Before I thought of myself as a writer, I thought of myself as an artist—not incompatible identities. Among the many lessons I learned as a visual artist that also apply to literary arts: slow down. Wait. Wait. Wait. The eye (thought) moves faster than the hand on the page; you have to slow down so that the hand can keep up.

Thought is like that too. We can think 1300 words a minute. We can read a fraction of that and write even fewer. Everything jumps ahead of itself with the result that what we read or record skips like a pebble over a smooth pond. What we think we know and what is there, if we take time to look. All that water below… If we want to reveal it all, we must slow down to see it.

The gray gulls above are juveniles; the white-headed and breasted ones are adults. You might guess from this photo: there are a great many kids this year—more than half of those resting onshore. Forty-seven birds shown; seventeen are adults. Mist began yesterday on our shore and the air quality index began to drop. This morning the drizzle started and air quality became breathable throughout the western edges of the Pacific NW from the Willamette Valley north to Puget Sound, Portland to Seattle. I got my short two mile run this morning. Ballots arrived today. Our property tax info came in the mail and the RMV (real market value) of our home has been set at one and a third times what it was last year.

Looking at a twig, the mind recognizes the overall curve and the hand follows the shape the mind knows is there. The result is a child’s understanding of line and shape. The twig becomes a sweeping and simple curve, where the reality is straights and angles and curves, bumps and knobs, and subtle variations in shape and thickness. Slow down the eye, and the hand can keep up, noting those shifts as well as the overall curve. Think of Japanese brush and ink drawings.

Teaching student artists to slow their eye is one of the great secrets to drawing well. Set aside what you think you see for what is there before you, allowing the hand to move with the eye over a line.

Without deliberate effort, the mind leaps ahead to the story’s end—true in writing too.

I am an impatient person at heart. Waiting, slowing down, taking my time, setting work aside… these are all hard for me. It’s one reason I delight in running. I was always a fast walker even in childhood; I want to get where I am going fast.

This impatience and the need for speed has long been an impediment to success. I rush through a story or essay I am writing. I hurry it through revisions.

I know better.

Oddly, I am not a fast reader. About 350 words is my absolute top speed, and my normal reading speed is much slower. Many of my high school students read faster and wrote faster too. I often reread a passage. I like to hear the words in my head, and a reading specialist who inserviced my high school staff assured us that forgoing that auditory experience and reading faster was absolutely necessary to “success.”

Research reveals that reading is experienced first in the the temporal portion of the brain, where sound is processed. Words on the page are symbolic of the sounds of words which are themselves symbolic of objects, actions, and ideas. Reading is thus two steps from “reality” and, in fact, quite a stretch for human beings.

Writing is another step-by-step process.

Skimming, by the way, is accomplished primarily in the visual cortex. It is not the same as reading but goes from the symbol on the page directly to object, action, idea. That sounds useful and it is. In college or any profession requiring examination of many document, skimming shortens time spent in study and allows for quick absorption of overall content.

Skimming Shakespeare? Not so good. Most of the lines in Shakespeare’s plays are literally poetry, blank verse with the occasional punctuating rhymed couplet. Skimming the works will provide the overall story, but not the sound, and sound is critical. It was Maya Angelou who said that “poetry is music for the spoken voice.” Music and meaning flow together in the sounds of language.

When we read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, my best students were the worst readers. They read too fast and missed all the best of the book. This was true year after year. I generally read portions of the novel aloud to my regular English students and they laughed at every sly and subtle witticism. When I advised them to read aloud themselves to find the meaning, they figured out “Huck’s” voice quickly enough. My “stronger” Honors English students struggled to read Twain’s phonetic spelling and most often missed every joke and satirical dig. They were reading too fast, and some were even unable to slow down in order to hear the words.

It might not matter much if they go on to become attorneys or MBAs, as some have. But that quite a price to pay for never getting the joke.

And this is where I confess that I once read an entire novella before realizing the author was being funny. It was a tongue-in-cheek send up of space operas. Then I got it and started over. I reread the entire book, laughing out loud throughout the second read. [A six-foot furry toad sidekick character might, to some, seem like a giveaway… what can I say? It went right over my head the first time through.]

Surely this says something about patience?

On the other hand, I weave. I have enameled on copper. I have stared at fabric for hours, days, even weeks before figuring out how to cut it and sew it back together.

Somehow this capacity for prolonged study is more of a struggle when the medium is words.

So here is all there is. I should have taken more time. I will come back in a few days or randomly reread it months from now and correct mistakes, add a line, find a better ending.

18 thoughts on “SLOWER

  1. I have learned that I cannot paint because I want to finish a complete piece in 15 minutes. I have to do very small pieces to make that time frame work. But, then it’s annoying to get all the supplies out to only have to clean up and put them away just a short time later. Everything I do, I do quickly and then move on to the next thing. Maybe that’s why my days fly by!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If a picture tells a thousand words and we can think 1300 words a minute, then how many pictures can we think of before we go to sleep without talking or repeating a thought, how many pictures can be thought in a minute plus or minus epsilon?

    Liked by 1 person

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