Essays

Slow Me Up, Slow Me Down

By posted at 7:56 am on September 4, 2009 6

The sooner you fall behind, the more time you’ll have to catch up.Steven Wright

My life is running away from me, and I can’t keep up. Maybe you can relate.  I’m starting to wonder if humanity is divided between those who thrive on speed and those who are pummeled by it.

The slowpokes have been rising up, in pockets here and there, for a few years now.  slowLab is an organization devoted to “exploring slower rhythms of engagement with people, places, and things around us” (via projects like Slow Consumption, Slow Communities, and Slow Teen).  At SlowMovement.com, you can learn about other Slow philosophies, like Slow Food, Slow Cities, Slow Money, Slow Travel, etc. 

A Slow Blogging Manifesto, penned (typed) by technology consultant Todd Sieling in 2006, declared Slow Blogging

a rejection of immediacy… an affirmation that not all things worth reading are written quickly… Slow Blogging is a reversal of the disintegration into the one-liners and cutting turns of phrase that are often the early lives of our best ideas. It’s a process in which flashes of thought shine and then fade to take their place in the background as part of something larger. Slow Blogging does not write thoughts onto the ethereal and eternal parchment before they provide an enduring worth in the shape of our ideas over time.    

Sieling even has a recipe for how Twitter can be used in a Slow-ethos way.

coverMost recently, Granta editor John Freeman has written a Slow Communication Manifesto (adapted from his forthcoming book The Tyranny of Email):

The ultimate form of progress… is learning to decide what is working and what is not; and working at this pace, emailing at this frantic rate, is pleasing very few of us. It is encroaching on parts of our lives that should be separate or sacred, altering our minds and our ability to know our world, encouraging a further distancing from our bodies and our natures and our communities. We can change this; we have to change it…

It is time to launch a manifesto for a slow communication movement, a push back against the machines and the forces that encourage us to remain connected to them. Many of the values of the Internet are social improvements—it can be a great platform for solidarity, it rewards curiosity, it enables convenience. This is not the manifesto of a Luddite, this is a human manifesto. If the technology is to be used for the betterment of human life, we must reassert that the Internet and its virtual information space is not a world unto itself but a supplement to our existing world.

(Deep exhale: I just have to take a moment to thank the gods of Hotmail for limiting email downloads via Entourage to a minimum of every 20 minutes.)

Is slowness luxury or necessity? I’ve begun to wonder about this in relation to writing and reading specifically.  Novel-writing and deep-reading are slow.  Blogging and twittering (and, yes, emailing) are fast.  Can our brains do it all effectively?

As an experiment, I randomly picked five of my favorite novelists to see if they were bloggers/Twitterers:*

Denis Johnson – N
Annie Dillard – N
E.L. Doctorow – N
Tony Earley – N
Carrie Tiffany – N

*via quick google search, did not have time to search Twitter or Facebook specifically 

Then I looked up novelists from recent The Millions Top 10 lists and Book Reviews:

Elizabeth Stroud – N
Thomas Pynchon – N
Dave Eggers – N (tweeted for a hot second in March, then stopped)
Junot Diaz – N
Bryan Gilmer – Twitter
Stieg Larsson – N
Joseph O’Neill – N
Kazuo Ishiguro – N
Dan Chaon – Twitter
Orhan Pamuk – N
Emily St. John Mandel – blog and Twitter
Richard Ford – N
Colum McCann – N

Just a random sampling, nothing conclusive here; though my findings – how few of the novelists I/we admire spend time/energy on short-form quickies – were even more skewed toward abstinence than I had imagined.  Arguably there is a pattern, i.e. the more established the writer, the less the imperative to “connect” via blog and Twitter.  Although, I understand Margaret Atwood has started tweeting. Meanwhile, Nobel laureate Jose Saramago,  who started a blog a year ago (in Portuguese), has just posted his final post, turning his energies and attention to a new novel: “Goodbye therefore. Until another day? I sincerely don’t think so. I have started another book and want to dedicate all my time to it.”

The competition between fast and slow writing – possibly incompatible parts of the brain, dissonant brain energies – is something I think emerging long-form writers — who are urged (“required” is not quite accurate and yet seems closer to the truth) to blog and tweet lest our literary careers be stillborn — worry about.  We must “develop readership” or die, and yet what good is readership if the big-wide-slow writing doesn’t get done, or is somehow compromised?  

coverAnd short-fast reading/writing competes not only with novel-making, but also long-form reading. The other day, browsing in a bookstore (quickly, of course, because I had just a few minutes before I had to be somewhere), I found myself pouncing on Ma Jian’s Stick Out Your Tongue; at 83 pages, 4” x 6”, and large-ish print to boot, it beckoned me like a mini-mirage, or like a life raft bobbing in the ocean of pages (2666, I’ll finish you yet!) that had engulfed me while I was busy updating my blog.

Nearly three-and-a-half hours I’ve been sitting at my desk working at this essay now, so I’d better speed it up.  What have I missed or mis-stated?  Where are the sloppy leaps in logic?  To what degree is this piece a failed internal loop rather than a provocative work of essayistic exploration?  No time to worry about it now; your comments will be my answer.

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6 Responses to “Slow Me Up, Slow Me Down”

  1. SLOWing Up at The Millions « SONYA CHUNG
    at 9:01 am on September 4, 2009

    […] have a post up at The Millions today, about […]

  2. Sloganeering.Org » Blog Archive » You Are Not Alone
    at 12:17 pm on September 4, 2009

    […] to Sonya Chung at the Millions for linking to the Slow Blog Manifesto, thus leading to my ruminations on the subject | September […]

  3. Emily St. John Mandel
    at 12:29 pm on September 7, 2009

    I personally enjoy my daily fifteen-minute forays into Twitter — I’ve met some great people, it’s a fantastic way to connect with booksellers and book bloggers, and I’ve booked at least two events through Twitter contacts. But that aside, I think the reality is that abstaining from social media in order to focus entirely on writing is a luxury that most debut novelists just can’t afford.

    I’ve been working hard to help get my book noticed ever since it came out a couple of months ago. I’m really not complaining — I’ve met some truly interesting people, and a lot of this work has been an absolute pleasure — but it’s true that it distracts from the book I’m trying to write. As much as I like Twitter, I’m sure I’m not alone among writers of the Twitter/blogging generation in occasionally feeling a stab of envy at the thought of those writers who had the luxury of pulling a half-Salinger and devoting themselves fully to the manuscript at hand.

  4. Reading and “The Slow Movement”? « Atlanta Booklover’s Blog
    at 11:03 am on September 17, 2009

    […] Sonya Chung blogs about this indirectly (and interestingly) in her essay Slow Me Up, Slow Me Down, posted at The […]

  5. Lydia Kiesling
    at 8:52 am on September 30, 2009

    I think Orhan Pamuk does twitter, under karakitap (“black book”). (I can’t actually look at the twitter site because it’s blocked at my workplace, so I’m not positive it’s realloy the novelist; I just came across a google listing doing an unrelated search). I don’t have a twitter, but I would consider it just to try and be friends with Orhan Bey!

    Sorry I’m so late to this party, by the way.

  6. Sonya
    at 1:00 pm on September 30, 2009

    Lydia, if you do start twittering, I’d love to hear about your adventures! (And send along a “hey, what’s up” to Orhan for me.)

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