Carl Honore talksveryfast.
He drives his words along like so many race cars, and sometimes they crash into one another. He chats on his cell phone and reaches for a daybook. He's got a schedule to keep.
Strange behavior for the author of "In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed," published last month by HarperSanFrancisco.
But Honore is moving swiftly because he passionately believes this:
On this day he's in Washington spreading the word.
"We have to choose the right amount of time for each thing," he says. He is sitting down to a plate of fresh fruit at the Grand Hyatt. He's a thin guy, 36, with dark hair, missionary-intense dark eyes, red polo shirt and blue pants.
In his book, he puts it this way: "In this media-drenched, data-rich, channel-surfing, computer-gaming age, we have lost the art of doing nothing, of shutting out the background noise and distractions, of slowing down and simply being alone with our thoughts."
He's not alone in his zeal. In fact, he is discovering that he is in the middle of a global movement. There are people in this country and around the world who are trying to decelerate their approach to the important things: food, work, family, play and sex.
"Everyone is rallying around the word 'slow,' '' he says. "I'm sort of the guru. By default."
Just Say No to Speed
Though the book is not a bestseller, it comes out at an intriguing time. It is not so much catching a giant wave as tapping into a strong, silent undertow. This is the antidote to trend-spotting volumes such as "Blur: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy" and "Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything."
And it may become a new manual for folks seeking a simpler, smaller, slower life. Some are successful; some less so. Some are sanctimonious; some sincere. You can find them here and there, at the Seeds of Simplicity program at Cornell University, participating in the online Simple Living Network and signing up for the Take Back Your Time national conference later this month in Chicago. Honore is scheduled to be one of the speakers.
Slow "is a whole cool concept," says Cecile Andrews, one of the conference organizers and an adjunct professor of education at Seattle University. "I think people are just pushed to the limits."
Andrews, 61, is the author of "The Circle of Simplicity: Return to the Good Life." Calling herself a "time activist," she also stages workshops to teach people how to slow down. She encourages everyone to lobby for more vacation time and shorter work weeks. And to find ways to decelerate their personal lives -- by sitting down to meals, by taking a full hour at lunchtime during the workday and by having friends over to your home.
Americans of all stripes are working longer and harder than ever, she says,
"People's productivity can't go up any further," she says. "We're working nine weeks more than the average European. We're multi-tasking and eating breakfast cereal in our cars."
We need, she says, to say no to speed.
"We've almost lost the ability to slow down and have community and communications," says Andrews, who has also given workshops on how to have conversations.
She asks participants questions such as: What would a slow family look like? A slow neighborhood? A slow city?
It's not easy to slow down in the United States. "People look at you as a slacker," Andrews says. But "what we're saying is: Most of us do not stop and make choices. We are such a fast-paced society."
Chew (Slowly) on This
Throughout history there have been voices calling for deceleration.
The Luddites of the early 19th century hoped to slow down the Industrial Revolution by destroying knitting machines and weaving looms in England.
Abraham Lincoln appreciated the value of both liberation and deliberation. In 1863 he wrote that he hoped to stand firm enough "to not go backward, and yet not go forward fast enough to wreck the country's cause."
Henry David Thoreau swore by slow. So did Albert Einstein.
Eleanor Roosevelt observed that "all big changes in human history have been arrived at slowly and through many compromises."
Today the prophets of slowness include writer Wendell Berry and John de Graaf, author of "Take Back Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America," a 2003 collection of essays. But most Slow People get lost in the contrails of the Fast.
The most organized wing of the slow wave is the slow-food initiative -- a backlash against fast food -- that began in Italy in the mid-1980s.
Founded by Carlo Petrini, the movement battles against gustatory standardization and tastelessness. It encourages people to grow and eat sustainable foods, to take sensual pleasure in preparing food and eating it, and to eat foods that are healthful. And it supports biodiversity. Through its Web site, www.slowfood.com, the group brags about its 80,000 members in more than 100 countries.
Here is an excerpt from its manifesto, adopted in 1989: "We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods. . . .
"May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency."
Marsha Weiner, 51, a freelance writer and producer in Alexandria, is a slow-food advocate. She has been chewing on the idea for five years.
The local convivium, as a slow-food cadre is called, holds events once a month. "People like company," she says. "We're social animals."
She adds: "We've had three weddings in our convivium."
Today, the group is having a dinner at 15 ria, a restaurant on Rhode Island Avenue NW, to raise money for the youth garden that's on the grounds of the National Arboretum.
Asked how slow food has changed her life, Weiner says that on the downside, it has "created a certain amount of domestic dissension" between her and her partner, who thinks Weiner does too much volunteer work. On the upside, she says, "We've made great friends. It's been a wonderful social network."
The Pace of Technology
When we catch up by cell phone with John Robinson, the University of Maryland sociologist who specializes in the various ways Americans use time, he's soaking up the slow life in Napa Valley.
"This is one of the laid-back capitals of the universe," he says of Calistoga, a town of massages and mud baths. He also enjoys visiting nearby Copia, a wine and food mecca for those who go slow.
Robinson needs to get away from Washington's whirl-a-gig lifestyle. "Technology is speeding up everything," he says. "The temptation is to take advantage of that." But he believes we have to stop and take time to appreciate the finer things in life. He is a slow-food enthusiast, for instance.
