Kristin van Ogtrop is a former editor in chief of Real Simple magazine and the author of “Did I Say That Out Loud?”
OpinionI listen to my podcasts at 1.5x speed. But I can’t live life that way.
For a long time, I had a lot of fun secretly labeling everyone I met as one or the other. But then podcasts were invented, and now I know that the two types of people in the world are not birds and bunnies, but sensible people and those who listen to podcasts on 1.5x speed.
My husband is a fairly sensible guy, or at least I thought he was, but when he’s listening to a sports podcast and I’m trapped in the car with him, it’s like that scene from “A Clockwork Orange” when Malcolm McDowell has his eyelids propped open by those little metal forceps. Except it’s my ears, and I’m a law-abiding citizen who has committed no crime except wanting to hear someone talk about the Milwaukee Bucks at a normal speed.
To be clear, fast talkers are not a problem. In fact, slow talkers (bunnies, most of them) are on my list of Individuals Who Make Me Twitchy. But there is something about a tinny podcast voice coming at me with Tesla-like speed that sets my entire body on edge.
This appears to be my fate. And I’m not sure Apple has a fix for it. As for my husband, because of a complicated and long-standing family rule that the driver controls the audio, he is sympathetic but unmoved.
Of course, podcasts are only part of my problem. Amid the pandemic, I’ve been dismayed to discover that most of my friends walk faster than I do. Apparently, I was alone in thinking that the lockdown periods of last winter and spring seemed to me to represent a chance to return to something slower and more reasonably paced. Because my friends’ strides remained brisk as ever. Lagging behind seemed my fate regardless of age, fitness level, caffeine consumption or mask-wearing. I keep up because I love my friends, but being so slow is mildly embarrassing.
Then there’s driving. When I get in the car with one of my adult sons behind the wheel, I am convinced that everyone who is not me drives too fast. To be clear, my sons are keeping up with the surrounding cars. But it feels too speedy for me, and I know I’m not doing anybody any favors when I involuntarily gasp as my son/driver suddenly has to brake on I-95. Choosing to sit in the back seat helps.
For a moment this summer I thought there might be a place for people like me: South Korea, which banned gyms from playing music faster than 120 beats per minute to slow the spread of coronavirus. Scientists called it a cockamamie idea and gym owners called it unrealistic (hello, ear buds), and there went my dream of moving to a place where I could be surrounded by slowpokes.
Like a lot of people, I have been in a rush for what seems like most of my life, working full time, caring for children while trying to make the morning train, tending to a home and a marriage. Metaphorically speaking, my life was overrun with podcasts, and I had to listen to all of them on 1.5x just to get through the day. I didn’t want to pace myself — maybe because I thought I couldn’t; maybe because I was afraid of what might happen if I did.
Now, the pandemic has scrambled our speedometers. The past year has made pace itself feel like an abstract concept — everything seems both sped up and slowed down, and certainly beyond anyone’s control. I don’t even know if I have a pace anymore, but taking life in a higher gear has lost its appeal for me. I’m no longer sure that going faster means getting anywhere sooner.
Whenever I am confused, I look to my mother. She is in her 80s and has always moved at an unrushed, deliberate pace. She taught me how to hem a skirt with careful small stitches, evenly spaced. She taught me how to sit still with a book and a dog at my feet and be comfortable in the companionable silence that can exist between girl and beast.
Slow down, she seems to say. Take your time. And everything will be just fine.