These days, I do some things more slowly than when I was younger.
For about five years now, I have spread out housecleaning over several days – a room or two per day. My previous, lifelong habit of tearing through the entire project on Saturday mornings had begun to tire me, but dusting, scrubbing, sweeping, vacuuming, bed changing, laundry, etc. is so tedious, I wonder now why I hadn’t thought of this before. It is not as boring when done in short spurts.
I know I walk more slowly because in the year or two before I left New York City, people had begun to pass me on the sidewalk. There aren’t enough people here in Portland, Maine, to make much of a comparison, but I doubt I’ve speeded up. Part of the reason is that I don’t see the point. What was the rush, I wonder, all those years? And there are interesting things to see.
These days, I even read more slowly. Sometimes dim light makes it difficult when I’m too lazy to get up and turn on a lamp. Still, I reread a sentence or paragraph more frequently than in the past, particularly when it is a writer I admire, to savor well-made sentences, turns of phrase and new ideas.
For 50 years I had to rush through showering in the morning to get to an office on time. Nowadays, I savor my morning shower as one of the great, small pleasures in life. I’m pretty sure I could still get through it swiftly, but why should I when there is no need and I enjoy the feel of hot water falling over my body. It's a good place, as well, to think through future blog posts.
Most of all, I am capable now of puttering away vast amounts of time, or allowing myself to become distracted in the middle of a task by something that is, for the moment, more compelling. I was, in the past, more disciplined. It’s not as though I’m less busy than when I was employed; it takes more time to turn out this blog along with outside assignments I take on than any job ever had. I’ve relaxed, it seems, about meeting deadlines – self-imposed or otherwise – and I still manage to deliver on time.
It’s hard to know if I'm slowing down due to aging or a new attitude. Certainly housecleaning and maybe walking reflect diminished stamina, but a part of my mind tells me I could still do those things at top speed if I wanted – I just don’t want to now. Perhaps retirement, when we are no longer required to live on an employer's schedule, is time to discover one's own inner clock. Of course, that clock is different from when we were young.
One of the characteristics of youth is to hurry up and experience everything - to always to be running and doing with a sense that you might miss something if you slack off. It is a paradox of aging I’ve written about before that as one’s time on earth becomes demonstrably shorter, the urgency to do as much as possible as soon as possible fades.
I don’t understand that change, but it’s handy that it appears as one’s body begins to slow down. Sometimes, though, I like to flatter myself that taking it easier is a choice brought on by the wisdom of years.