“Okay, here we go. Focus. Speed. I am speed. One winner, 42 losers. I eat losers for breakfast. Breakfast? Maybe I should have had breakfast? Brekkie could be good for me. No, no, no, focus. Speed. Faster than fast, quicker. I am Lightning. Speed. I am Speed.”
I don’t know how many times we watched this. It was one of his all time favourites after all. Pixar’s box office hit, The Cars, the computer-animated story of Lightning McQueen who intends to be the first rookie to win the famous Piston Cup race. The movie would start with the above monologue by McQueen, a self-motivating mantra he repeats before each race. When time is up, the doors of Mac, the veteran trailer which carries him, would open; and we hear the rallying cry “Oh yeah” while the cameras are flashing in the background. Every detail of this opening scene was carved into our minds; so was the timing of the exclamation. We used to shout with him: “Oh yeah”. For we were McQueen.
I had never thought how much McQueen’s mantra described me, from my mannerisms to my overall philosophy of life, until he was gone. I was speed; I had to be faster than fast, quicker than quick. I had to be active, or “pro-active” if you are into those fancy neologisms, to simply live. Speed and action was a means of survival. I felt I would die, cease to exist, if I slowed down, let alone stopped.
Now people are telling me to slow down. People who truly love and care about me, with the best of intentions. I know they are right. Both in their diagnosis and in their suggested cure. “Slow down”, they say. “You’ve been racing all these years. Now it is time to slow down, to take care of yourself.”
Some, like the wise P., introduced me to “slow living”, the movement which was born in Italy in 1999, through the idea of cittaslow, or slow cities. “Towns where men are still curious of the old times, towns rich of theatres, squares, cafes, workshops, restaurants and spiritual places, towns with untouched landscapes and charming craftsman where people are still able to recognise the slow course of the seasons and their genuine products respecting tastes, health and spontaneous customs,” as explained in the Cittaslow Manifesto.
Others warn me about the dangers of speed, in particular in the aftermath of a traumatic experience. “We know that you want to see concrete results, and start life anew. A life that is not structured around him. A life that includes him, but that does not consist solely of him.” “This is all very understandable”, they say, “but not feasible”. Again, I know they are right deep down inside. It is neither realistic nor healthy to expect others to keep up with my pace. Why should they? They haven’t experienced what I have experienced. They might have had similar traumas in their pasts, but there is no set way of recovering from them, of coming to terms with loss. And people are different. For what we know, they may have the opposite need, not only to slow down, but also to isolate themselves, to enter into a dialogue with their inner selves. Who am I to expect them to hold my hand and run with me, towards an unknown, undefined destination?
So where does this leave me? How am I supposed to break through the impasse? It is not that I don’t try to slow down. To breathe, and to enjoy each and every breath. But the moment I slow down, my mind starts playing tricks on me. I start asking questions, soon ending up facing the worst question of all, “why?”. Failing to come up with a reasonable answer, I go all van Gogh, vanishing in a dizzying maze of memories and images, crippled with a sudden burst of anger. Like van Gogh’s, the anger is directed at myself because, as he put it in a letter to his brother Theo, “I cannot do what I should like to do, and at such a moment one feels as if one were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom of a deep dark well, utterly helpless.”
And this leaves me nowhere. My impasse is a deep dark well. I fill in the well with projects, words, (often failed) connections, but the well leads to the void. It is indeed deep and dark. Speed keeps me alive. So is anger. For now.