Over the last 10 years or so, I’ve made it my mission to learn to do things the hard way, or so I often joke. What I really mean though is that I’ve been working on learning how to make things from scratch, slow down my work, depend less on cheap fossil fuels. When I set out on this mission, I was inspired by the DIY and reskilling movements, but I recognize now that it was mostly in response to capitalism-driven climate decline (now collapse).
Sometimes I feel like a bit of an odd duck doing this work. It’s not efficient. It often takes up a lot of time. In most cases, there are faster solutions that technology has afforded us. I prefer to sweep the floor rather than vacuum. I prefer washing my dishes by hand. I prefer cooking food from scratch, and now I’m trying to grow most of it myself. A lot of this type of work is a) unpaid, is b) fairly monotonous, and c) requires dedicated time. But I also enjoy this type of work. I enjoy tasks where I can set my brain on auto pilot and daydream.
Yesterday I discovered the new ultimate slow work: sorting through sunflower seeds for grubs. Each seed needed to be pulled out, almost one at a time, flipped over to look for dark spots or hole, and then sorted into two piles; one for eating and one for the chickens. I sat in the sun and set to work. It was relaxing work and I remarked to myself that I must be atypical for enjoying myself, like I was “built” for this work. And then I laughed to myself, because this is the work that we are actually all built for: hunting and gathering, processing and saving food. I imagined having a group of community members sitting with me doing the work together, telling stories and enjoying each others’ company. For thousands of years, this is how indigenous communities lived.
What we aren’t built for is the fast paced life that so many of us live today. We get exhausted and burnt out from trying to be on-the-go all the time. We need vacations from our lives to try and reset, only to return back to the same speed after a week or two (if we can afford it). We impress on our children that this high paced life is imperative to be successful. We actually view a subsistence lifestyle focused on slow work as less civilized; as inferior, even though we’re stressed out, physically and mentally ill, and generally unhappy.
So maybe this slow work isn’t so atypical. Maybe it’s actually important. Maybe it’s even a way forward to a better way of life for ourselves and our planet.