Shannon Hannon and I went through a spell during which we were moderately obsessed with Ellen, specifically her bit about Gogurt.* For those of you who are unfamiliar, I’ll give you two options:
1. Watch the bit here. (A lot of our friends got sort of annoyed when we made them do this, so for goodness sakes, don’t watch it unless you think Ellen is funny already)
2. Read this brief and less funny summary: Ellen is ranting about Gogurt, which, for you non-parental types, is yogurt in a tube to make it edible “on the go.” Ellen exclaims, “Did we have a mobility problem with yogurt?” and then launches into a fake phone conversation with Tom in which she can’t go to the movies because she’s just opened a yogurt and consequently will be in for the night.**
It’s funny, sure, because it’s so completely true. Our obsession with ease has escalated to undeniably laughable proportions. We need everything instantly – food must be fast, or microwaved, or individually packaged, or injected, or swallowed in pill form if we could figure that out. We need to get there quicker, carry our internet in our pocket so we can read the reviews of any restaurant we might visit and avoid the terrible curse that is unfolding a map. We have a grocery store two blocks away, but we need one closer, because the one we have is just too inconvenient. So we add convenience stores on every corner, we purchase our groceries online and have them delivered, and we rig our phones so we can talk in the mall, in the car, while we exercise, and while we work to make sure we never have to cross a room or, heaven forbid, wait until we get somewhere to have a conversation. We’re nuts, the lot of us.
My question for you is this: when everything is easy, what happens to value? If it only takes us seconds to acquire the things we want and need, how can we expect to have any respect for them? Who cares what we eat for dinner if we’re only putting thirty seconds of thought into it? Why take care of the things we own if we can get new ones with practically zero effort tomorrow? Is it possible that all this convenience isn’t really all that good for us afterall?
I know we have busy lives, many of you much more so than me. I’m not knocking the need for a quick solution now and again, but I question it as a nationwide lifestyle decision. This lesson is a slow one for me. I grew up in the frenetic haze of the Silicon Valley, always 15 hours behind the latest technological advance, always in a hurry, always feeling the pressure of impossible housing prices and keeping up with those dang Jones on the tip of my spine. The more convenient we could make things, the more time we’d have to do other things, and so on and so forth until everyone was busy but no one was really doing anything. I learned to walk, talk, and breathe at that pace… the unwinding has been slow, and continues.
But the slowness? The slowness gives it value. When Fave and I planted our garden this year, I was an enthusiastic skeptic – I doubted my ability to keep it alive and questioned the amount of time and effort it would consume. As weeks progressed, the feared inconvenience became part of my routine, and I got to witness first hand the unique sort of alchemy that is eating food you thought about, planned for, cared for, and made. The garden has inspired more cooking experiments and the quiet recognition that when my food isn’t that easy to make, I enjoy it. I appreciate it, I taste it, I pay attention to it instead of shoveling it in my mouth in the car between destinations. These meals grown and prepared with my hands have value to me, because I’ve invested something in them.
For me, the phenomenon isn’t specific to food. When I make anything by hand, or take the time to salvage something broken, when I knit thousands of stitches to make a sweater or sand the old paint off a piece of furniture and give it new life, I’m investing my time and energy, and I’m producing something of value. I could buy the sweater, a new chair, and dinner at Target, but they wouldn’t mean anything. They wouldn’t be mine the way the skirt I stitched myself or the lettuce I grew are mine. They’d be pretty, and fast, and, well, meaningless.
I worry for our future children, sometimes, who will grow up in a world where they have access to everything, and everything will have access to them. I worry that they’ll feel unmoored, purposeless, insignificant. I pray for God’s grace and the ability and willingness to show them how validating it is to do things the hard way, to invest time, and heart, and sacrifice speed to celebrate value. I hope we can teach them that the fastest options isn’t always the best one, for no other reason than we were created to create, to bear fruit, and folding nature or yarn or wood or food in the same traditions of the centuries before us makes us feel real. Makes us feel made. And alive. Makes us feel treasured, invested, connected, and whole.
Go make your life by hand. It deserves your attention.
*I can’t take credit for this at all. Shannon Hannon has had a years long moderate obsession with Ellen. She introduced me to this bit. It’s as funny when Shannon tells it as it is when Ellen does.
**If you’d watched the video, you’d be laughing right now.