There’s a photo of me racing on school sports day, aged seven: black pumps flying, face furious with determination. Around me is a lot of empty field.
‘Ooh!’ said my Nanna, when she saw this picture. ‘Where are all the others? Did you leave them all behind?’
Aw, Nanna. Even then I knew I couldn’t do a Trump (‘Sure, sure, left ’em standing, ran so quick I won next year’s race too, yeah, truth is, I’m the fastest kid you know…’)
I came so last there was no other kid slow enough to be in the frame. Although, if you look carefully, you can just see Shona Ferguson’s heel disappearing off the left-hand edge of the picture.
We all moan that time speeds up as we get older. But when I was small, life often felt stuck in super slo-mo.
It wasn’t just my stumpy summer-baby legs which never kept up. I was always the last to finish my work. Learning to write was torture.
‘Come on, slow coach,’ Mrs Garry used to tease, as my letters wobbled over the page, and each full stop was never the final one. All of a sudden, it’d be break time, and I watched everyone else throw down their pencils (done, already? how?) and go out to play. While I felt panic soaping me all over, that I still had so much to do. There’d never be enough time.
You can see why I always feel the ‘dead’ in deadline. And why it has felt so good to write ‘THE END’ on my latest work in progress. Even though I know it’s only the first of many, many, slow steps towards the book it might eventually become.
Yep, there’s no way around it. I am slow, and slowness isn’t cool. It’s frustrating, backwards. In our corner of the world, which values speed above all things, we’re all supposed to be hyperefficient, productive workers, rattling off the tasks, churning out projects, getting stuff done. We love quick wins, overnight successes, prodigies, shooting stars. We don’t want to wait for anything, least of all ourselves.
Creative work couldn’t give a crap about any of this. Things that need creating hang within their own time. The work takes as long as it takes, often in minute, perilous increments you can barely see. Like the ones that turn tiny buds into flaring leaves. Or a blue line on a plastic stick into a whole new person.
The funny thing about slowness is that, if you don’t rush it, it gets faster, all by itself. Most days I sketch people on the tube, never knowing when they’re getting off. I try to get someone’s likeness in a few stops. If I manage, it’s only because every every quick line contains all the laboured, unsure, gammy ones that went before it, ever since I first picked up a pencil. Slowness teaches you there are no shortcuts. Only doing the work.
If you’re a slow coach, like me, don’t let get distracted by feeling left behind. Life is just stickier for people like us, maybe because we let more of it soak in. Take your time. It’s no-one else’s.
After all, the world wants us to notice it. Stop, for a second, and listen to the astonishing puzzle of it, your here and now.
Go slow, it says. You’re going to want to remember this.