonfiction, other worlds and virtual places to visit. I was even more restless and impatient than usual.

Reading requires little to no effort, but I think it takes an incredible force to slow down my life enough that I have time for voluntary, hands-on tasks. With the spring semester 2020 abruptly halted and moved to a virtual format, my mind was going crazy trying to find something to do. I had transitioned from a “move, move, move” mentality to sitting in the same rocking chair, watching lecture after lecture.

I wouldn’t say that I was lazy. It’s not possible for me to sit in one attitude for too long, and I found myself eagerly unearthing projects. Now, I wanted to use my hands, to make things, to see the work that I had produced. To say the least, I put our underused sewing machine to good use. I found knitting needles longer than my forearms. I retrieved crochet hooks from behind boxes in drawers… and (if I was brave) I tried a hand at using my sister’s homemade, whittled, crochet hooks. I like to think my grandmother would have been proud of this effort.

I finished another quilt, my amateur abilities showing yet again. While I knew that drawers upon drawers of old crochet, knitting and sewing patterns existed, dragging them all out and laying them in a sun-shaped semi-circle on the living room floor was the greatest adventure. In doing so, I revealed something more clearly about myself: I have a desperate animosity toward patterns of any kind. This came as a bit of a surprise, as I tend to enjoy structure.

“You’ve never liked them,” I can hear my mother say. “It always ended badly.”

To me, patterns require an attention to detail that can be circumvented through original means. While I value structure, I also value efficiency and speed. My sister is an expert at creating her own patterns, and I thought that I could just as easily do the same thing… but faster. I could not. A few pairs of shorts, an attempted romper, quite a few unraveled yarn projects and several half-finished quilt designs later, I resigned myself to using patterns.

Crocheted snowflakes were first on the list, delicately starched things that my grandmother used to craft by the dozens while watching TV, or so my mother says. Perfect. Perfectly easy, simple and mindlessly quick. I didn’t think I would have to practice snowflakes, especially not if my grandmother could make them while watching TV or listening to the radio.

The result: I have not the patience that she had.

I could not sit with one snowflake and loop strand after strand in and around each other. I couldn’t decipher the shorthand of crochet. I needed a video, a visual, something to show me how to do it so I wouldn’t have to take the time to figure it out by myself.

I abide by the pattern of time, but have not the time to abide by other patterns. I have chosen — or been forced to choose — over and over again the pattern that dictates our lives. It makes it near impossible for me to sit with things that are not easily accomplished, and even more impossible for me to conceive of wasting time on those things.

What a cynical, pragmatic existence I enjoy… or don’t enjoy. It’s no secret that I’m often discontented with many of my life choices, the decision to increasingly fill my schedule being one of them. Not all has been lost to time, however, and to avoid being a true cynic, I will say that I continue to learn things about myself. In reading Honoré’s text, however small of a portion for Rachel’s class, I have been confronted with the reality of my life.

I am the person who waits in the family vehicle before trips, because I pride myself in being the most time-conscious member of the family. Never late and deathly embarrassed when I am — I have a reputation to maintain, after all. Structure first.

I am the person who keeps calendars and schedules in every nook and cranny for fear of forgetting even one appointment, or of losing track of time, as if time needs me to babysit it like a toddler. I am that person who wakes from a dream in the early hours of the morning and immediately checks her phone to see what time it is and just how long I get to sleep in before my 8 a.m. class. Structure.

I’m up before the rest of my modmates, making use of daylight. I’m subdividing minutes and seconds to squeeze in workouts, showers, enough time to dry my hair, get dressed, brew a cup of coffee, add a bibliography to that paper and finish a 20-slide presentation. I know exactly how many minutes it takes me to get from my mod to my 10 a.m. class (3 minutes) or to the cafeteria (about 4½ minutes).

It is utterly exhausting. I am exhausted every single day, aware of how much time I waste, aware of every second that I don’t utilize. Optimum time sickness, if you ask me.

Is there a solution? Honoré uses several examples, many of which include the work of contemporary artists and their most recent projects in pursuit of slowness.

In pursuit of slowness

Those words have transformed themselves into an anthem. Could the answer be found in slow practice? In not adhering to time, but possibly violating our social constructs of it? It is likely that when people hear the proposition of slow practice, they respond with opposition, even aggression.

“I don’t have the time for slow living!”

Neither does anyone else. And yet, the essay series “Scribing Slowness: An Ode to Slow Living in Fast Times” indicates that there are those who are trying, who are at least thinking about what it means to live outside the constructs of time. As a result, I want to find time — to make time — to enjoy a slower way of life.

And where better to turn in the process of slowing down time than to look back at history. My own history. The history of my family, of our slow practices, passed down from generation to generation. Cultural expectations and implications that I’m slowly rediscovering.

Waiting for a rising loaf of bread, of gradually growing bierocks baking under the heat of a yellow-lit oven. Of my grandmother’s quilting rack, folded and waiting for me to use, waiting for me to lie on the floor with a needle and thread held between my lips as I one day attempt to stitch together layers of batting. Of the painstaking hours I will spend updating the genealogy notebook that my grandfather handed me two Christmases ago, consulting Facebook more often than not. Of those snowflake patterns manifesting themselves into haphazardly crooked, spindly white creations that better resemble spiders.

The simple worship in these simple experiences is my slow practice. The best part of this is that I am excited to acknowledge slow living. I’m excited to throw off the hazy exhaustion of the semester in order to practice what I hope to fully adopt in my life.

I will take the time to write letters, perhaps, to friends from out of state. I know an Amish family living in Missouri that was as close to me as my own family. I think I will write them letters too. As much as slow aspects of life give one the opportunity to reflect and rest, they also allow people to form deeper, intentional connections to others. Community requires slowness, to an extent, and community is the Mennonite way.

And while I am not inherently Mennonite, or even Anabaptist, it is woven into the fabric of my life, more so than any other culture or custom. It is part of my history, my life experience and my future. And it is in that tradition that I find myself looking to cure time sickness. It is in this that I turn to discovering slow practice.