Upon first read of the commentary noted above, I didn’t quite appreciate the underlying cynicism or remorse of our hyper speed lives in America. I then re-read the piece and caught the very subtle idea in which we have or are in the process of becoming people which live in a hyper extended world where climbing off the hamster wheel is perceived to be more dangerous than just staying on it and spinning out.
If the article Don’t Shoot by John Seabrook in The New Yorker is any indication, we have so exceeded our boundaries that we don’t even understand how to get our communities/cities back in order. In the recent push to Slow Parenting and the slightly older order of Slow Eating, we are striving to do more in the same 24 hours and the human connection, on many, many levels has all but fallen apart.
My mind began to contextualize what was going on within me and the outside, nameless forces I have felt for 10-15 years now that pushed me to look for the type of employment I have found. During the period of time from 1995 to current, less so in 1995, more so in the last two years, hence the 10-15 year spread, I had become increasingly disenchanted with American socieity. I refused to own a cell phone – unless I became a doctor or pregnant (still don’t own one but will need to in Kenya as land lines are pretty much non-existent). There is no TV at my home. I have willfully kept up my one evening or afternoon a week at the public library, indulging in all that is news, trends, garbage, etc. I have tried, when possible to not work far from home (although there have been a few times when I did 1 1/2 commutes each way), even in California. One could definitely say I set boundaries and for some there was more than a line in the sand – it was kind of like a rebar/concrete affair. And even setting boundaries, I found myself far outstretched, under-resourced, exhausted and not satisfied.
When I was teaching at a charter school, the typical day began at 5:30 AM (commute was only 20 minutes each way) and usually ended at 10:30 PM, Monday through Saturday so I could sleep in on Sunday. It was the only way I could do some morning exercise or meditation, cook for myself rather than eating out and keep up on the housework as well as my job. I had so much to do at school, so much prepping, grading, etc. that I was chronically exhausted. I had friends who were worse off – they worked at charter schools where they needed a cell phone and kids could call them until 9 or 10 at night. My vacation time was usually about taking Skullcap at night and trying to get back on a normal daily schedule.
The final blow was working for a Silicon Valley startup and the employers who had no concept of boundaries. Since I was salaried and worked from home, I was at their beck and call and the workload was beyond unreasonable. I was entrenched in my own personal sweat shop. Neighbors would often not see me for days at a time and wondered if I had died – no, I was just working and had a deadline to meet. Even though there is abundant sunlight where I live, I forgot to observe it and seemed to be wondering how exactly it kept getting dark so early.
I was not absurd for thinking about two years ago the answer might be to gain some religious conviction and join some monastery or nunnery where I could be in a degree of quiet and thoughtfulness. At the time, I felt as if I was coming unglued – how does some one with a graduate degree, living in California need less, not more? It was the oddest thought. It was not just the zen thing, it was the literal feeling of being overwhelmed – as if I suddenly had too much family, too many friends and not enough down time. I graciously and ravenously began to enjoy sleeping eight or nine hours.
The funny part was when I got back on a schedule that was realistic, I was completely out of sync with everyone else who was still moving at hyper speed. Which is why finding a job that was reasonable to the human spirit became so important to me. When I went to Kenya to interview, I found that I was easily able to get back on African Time (not the same as Jewish Time which is late but qvetching about it) and my own internal clock started working. I observed that people took the time to LISTEN and just BE. There was friendliness. I even remembered my time in Europe where people lingered over a coffee or glass of wine. There was a general sense of being aware and in tune with the environment around oneself. Nothing ever seemed rushed.
It was these very feelings , that if experienced in America would make people whine, complain and scream and possibly become violent, that I was content with – not the need necessarily to join a religious order, just a need to join a community that had order and respected meaningful interaction.
Yes, there are inefficiencies about places where people seem slow or not loaded with caffiene and yet they are bearable problems. The woof and warp of time and space become softer and gentler – more forgiving.
I have started noticing in the last two years the lagging indicators of a place and time gone mad with data, efficiency, over work, lack of reasonableness in schedules – children accidentally left in cars and dying because a parent forgot; violence in communities where people are not getting face time, especially children (which leads to violent crime); and decrease in overall ‘happiness and satisfaction’ despite how much is all around us (compare American’s to people in most third world countries and Americans tend to believe we suffer more as we have more to ‘lose’); declining education due to ineffective parenting, exhaustion, poor nutrition, etc.; pollution through all things brought to us by fossil fuel processes (plastic, carbon dioxide, etc.).
If we, as people (not just Americans, but a great place to start) don’t reclaim our lives and create some real boundaries and DEMAND a life of satisfaction, it is truly not worth considering the outcome. We have to find a balance to having more/doing more and just being – being present, being in the moment, being there to listen.