One of the habits I’ve been fueling, as opposed to those I’ve been attempting to starve-out, on this roadtrip is reading for pleasure. I love reading, but I do it in a very bursty way. I’ll read every day, devouring books, for months on end, and then I’ll simply put a book down and not read at all for, again, months on end. I’ve been trying to smooth-out that ebb and flow a bit.
I began the trip choosing to read East of Eden, something I’ve always wanted to read. Bolstered by the fact that my mom had also just read it (not planned, but a nice happenstance) and we could thus have it as a topic of shared discussion, I dove in.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but that’s not what this post is about. This post is about one particular passage from the book that really stuck with me. I won’t spoil anything, but I’ll set the scene just a little. Turn of the century America, a man has just left the post office having picked up a letter from his out-of-state brother. Here’s what Steinbeck actually wrote:
A man who gets few letters does not open one lightly. He hefts it for weight, reads the name of the sender on the envelope and the address, looks at the handwriting, and studies the postmark and the date.
… He looked at the envelope … He turned the envelope over and looked at the back … Once having decided to open the letter he took out his pocketknife, opened the big blade, and inspected the envelope for a point of ingress, found none, held the letter up to the sun to make sure not to cut the message, tapped the letter to one end of the envelope, and cut off the other end. He blew in the end and extracted the letter with two fingers. He read the letter very slowly.
First off, can we just pause for a moment and appreciate the laboriously detailed documentation of such a simple action? It’s glorious! Not only that, but taking such luxury in capturing such a small thing seems to brilliantly underscore the actual slow savoring being described. It’s like in the Simon and Garfunkel song Overs, where Simon holds the word “long” for a long time. You want to let the reader know just how serious the business of this letter is, how meaningfully slow the character is considering & consuming it? Got it.
But that’s not what I’m writing about either.
The point of me sharing the Steinbeck passage, the thing that struck and has stayed with me, is just how luxurious certain things can be if we just slow down and take the time to enjoy them for every detail.
In my life, I savor very little. I rarely slow down. Every moment is a multitasked context-switching fastlane. On this trip, forcing myself to see and feel and reflect, I have been amazed to find that a single waking day can, when properly savored, feel like two or even three times what I’m normally used to. You probably know the days, they are likely poolside on vacation when you’ve not checked the time in a while and think to yourself, “It must be getting near dinnertime,” and are then shocked to find it’s barely past 2pm. It’s that kind of purposed-slowness. And, when you can achieve it, it’s simply beautiful.
I won’t say I’ve achieved this state in some permanent way, but this trip is helping me hone my skills in slowing down, in savoring life. Further, I can say with certainty that cellphones are the worst enemy here. At least for me, with my cellphone at arms reach, I can always be working on something between everything else – and that means cheating anyone or anything I’m doing of the proper consideration and involvement. I find myself addicted to the little device in my pocket, and realizing it’s stealing my ability to be undivided in my attention.
So that languid exploration of getting and opening a letter stays prominent in my mind. Reading it, noticing the contrast to the haste & partial attention which characterizes most actions I take, makes me realize… we are doing this wrong; so very wrong. I am going too fast, I am doing too much at once, I am just not living in the moment and enjoying things.
I am seriously working on fixing that.
Until later, peace all.