When I was in fourth grade my favorite show was Little House on the Prairie. I thought I looked like Laura (Melissa Gilbert) and I found the Wilder family's life riveting. The level of drama was just my speed-- not too intense or fast-paced. I remember in one episode I learned that after they churned the butter they added a little bit of carrot skin to make it look yellow. For whatever reason that felt important to know. I remember when Laura and Mary would go to the general store owned by Nellie's mother and covet an item their family couldn't afford-- some fabric or a box of stationary. I remember thinking how my friend Danielle Ramelli was just like Nellie. I really loved watching that show. Life was so simple then.
My life right now, in a way, is simple too. The outside world is not simple. We have a pandemic, a mentally ill president, and civil unrest. Our country is recalibrating in all kinds of ways, but there is an overwhelming simplicity in my home. Sometimes I feel like I've gone back in time. We cook all of our meals and eat all at home. We entertain ourselves with games and projects, baking and gardening. We don't go far from the "homestead." The difference is that our brains are speeded up from technology. We're slowed down on the outside but still still speeded up on the inside. I wonder what Laura Ingalls Wilder would do with an Instagram account or Netflix. Her family would never have butter.
I'm aware of a conflict within myself-- between the speeded up brain and a slowed down world. I'm comfortably restless, feeling the pull of "supposed tos" while being in the reality of "just being." The Wilder family did what they needed to do. They churned the butter. They built the fire. They grew the food. They sewed the clothes. They didn't have a lot of time for frivolities. Of course we have modernity now. We have people who make our food and package it, supplies and tools to expedite cleaning, people thousands of miles mass producing our clothes. And now many people work from home. But still, there is an absence. An absence of stimulation from the outside world-- movie theaters, museums, concerts, plays, restaurants, social time at other people's homes, time at school, at the office, yoga studio, dance class, cross-fit gym, cafe, retail stores.
I think of this time as the "Great Slowing." When I find myself looking towards the future, to a time when we'll have access to all of this external hustle, I realize I don't want it. I dread it. As much as my mind is battling the fast and slow with the walls of my home and my brain, I am more suited for this slow down. I don't really want to eat in a restaurant. I don't even remember what I actually shopped for in retail stores. I never really liked going to concerts. The isolation can be hard, some days more than others, but this homesteading life is like the other Laura's life in the 1880s-- the drama is not too intense or fast-paced for me. There's time to bake bread and contemplate recipes-- think of something new to cook. There's time to wonder what to do next instead of looking to the calendar to see what was written down three months ago.
I know this won't last, and I admit that most days I don't want it to last. I want our city, county and world to come back into balance, to find, maybe for the first time in hundreds of years, a semblance of harmony. And that will mean the great re-opening. This will be joyous and wonderful for the world. I know that I'll be happy to go see a dance performance or play. I know I'll be delighted to eat food that someone outside of my home has prepared. It will feel great to go to a rally or protest without worrying about a dangerous virus. I'll welcome it all again, but I want to remember this time too.
A few weeks ago I started writing letters. I chose a handful of people and wrote them each a letter about what my life is like now, asking them to share with me what their life looks like these days. My hope was to memorialize this time, this feeling in some way. The only person who wrote me back was my nine-year-old neighbor. We've written back and forth a few times, talking about our lives, sharing what we do day-to-day. I save all the letters-- her's and mine-- with the hope that these letters will one day be my time capsule of what the "Great Slowing" looked like for me and people in my life.
I'm guessing that Laura Ingalls Wilder didn't think of her life as simple, quiet or slow. She was a pioneer-- doing hard work, figuring shit out that laid the groundwork for where we are right now. But I'm grateful for what she captured, that simple life, what our world looked like before it speeded up to the pace we're at now. I know there's no going back in time and I don't want to. I don't want to go back to that more sexist, racist, homophobic world that Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in. But I do want to keep these beautiful slowing down moments alive, to celebrate this moment in history where we can exist a little bit more quietly and simply. That's all.