• ×

    The Politics of Spontaneity

    I’m home only two days when my good friend A.J. asks if I want
    to “schedule something.” Fresh from Guatemala, where I haven’t
    touched anything even remotely resembling a date book for two
    months, I find myself on the verge of hyperventilating. The only
    response I can muster is an anguished face, at which point A.J.
    takes pity on me and we agree to try and connect another time.

    I am not the first person to return to the United States from a
    non-Western country and feel like I’m walking into the twilight
    zone. Witnessing my friends and my culture with a temporarily
    altered perspective, I simply can’t make sense of the crammed and
    sped-up lives that most of us lead. I never before have noticed so
    many people complaining so often of overload and exhaustion, all
    the while ready to whip out their calendars to see when they can
    squeeze me in.

    While my mind is bewildered by this rush to make unwanted
    commitments, my spirit still feels like it’s wandering through the
    lakeside village where local people barely have pen and paper, let
    alone phones, computers, or any of the tools we Westerners rely on
    to map our futures. At times I made plans in Guatemala, but never
    more than my memory itself could hold. This allowed me to feel
    deeply aligned with my body’s true capacity, a great gift.

    I’ve been back in San Francisco four weeks now, and while the
    sight of my Franklin Planner no longer provokes complete
    physiological rebellion, I’m still resistant to re-entering the
    appointment-stuffed lifestyle that characterizes my circles.

    I’m currently attempting to maintain a more open schedule
    without being either completely isolated or branded a
    self-indulgent loser. But many of my friends just don’t know what
    to do with me. I commit to almost nothing these days, choosing to
    leave ample time for quality-filled, spontaneous contact. The
    initial reactions to my hesitation at setting a time and date for
    every interaction ranged from curiosity to obvious feelings of
    rejection. Meanwhile, I’m starting to see more friends more often,
    with almost no planning, than I have in years. So something must be
    working! But it’s still not easy to maintain the practice. When my
    friends pull out their appointment books, I have to fight the
    magnetic pull toward overcommitment and speed.

    Despite the challenge, I find that this
    I’m-not-going-to-schedule-every-minute-of-my-life experiment feels
    like an act of personal resistance to a social system that values
    efficiency and production over the body’s natural rhythms. The
    constant and voracious speed of Western culture hurts me, hurts my
    exhausted friends in San Francisco, and most of all, hurts the
    people of Guatemala and other developing countries, who are
    systematically being forced to keep up with us. For them
    especially, I’m hoping to find a new way.

    Leda Dederich, a community organizer and artist inSan Francisco, is the former producer and creative
    director for
    Alternet.org, an online magazine for
    independent journalism. She’s currently a freelance Web consultant
    for nonprofits, including UnitedforPeace.org

    Published on Oct 9, 2007


    In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.