In his studies, Robinson has found that Americans feel like they have more free time than ever, but that they also feel rushed during those periods. Like Honore, Robinson believes that many people who feel stressed by the increased pace of life have squandered much of their free time watching television. Idle Americans increasingly tune in to "American Idol."
And he cites the work of a German sociologist who predicts that the world is going to keep speeding up. "There is the danger," Robinson says, "that life for people will be a series of 'been theres' and 'done thats.' "
Various slow movements are arising, he says, because "it's pretty hard to go against the grain." Birds of a feather are flocking slowly together.
Going for the Slow Burn
Some people are even exercising more slowly.
As she talks to a reporter, Heather Miller Podesta, 34, is on her way to Venice for the Memorial Day weekend. As a lawyer and lobbyist for Blank Rome, she lives life in the passing lane. "I use my BlackBerry while I'm driving," she says over her cell phone.
But, she says, "there are three things I take slowly: slow food, slow burn and my slow husband."
She is married to Democratic operative Tony Podesta, 60. Twice a week they stop by Engineered Exercise, a boutique weight room in Glover Park, where they engage in a newly popular form of slow exercise. "It's an intense muscle-straining, invigorating workout in 20 minutes," she said.
Trainer Karen Brightman, 39, explains how the slow exercise works: The workout consists of six weight-lifting exercises -- three for the upper body and three for the lower. You do four to six repetitions of each exercise very slowly. As you get stronger and the repetitions get easier, more weight is added. You are instructed to do the workout only twice a week. The cost is $50 a session.
The trainers "are constantly pushing," says Podesta, who's been following the regimen for more than a year.
The physical result: greater muscular and cardiovascular strength. "You get your heart rate up very high. You are really breathing," Podesta says.
The auditory result: "It sounds like folks are either having childbirth," she says, "or really enjoying the moment."
The Tantric Track
Speaking of which, the slow movement is also taking hold in the bedroom.
In "In Praise of Slowness," Honore writes, "All over the world, people are warming to the very tantric idea that slower sex is better sex."
The Pointer Sisters may have gotten the ball rolling with "Slow Hand," a song they wrote and recorded in 1981. It goes a little something like this:
I got a man with a slow hand
I got a lover with an easy touch
I found somebody who will spend some time
Not come and go in a heated rush
I found somebody who will understand
When it comes to love, I want a slow hand
Laurie Handlers has been teaching the principles of tantra in the Washington area for about six years. She runs her tantra company, Butterfly Workshops, out of her home on Reno Road in Northwest.
She says that tantra is about much more than sexuality and that learning to use certain breathing and exercise techniques leads to a fuller life. Tantra is "a fast path to spirituality, and a slow path to everything else," she says. "It slows down the mind, slows down aging, slows down the amount of breath we have to take."
Handlers, 56, discovered tantra seven years ago when she needed to slow down her life. She had left her job and separated from her lover. "I was breaking up with everything in my life and had no idea what was next."
A friend suggested she take a tantra workshop. "It was like coming home," she says. "I woke up to the power of the body and ancient wisdom."
Because it's considered New Agey and somewhat hokey by many Americans, she says, "most people shy away from it." But tantra is thousands of years old.
The Western mind has focused on the sexual aspects of tantra, she says, but tantra "makes you over from the inside out. You start to look different. Life occurs differently."
More slowly, she says. "And way richer."
The practice has "tempered my moods," she says. "I'm much slower to respond or react to things. It's given me a chance to actually do more with less effort."
Once you incorporate the tantric methods into your lovemaking, she says, "it slows down and can last for hours."
Today she has 10 or so trainers and course leaders working with her. She teaches courses in corporate leadership, sexual harassment prevention and anger management. When people slow down and "manage their own sexual energy," she says, "they're more in control of all aspects of their lives."
Putting on the Brakes
Honore laughs about his tantric sex experience. He and his wife, Miranda France, signed up for a tantric sex workshop in London, where they live. But one of their children got sick and France had to dash home. Honore went through the training solo. He and France haven't had time to attend another workshop.
For a founding father of the Slow Movement, Honore is very busy: There is much work to do and not a lot of time. The Slow Movement, Honore says, is in its early stages. He uses feminism as an analogy. In the beginning, he says, there were various and diverse voices speaking out against society's treatment of women. There was no central figure.
So is Honore the Gloria Steinem of the Slow Movement? "I'd rather be the Jane Fonda," he says. He hopes his book is the flag around which everyone will gather.
Honore has heard folks say that "slowness is not an American characteristic."
He's not sure that's true. He runs into Americans all the time who thank him for his book. At the Grand Hyatt, Susan Gleceir, 42, overhears Honore extolling the virtues of slowness. In blue jeans and wearing her blond hair in a ponytail, the cheery Kansan steps over to Honore's table and praises slowness. "I agree with everything you are saying," she says.
So do other Americans. Carol Holst is the program director of Seeds of Simplicity. "American culture is full of delicious paradoxes," Holst says.
The notion that Americans must go fast is a myth, she believes. The Slow Movement, she says, is "resonating with what it means to be an American," focusing on "the deeper meanings of life, which do not have so much to do with excess and consumer products."
So, she is asked, how is the Slow Movement progressing in America? If you take a deep breath and pause for a moment, you can probably imagine her answer.
"Things," she says, "are going rather slowly."