Savoring life one word at a time

by Sarah McCarthy

“Take time to savor each moment,” “Cosmo” (or “Ladies Home Journal,” or “O,” or “Shape,” or “Better Homes and Gardens,” or “Women’s Weekly,” or “Marie Clare”) tells me. “That way, you’ll get more out of every day.” They tell me to eat slowly and chew my food (by savoring, I will eat less), to take time out of my busy schedule to watch a sunset (this will help me decrease stress), and, were I to be having sex, to take everything almost painfully sloooowly (it will be better that way). They tell me to take bubble baths, to go on walks. They tell me to breathe deeply.

I want to obey them. After a slow moving checkout line during which I have read “5 Ways to Make Each Day Count” (or 7 Ways to Get the Most out of Your Time, or, perhaps, 6 Ways to Make Every Moment Last), I’ll try it out. I go home and become inspired to cook. I will eat low-fat fish with omega-3 acids that will nurture every organ in me. I will eat a healthful but delicious salad of only the freshest vegetables. The meal will leave me satisfied but (as such articles always emphasize), NOT FULL. Most importantly, I will chew the fish slowly. I will get every bit of juice out of it. I will enjoy the fish juice and hold it in my mouth and name its many flavors. I will eat the fish so slowly that, in fact, it will be breakfast time before I’m even halfway through.

The plan disintegrates somewhere around the time when I realize that I don’t have any fish that’s not in stick form and the only lettuce is growing mold at the bottom of the vegetable bin. As a backup, I boil plain penne pasta—and don’t savor it at all. I feel put upon to have to drain the water and do a lot of sampling directly from the pot, even when I know that it’s not near done. It’s even worse if I happen to be actually in a nice restaurant. Everything from the low mood lighting to the waiter’s “And how are we this evening?” tells me to relax, to take it easy, to let everything I want be taken care of. Such a situation makes me exceedingly nervous. I get jittery and jumpy. I think very hard about how I’m not supposed to fill up on bread. I then grant myself permission to eat five pieces, reasoning that it’s not really “filling up,” per se, and that I ought to take advantage of the free things in life. If the food takes a long time, I decide that it will never come, ever, and so I eat more bread.

I am also a bad sunset watcher. Some people can, without a hint of pretentiousness, sit and gaze at the sun go down and have all sorts of beautiful poetic thoughts. My thoughts: Isn’t there something I ought to be doing? Some people can walk step by step, so slowly through a museum. Some people can stare at a painting for fifteen minutes and not know that they’re doing it. No matter how slow I try to go through museums, there’s always someone several paces behind me, showing me up, looking much more closely, demonstrating that they’re far more cultured than I. I theoretically like museums. I like sunsets, in actuality. But trying to enjoy them, trying to look deep within them long and hard does nothing but make me self-conscious of looking deep within them long and hard.

The problem that stands between me and the artificial way of savoring is a self-consciousness. Once you’re conscious of yourself trying to make things last, you aren’t really focused on anything but yourself. There might be a sunset there but you aren’t really seeing it if you’re forcing your eyes to look and keep looking.

Writing, then, is how I savor. Somehow, the only way I can seem to slow myself down is to make myself into creator since creation is, by its nature, slow. In writing, I am not artificially trying to slow myself down, saying to myself “Hold on, there, why don’t you weigh every option you have for this word—is that really what you want to say?” That’s what happens anyway. I write painfully slowly—so much more slowly than any of my peers who have cast me in their eyes as a “writer type” even believe. I write, word by word, so slowly that if I’m listening to music whole songs will go by with no background sound of my fingers tapping any keys.

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