First novel: Depressed woman locks herself up with hawk. (H is for Hawk)
Second novel: Blind girl and her father flee Nazis carrying a diamond. (All The Light We Cannot See)
Third novel: Fat boy tries to lose his virginity during the bloody reign of Trujillo in Dominican Republic. (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao)
Fourth (and current) novel: 2 guys try to defeat Hitler and get rich writing comic books. (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay)
Literature-wise, it’s been quite the summer. I went into this novel-reading project in an effort to escape time, and it’s worked. But..
I’m not happy.
Of all my strategies to slow down time this summer, this has been the hardest and, psychologically, the most uncomfortable.
It’s not been hard to read. Hell no. It’s been easy to dive in and and become immersed. It’s been easy to succumb to the captivating artistry of first-class storytellers, to live for long stretches in their virtual worlds. It’s been easy to while away weeks of afternoons in the hammock, swaying to the mind-music of literary virtuosos. It’s been pure heaven in a lot of ways. It’s reminded me of the Nancy Drew summers of my youth..
And it’s not been hard psychologically because all these novels have been a bit on the gloomy side. No. It’s really not that.
It’s totally because of me, and the the way I am.
I can’t seem to drown out the voice in my head that says that this novel-reading time might be better spent reading about neurobiology, and about what motivates people, and how to achieve mastery, and how to get into flow, and how (maybe) technology can take us there, or (maybe) not.
I keep staring at this pile of books that’s been accumulating on my shelf for the last 6 months or so.
These are the kinds of books that I attack with a pen in a my hand and an open notebook at my elbow.
These are the books that I scribble in, underline, and argue with. These are the books whose ideas I try to articulate and practice in my notebook to see if I’ve really understood them. These are the books that help me with the stuff I wonder about in the shower, and when I’m driving, or planning a yoga class. These are the books that completely jazz me.
In comparison, novel reading feels like polishing off a pint of gelato with a spoon while binge-watching Orange is the The New Black. So,so gooooood. So deliciously fun.
Now I feel it’s time to steam up some broccoli and brown rice.
So today I made a decision. I am going to finish Kavalier and Clay, and for the remainder of July, dig into this non-fiction pile. I’ll return to novels when I go to the beach later this summer, and then again when I have to fly to the West Coast.
It was a good plan, this reading project. Time has definitely slowed down in a very good way.
Here’s how summer usually goes.
“Oh, the phlox are in bloom! Summer, finally! Yay.”
Next comes a flurry of manic activity:
Clean the garage.
Mow the grass.
Have a yard sale? Yes? No?
Go to Farmer’s Market.
4th of July.
Then suddenly…drums. And trumpets. The marching band is back and practicing up on the hill.
The sumacs are burgundy already. Asters, vervain and goldenrod are blooming in the roadside ditches.
What happened to the daisies? And the cornflowers? Did I miss them? (I totally missed them.)
Where was I? What happened? Where did summer go? How the hell is it Labor Day already?
Every year, this same nausea. Every year summer flies and I hardly see it. So this year, 3 weeks ago, to be exact, I sat down and drew up a 3-Pronged Strategy for Slowing Down Summer. I do not ever want to get to Labor Day again and feel that autumn nausea.
Because summer doesn’t have to fly. It really doesn’t. Summers didn’t always fly. I remember childhood summers that were almost too long. And even as an adult I remember draggy hot days spent arranging lettuce leaves on platters, watching bird life, and listening to gravel crunch under my sneakers, waiting for the inexorable day to end.
And it’s not like I don’t I know how to slow down time. I do.Sit on a meditation cushion and set a timer for 20 minutes. That’ll do it. And, on the flip side? To vaporize time? Jump on the computer “just for a sec to check FB and email.” There you go. 2 hours. Poof. Vanished.
When I notice everything as it happens? Time slows down. Live like a mindless robot? Miss the daisies.
So this year I needed a strategy. I couldn’t just tell myself, “I’m going to notice things as they happen this year.” That doesn’t work for me. I’m weak. I slip into old patterns and habits too easily.
So, after a lot of thought, here’s the plan:
- Mindful Mondays
- Read fiction
- Take a photo a day.
Let me explain.
Mindful Mondays start Sunday night when I stop eating at 8PM and don’t eat again until 2 PM Monday except for a cup of Bulletproof coffee. Nothing slows down time quite as effectively as being hungry when there’s still 3 more hours before food time. On Mondays I also double my meditation time from 20 to 40 minutes and severely limit screen time to 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour at night and no screens while eating.
Read Fiction. I am a non-fiction reader by choice and inclination. However, this summer I am reading novels exclusively because novels take me out of time. It’s not just that they slow it down, novels remove me from time entirely. Reading a novel in a hammock seems to give the ultimate middle finger to time.
Take a Photo a Day. To take a photo is to pay attention to something. I have to stop, get still, breathe, and really look at something. I’m not that concerned with the artistic quality of the picture. What’s important is the moment of stopping and paying attention. I’m using the Photo 365 app on my iphone to keep track of my daily photo.
And that’s it.
I’m 3 weeks in and I think it’s working. I plan to post here every Wednesday for the rest of the summer and report on how this is all playing out in my life. Follow this blog to get my weekly updates via email.
What do you think? Do you have a strategy for slowing down time? I am really interested in this topic if you care to share.