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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Day 76 to 78: Salon at Tyee Lake, BC

So here's the deal...You've just eaten the best burger of your life and the sun is beating down like it was still July and you're sitting by a beautiful lake preparing the salon you're putting on maƱana for a group of women at Tyee Lake and the topic is the slooooooow mooooooovement and...an...a..........

Okay, so maybe it was a tough study out there on the beach. But any illusions that slow is a slumber number were quickly dispelled when we came together with Christine, Irene, Karen, Bev, Lawrie, Gladys, Bonnie, Annette and Morag the following evening and proceeded to unpack our respective relationships to time and pace.

After meeting and greeting each other over a glass of wine, we launched the evening with a brief summary of wwp's origins and our story till now. We then moved the discussion on to the origins of the slow food movement: outlining how Carlo Petrini's stand against McDonalds in the mid-1980s came to be seen as a pivotal moment in turning our increasingly velocitized world onto the virtues of slowing down; explaining how the values underlying Petrini's campaign to produce tasty food that is grown locally in an equitable and environmentally-friendly manner have trickled into a range of other 'slow' initiatives, such as the 'slow cities' and 'slow education' movements.

Introducing the group to a few of the ideas underlying self-proclaimed slow guru Carl Honore's critique of our 'culture of hurry,' we asked participants to engage with these ideas in light of their own understanding of the terms 'philosophy' and 'slow.' We also encouraged the group to reflect not only upon the relevance of Petrini's and Honore's arguments to the lives and experiences of mid-life women, but on that of a whole curtain call of Western male philosophers who have grappled with the question of time since, well...since time immemorial.

This took us into a minefield of dueling conceptual frameworks: amongst them, cyclical versus linear time; natural versus clock time; and Kairos (divine time) versus Chronos (chronological time). Then, in typical wwp fashion, we got moving. A spirited round of 'race against the clock' charades not only reminded us of just how many time-related expressions we live with, but brought home to us just what a tyrannical task-master 'Old Father Time' can be. Delving into the realm of our sensory connection to time, we created haikus whilst watching time 'slip by' in an hourglass; whilst listening to time 'tell us off' in the screech of an alarm clock.

By now, our bodies were feeling the full weight of time upon them. In other words, it was high time to pull from the proverbial hat a couple of female philosophers to help us consider the meaning of 'slow' from another perspective. From the French feminist existentialist Simone de Beauvoir we borrowed and worked her notion of 'living in the perpetual present': a technique used by de Beauvoir to defy both nature (i.e. her female body) and the passage of Time (i.e. her aging body) by meticulously planning and busily filling each second of her day so as to leave nothing to chance; so as to 'mercilessly control time.' To this end, she side-stepped anything that would impinge upon 'her' time or subject her to the time demands of another - motherhood, for example. In her frenetic drive to swell the time allotted her, de Beauvoir didn't so much reject 'Old Father Time' as try to get the better of him.

Bulgarian philosopher Julia Kristeva, on the other hand, is happy to throw a timely spanner into the works in order to disrupt the relentless march of what she terms 'Father's Time.' Borrowing from her notion of 'Women's Time' - an 'alongside' time that exists in the cracks or interstices of linear time - and picking up on her re-working of Plato's conception of the womblike Chora, we drew on Kristeva's rhythmic and kinetic understanding of time to experiment with pace and tap into our own personal 'tempo guisto.'

It was challenging but fun: this process of learning to see time not as line but as volume; not as an organizing mechanism of the mind but as the musicality of our body. Heeding Kristeva's suggestion that we treat our body as a sonata, we tried walking to different beats, sang our bodies into a collective whole. If it all sounds a bit flaky, it wasn't. Rather, it was hardcore philosophy, stretching us to see an old commonplace like Time and a new command to "Slow Down!" from a place that privileges our experiences as women and takes into account the realities of our lives.

We want to thank Christine for doing a marvelous job of organizing the salon, and all the women who participated for your enthusiasm, your good company, your insightful contributions, and your poetic brilliance! It was a pleasure to meet you all, and to spend an evening learning together.

We also want to thank Christine and Alf for welcoming us into their home for three days, and for making us feel so at home. We learnt about bees and we canoed on the lake; we were spoiled with delicious home-baked bread and soups straight out of the garden and honey fresh from the hive; we biked down the road for eggs and hiked up the hill with Sam the cat; and we enjoyed great conversations with you both. What more could a couple of road-trippers ask for after two and a half months on the hoof?!