Slowing Down

red doorI have neither read nor had the particular desire to read anything by Marcel Proust, and yet, when Gretchen Rubin (one of my favorite contemporary authors) recommended Alain du Button’s How Proust Can Change Your Life in her monthly book club blog post, I was drawn to the title.  I am glad that I was.  Offering historical information, humor, and bites of wisdom, this easy-to-read blend of literary biography and self-help was a gem.  I gained a tremendous appreciation for Proust without having to slog through his seven volumes of In Search of Lost Time, which I also tremendously appreciated.   

Ironically, avoiding a slow process (reading In Search of Lost Time) is very anti-Proustian.  A central theme of the book is that much can be gained from taking things slowly.  Du Button tells the story of Proust meeting Henri Nicolson, a young French diplomat, and asking him to recount his experience at a peace conference after the Great War.  When the diplomat began “we generally met at 10:00” Proust stopped him, wanting to hear all the details.  The diplomat went on, and Proust was enraptured.Cover Image How Proust Can Change Your Life

“An advantage of not going by too fast is that the world has a chance of becoming more interesting in the process.  For Nicolson, an early morning that had been summed by the terse statement “Well, we generally meet at 10.00” had been expanded to reveal handshakes and maps, rustling papers and macaroons – the macaroon acting as a useful symbol, in its seductive sweetness , of what gets noticed when we don’t go trop vite” (46).

Proust’s attitude called me to think about my reading process.  I read quickly, which I usually consider an advantage, and especially when I dislike the book I am reading.  Recently, I re-read Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, and despite my desire to like it (I feel sloppy admitting that I don’t like Virginia Woolf), and my attempt to like it (I hoped that reading it for leisure rather than for school might change my outlook) I found it dull, and so I rushed through it…only to turn the last page with a disappointing aversion.  When I spoke to Caleb about my distaste, he asked what I thought about a particular scene that had captured him.  Though I had just finished the novel, I had no recollection of the scene.  I rushed through a novel that I considered boring, but perhaps if I had moved more slowly, like Proust suggests, I wouldn’t have missed the very details that make the novel compelling to so many people. 

The next time I find myself desiring to rush through a book, a meal, or a process, I’m going to channel Proust and slow down. 

Places to play in…

Teresa Camping

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”    —John Muir

When we lived in Boston and had access to the most fabulous public transportation system (if my loyalties to the MBTA went unswayed in the midst of horrible delays and cancellations during last year’s treacherous winter, I think it is fair to count myself as one of this transit system’s greatest enthusiasts), C and I didn’t have a car.  I loved everything about not having a car — the financial savings, the absence of stress about traffic and parking, not having to worry about having a designated driver when we went out — and it was with a somewhat heavy heart that I realized we would need to buy a vehicle when we moved to Rhode Island.  Read more

“Nurture Strength of Spirit”

cup

In addition to causing joy in the present, reading adds to my internal roladex of humor, wisdom and inspiration.  Being able to recall words of comfort and light when I am feeling lost or glum is a real source of strength and courage for me.

Lately, I have been returning to the Desiderata, a poem attributed to Max Ehrman, again and again.  My recent move (and all that moving entails, from starting a new job, to feeling lonely due to not having made new friendships yet, to feeling homesick for my old city) has been more challenging than I anticipated.  Different phrases from the Desiderata have come to mind at different points in the past few weeks, and, like a hot cup of tea on a cold and drizzly day, each has given strength to my spirit.

The Desiderata, by Max Ehrman

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.

And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

 

Examining September

Dancing
Yugoslavian folk dancing is a family tradition. We danced the afternoon away at my Aunt’s wedding.

What am I most grateful for this month? I am grateful for my extended family.  One of my aunts recently got married and celebrating this milestone with my parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles felt like a bubble bath and a glass of wine for my soul. 

What am I least grateful for this month? On the one hand, I am surprisingly accepting of the fact that my new job is part-time.  Thanks to C’s graduate student stipend, we can make ends meet — wihile also saving a little and having some fun, though we do live quite simply — with me only earning a part time salary, and I have welcomed the extra time that I have to read, cook, spend time with C, and write.  On top of that, I really love my job, and I would rather be earning fifty percent and loving what I do one hundred percent than the other way around.  On the other hand, I have been feeling guilty about only working part-time and also about not using my non-working hours more efficiently.  I am not grateful for these feelings of guilt and I would like to spend October thinking about what I need to do to remedy them.  In particular, I would like to think about how I can make my non-working hours more productive and satisfying.  Read more