Living Long and Living Slow: Attuning to and Attending to the Slower Synchronies of the Long Haul

drivelike your kids live here

Brian Eno wrote a letter to Nassim Taleb in 2013 as part of the Long Now Foundation’s Longplay Letters Series.   It is a “diabolical” chain letter.  I wish there were more attempts like this.

I think that the Long Now Foundation serves as a necessary antidote to the poison of immediacy that has infected the net.  If we had more long form ‘institutions’ cooked into the DNA of our systems perhaps I wouldn’t be making all these rookie mistakes in my online life, errors that arise from not attending to the long haul.  At least we might have more balance.  The missive that Eno directs to Taleb calls in part for this balance as a survival adaptation.

More people are easing off the online throttle with ‘tech sabbaths’, the slow web movement (, slow food,  and slow reading.  It is a small but hopeful faction seeking balance.  I have been unbalanced of late in my online work.  This post seeks equipoise.

The last six weeks I have been enmeshed in a rather frantic undertaking called #rhizo15.  This MOOC was titled “Rhizomatic Learning: a Practical View” and each week felt like a Tilt-A-Whirl.  At this time I would like to declare an intermezzo in this post to attend to theTilt-A-Whirl.

US1745719-0tiltawhirlWhen I wrote the word ’tilt-a-whirl’ above I had a cascade of memories from carnivals and fairs both county and state that always had one of these mad rides in residence (if it dared to call itself a fair).  The Wikipedia article is a short chronicle of the Tilt-A-Whirl’s 88 year…ride… obviously written by a loving member of the Sellner family (manufacturer  since 1927).

I thought about my own long relationship with this particular ride culminating in a stint as a teenaged ‘carny’ myself at Fontaine Ferry Park/Ghost Town on the River in Louisville. Kentucky as an operator of both the tilt-a-whirl and the Octopus.  Lots to slow down for and savor, not all good, but all mine.

I started comparing in my own mind fairs now and then. What ride today is as ubiquitous as the tilt-a-whirl was then?  I would have to argue for the ‘bouncy castle’.  If there ever was a symbol for the story that is the decline of modern America, this is it. Even our fun has degenerated from the long term sustainability of the Tilt-A-Whirl (there are a few of the originals from 1927 still in operation) to the throw away, unsustainably cheap majesty of the closed inflatable trampoline (aka bouncy castle).

Maybe this is why the ‘few but fine’ reads these posts.  I favor the peripatetic feldgang over the short walk wasted we call Facebook and Twitter.  I am not saying the long form is better, it just needs to be given its due.

What Brian Eno is doing with Nassim Taleb is starting the long walk conversation.  Why don’t we have more of these in our online institutions?  Why did this #rhizo15 have to announce itself as only six weeks long? Why did the previous #rhizo14 stop last year?  Maybe it didn’t for the researchers, for the academics, for those with tenured sinecures, but it did for me. Why don’t we have institutional support for just starting a conversation like Eno started with Taleb?  Maybe they exist in the form of the university itself or in foundations, but I don’t feel these touch me directly.  I am not valuing the long haul enough.  I need to be more of, in Myles Horton’s words, a ‘long haul’ person.

When I walk on my farm I fertilize the fields with my own footsteps.  It is a slow, composting process. I value it.  I have been my own John Muir on this postage stamp of ground for nearly 30 years.  I call this a feldgang and stole the term from Otto Scharmer’s work with presencing.  He made me realize that you can take feldgangs where the field is your own mind and memory.  But we have a problem with that–you need to factor in time, sometimes lots of it, as well as attention, an ingredient that is in rather short supply. Perhaps if we began to ‘dam up’ attention and time in the streams of our conscious lives we could all take more inner feldgangs.  Our society and all its institutions seem to be militantly opposed to that effort, but….   I really do believe as Horton preached that patience and ingenuity can overcome blind power.

What to do?  I have created some resources here:

Or maybe you can check out this manifesto for inspiration:

Slow Manifesto

There are those who urge us to speed. We resist!

We shall not flag or fail. We shall slow down in the office, and in the bedroom. We shall slow down with growing confidence when all those around us are in a shrill state of hyperactivity (signifying nothing). We shall defend our state of calm, whatever the cost may be. We shall slow down in the dining room and in the streets. We shall slow down everywhere. We shall never surrender!

If you can slow down when all around you are speeding up, then you’re one of us. Be proud that you are one of us and not one of them. For they are fast, and we are slow. If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing slowly. Some are born to slowness—others have it thrust upon them. And still others know that lying in bed with a morning cup of tea is the supreme state for mankind.

