A few weeks ago I was catching up with my roommate from when I lived in NYC, Ally. We were two of four who shared a fifth floor walk up in West Harlem and became fast friends. I traveled often during the week and Ally worked in publishing. I spent my nights in a hotel in tier four cities, sprinting through Penn Station on Thursday to gab to Ally about my corporate crazy week. Ally spent her nights going to gallery openings and with her ex-boyfriend. It was a soft parallel to a life I wanted at the time, and I loved watching Ally live it. Post COVID Ally still lives in the city. She has a new boyfriend, a new job, and a new apartment on the East side. While we were catching up, she told me about some work she had done for someone in her new building.
When Ally moved into her new place, she told me there was a posting in her building inquiring for help. Ally told me that the work she was hired to do on the side shifted to a personal assistant of sorts for the calm business woman in her building, the owner of the posting. Ally told me all about how cool this older woman was. An entrepreneur, devout in her religion, and a knack for helping others and investing in businesses. “It’s like she moves so slowly, as if not wanting to disturb the microorganisms in the floor,” she told me, walking to wherever her cool life in NYC was taking her. The last part stuck with me, how slow this woman moved. I imagined the woman Ally worked for as a person with good clothes, who speaks calmly and slowly. When I lived in NYC my movements were big and thunderous. I would stomp up the stairs. I remember feeling the floor shake when I moved around the pre-war apartment. I could really feel the ground whenever it rained and I had to walk home from the Subway. My old therapist liked to tell me to slow down because I had (have?) a habit of talking too fast. I realized I do not know how to move slowly.
I don’t think I know fully what it means to START to move slowly. Even now, I’m in a rush to get somewhere, mostly because I hate being late, but partially because I have control over how fast I can move. I have a car, I drive to work and to the climbing gym. I drive to see my friends. I can drive to my favorite sushi spot or the beach. In NYC I had to wait on a train, someone else, or myself. Sometimes I think moving slowly means just that, moving slowly, as it is not to disturb the microorganisms in the floor. Other times I think it can mean meeting someone with understanding, not stacking plans and over committing yourself, or keeping your phone on airplane mode for a few days.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about what “moving slowly” means. I’d wager that it’s really just moving intentionally. If you move intentionally, you end up moving slowly. In moments of chaos, I try to remind myself of this. It’s like practicing grace or patience when you’re a very impatient person. It’s hard. Sometimes I need to move thunderously, or I want to. I feel like I need to reserve the big movements for days when I’m in a hurry, or don’t know the answer. Which are ironically, exactly the moments in which I need to be more intentional. It’s a dance.
I realize now that I do move slowly, some days. When I’m alone in my apartment, walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night, or slowly turning down the apartment before bed, I can feel the slowness. It’s not an impossible feeling to achieve, but it does remind me that I’m present in the moment. I am intentionally walking to the bathroom, to turn on the salt lamps, or to vacuum the guest room. I’m not sure how to find the difference between the slow, intentional way of moving and the big, thunderous, in a hurry type of movements. I wager that moving so slowly, as if not to disturb whatever is on/in the floor, might be impossible for me. However, this is the first time in my life where I feel I can recognize my alone-ness or intentionality and not mistake it for loneliness.
After ending the conversation with Ally, I thought for days about how to practice intentionality in my everyday life. I realized no one was probably a master at it. In wannabee influencer fashion, I asked my Instagram followers what they did to stay intentional and how they moved slowly themselves. My friends and family responded with yoga, tea before bed, stretching, or even cracking a window to let fresh air in. Almost everyone responded that their phone was the key to their loneliness and ability to remain present. Intentionality means different things to different people, just as moving slowly may have differing definitions depending on the person. I’m pledging to move a bit more slowly this year, savoring times spent with friends in cities that I might forget as I grow older.