On Slowing Down

By Sasha Keenan

Stimulating is perhaps the word to describe Manhattan in late August. When I moved to Greenwich Village on a Sunday morning last year, all of my senses were occupied—overwhelmed—by the people, the smells, the sirens, the heat, the need to walk faster. Rational people would’ve likely found it unbearable, but I found it electrifying.

I had trouble falling asleep that night, due in part to the sticky heat but mostly because the window by my bed overlooked the West Village. When I looked outside, I understood that, beyond the glass, there were lovers sharing cigarettes on fire escapes, there was the best Vietnamese takeout I’d ever try, there were yellow taxis taking girls to bars in Williamsburg. There was everything to do and everyone to do it with; I couldn’t sit still, let alone shut my eyes for eight hours.

The months that followed were wonderfully chaotic. I photographed everything. I talked to anyone. I visited every museum that had a student discount, I ate Thai food and Ethiopian food and cheap bagels, and I wandered through every neighborhood on the map. I got a scar on my knee and a tattoo on my back. I fell in love with the East Village at night. I came to terms with drinking black coffee because almond milk is expensive. I discovered the simple joy that is riding the Q train over the Manhattan Bridge.

I never slowed down, though. My alarm was always set for 6:30AM. My Google Calendar had no blank spaces. I set aside time on Sunday afternoons to organize every detail of my week, down to meal times and plans with friends. I felt nervous if I wasn’t using my time deliberately. Sleep irritated me, as I felt it prevented me from living. I was only ever home if I needed to be. My environment matched my refusal to be inactive—New York doesn’t stop for anyone.

Now, I am home for the summer in the quiet, conservative suburb I grew up in. Upon arriving at my house a few weeks ago, I realized that my schedule was open, my workload was light, and I was no longer invigorated. Leaving New York felt like I imagine losing the love of your life might feel, even if only temporarily.

As the days passed, though, I found myself journaling again. I had the time to cook elaborate meals just because. I slept in. I woke up to days free of obligations. Someone once told that that, in a world obsessed with quickness, there is nothing quite like slowing down. For the first time in a while, these words feel true: moving slowly through life for a little while is not only healthy, but liberating.

Like most other people, I often believe efficiency is synonymous with productivity, and so I rule out leisure. What I’ve failed to consider, though, is that spare time is as fruitful as scheduled time is. Slowing down doesn’t necessarily mean we should do nothing, but that we should notice and participate in what comes our way instead of zooming past it.

Last week, I did exactly this: I woke up with no plans. I noticed that it was a beautiful day. My friend I decided to drive to the city without any agenda. We took our time drinking coffee and talking about our dream vacation destinations. We followed whatever sparked our interests: an old movie theater, passing elevated trains. We met up with old friends on a whim, we walked for miles, and we got stuck in the rain. We took the long way home.

Photos by: Muhummad Mallick

I’ll return to the chaos of Manhattan soon enough—for now, I am accepting idleness. Though it can be difficult to transition from having everything to do to having not enough to do, I am beginning to abandon the notion that a fulfilling life is a linear one. Instead, there should be bends and breaks and loops and dips and, of course, some slowing down.