Or maybe you can pretend I am Brian Eno and you are Nassim Taleb and we are in it for the long haul.  For now take a garden walk with me,  it’s only a few minutes. Don’t forget to breathe.



  1. // Reply

    Thank you for this thoughtful post. As a gardener we know slow walking and slow working is the only right way to live. You know the story of the Chinese farmer in Mencius? This farmer tried to make the rice grow faster. He pulled the plants to force them to grow. Of course no plant survived. In I try to say it is not important to be the first in the end, it is the journey that counts.
    I do agree on your lament (is this the right word for sorrow?) over the end of #rhizo14 and rhizo15. Too fast, today I awoke a bit dizzy from that rhizomatic speed of these weeks.

    1. // Reply

      Yes, lament is the right word. I had not heard the Mencius story. Apt. My main issue is that we create our own institutions (#rhizo14/15) that are at least by default frenetic. Why do we not factor in patience and time and long range questions and projects and goals as part of the institutional system? Have you noticed how folks were concerned about ‘catching up’ and ‘missing weeks’ and ‘what now’. Why is that? As always, Jaap, I am grateful for your visits. I only wish I could respond in your native tongue in the truest spirit of reciprocation.

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    Slow down! Easy for you to say. Your KY crops have at least a month head start on where I am at in Central OH and this past weekend we were just only tilling the dirt in Southern MI at my parents place.

    Just teasing.

    Great post 🙂

    1. // Reply

      Here’s a little more to envy–I am eating blueberries. Right now. As I write this. I feel like a king, but not so much as when the blackcaps come in–like next week. I ate the ones that were in the ice box, so cold, so good.

      1. // Reply

        This is just to say
        I thought it was plums got kept in the icebox!!!

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          You gotta be adaptable, Nick, in order to survive. So…I am eating blueberries. And planting them, too. I have heard tell that some blueberries can live up to 70 years. That’s a lot of cobbler, fool, and pie.

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    I suspect I have feet in both fields: the fast and the slow; the immediate and the long-haul. What I mean is that all of the open learning opportunities I find myself is are really part of a larger continuum of learning (the long haul) but I am immersed in the short haul to gather what I need to keep the long haul going.
    I guess, we got us a convoy …..

  4. // Reply

    Yes, it is the balance. Like Twitter, I get this feeling sometimes (tweetchats, pingpong responses) of…too much. That is when I back away. It is only very recently that I began paying close attention to that embodied knowing. I am glad I started paying attention. I know that you stay away from Facebook. Good call, mostly. I am dead serious about cooking in the “long haul” stuff. It will be one of the subtexts this summer for me at CLMOOC. I will be the needle in the vinyl of my copy of Music from Big Pink, “I Shall Be Released” (it sticks and clicks on the line “I shall be released” –the infinite glories of vinyl)

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      I had always stayed well away from Facebook, but decided to try it this time. Found it useful mostly as a hub for finsing stuff, but was aware of other hubs such as Lenandlar’s. Not sure it is needed, though it does provide nice “warm fuzz” at times.

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        Sometimes FB seems a useful idiot, but most of the time I feel like I am its useful idiot. Needless to say billions can’t be wrong about it or McDonald’s, right?

  5. // Reply

    We were going to meet up sometime around now. Maybe we could do that and talk further of the long haul…I will try to get out and show you my morning feldgang, though it is more of a feldsitz!

    1. // Reply

      Beautiful video. Gotta remix it.

  6. // Reply

    Your garden is beautiful! We just had frost two weeks ago, so we are just getting started here.

    Interesting… of my themes for CLMOOC will be seeds and gardening, thanks in large part to your inspiration (and seeds). What are blackcaps??

    I am not a fan of Facebook for these classes, but it did seem to help to include people who are not as comfortable with Twitter and might not have otherwise participated as fully….or not.

    I don’t like frenetic in general. I hate rushing (for anything). I do like when we get into somewhat frenetic Twitter interchanges that fuel my inspiration and connectedness, and validate what I do. So….little spurts of frenetic-ness work for me. I am pretty good at taking time for myself. (Living alone helps.) But I lose that work-life balance when the weather is bad. When spring and summer come, the sun fuels me.

    1. // Reply

      Blackcaps are the black raspberries, the fruit of kings…if you can get it.

      I firmly believe in two principles: YMMV and small “t” Truth.

      Passion feels good, frenzy feels like a bad drug. We all know the diff.

      I lost my balance last winter, too. Badly. But the green and the garden and the freaking rain has lifted my boat up.

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