Since wrapping up my JV year in Portland, Oregon in 2017, I’ve been engrossed in a deeper questioning of what I want to prioritize in my life. I’m sure this shift holds true for many FJVs, or anyone who has had the opportunity to step a bit outside the lines of a typical work/life experience and glimpse new perspectives of what’s unfolding in our communities.
One of the most alarming and fascinating elements to witness, a year and a half out of my JV year, is the speed of my “normal” life.
60 MPH on my morning commute, ordering items from Amazon at 6AM on an idle Sunday morning while laying in bed with my iPhone, take-out (sweet sweet Thai food takeout), my beautifully organized Google Calendar (where I can strategically plan for a yoga class, a phone call, and a dinner all in a day), a text message to a friend in another country to wish them a happy birthday. Although I have been “ruined for life,” modern society and its quick, efficient ways are, alas, still a convenient weakness of mine.
I appreciate these things. I appreciate Thai food on a cold February evening, I appreciate yoga being scheduled on my Google calendar every week, I appreciate getting my package the immediate day after the thought first originated in my mind that I had to have a book by David Whyte.
The ease with which I can do a lot, quickly, stands in juxtaposition to the slowness of my JV year brought on by our collective intentionality and simple living – cooking meals, biking to the grocery store, using wi-fi at the library, writing letters to friends, reading the books one had as opposed to collecting more to add to the never ending shelf.
I try to not consider myself a poetic Luddite millennial; I recognize and appreciate the advances and experiences I am able to have due to our interconnected, globalized, fast paced world. I don’t want to move to a farm, away from my fellow citizens, and re-start a new society of bartering and re-inventing proverbial wheels.
However, since my JV year, these comfortable amenities described above have a different air to them. Although I am now able to do more with my time due to the power of a steady paycheck and stable living situation, the surface luxury of item and option convenience doesn’t seem to make up for the depth I felt during my JV year of living simply.
A practice in which two Portland housemates and I would occasionally partake on shared Mondays off during our JV year was walking to places in and around Portland with nothing resembling too much of a set agenda. The routes would typically take us through new neighborhoods or corners we wouldn’t see in our daily commutes. On one memorable occasion, we walked seven miles to the IKEA near the airport to purchase plants and ice cream cones. The slowed down nature of what could have been a sped up experience, with the help of public transport or a few online shopping clicks, made this simple task a journey.
Recounting this jaunt reminds me of the Simon and Garfunkel song, The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy), where it seems they’re keen to appreciate the simplicity yet depth of a walk across the Queensboro bridge, the song tells us:
Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy
As the temptation of conveniences, the lack of communal living, and the long commute work their way into my day-to-day reality, I am amazed at how difficult it is for me, now, to move slow. How difficult just kickin’ down the metaphorical cobblestones is hard to come by, because the days are already blocked out with color coded categories on my Google calendar as I chase the elusive notion of a work/life/spiritual balance.
As I explore what my next moves in life will be, I am taking time to reflect on what slowing down means, wondering if the convenient life and its temptations can find some middle ground. A ground where I can have my Thai food and eat it, too, but not rush through it, not move too fast, and, instead, have more cobblestone to kick down and less highway traffic to speed through.
Photo by Meghann Van Pelt