WASHINGTON -- 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 the new "In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed" (HarperSanFrancisco).
But Honore is moving swiftly because he passionately believes this:
Today he's in Washington, spreading the word. "We have to choose the right amount of time for each thing," says Honore. 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 is discovering that he's 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."
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. 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 this month's Take Back Your Time national conference in Chicago, where Honore will speak.
Slow "is a whole cool concept," says Cecile Andrews, a conference organizer and adjunct education professor 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." She stages workshops to teach people to slow down 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 inviting friends 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."
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."
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 writers Wendell Berry and John de Graaf. But most Slow People get lost in the contrails of the Fast.
The most organized wing 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 gustatory standardization and tastelessness. It encourages people to grow and eat sustainable foods, to take sensual pleasure in preparing and eating food, and to eat healthful foods. Its Web site, www.slowfood.com, claims 80,000 members in more than 100 countries.
Marsha Weiner, 51, a freelance writer and producer in Alexandria, Va., is part of a local convivium, or slow-food cadre, that holds events monthly. "We're social animals," she says.
Weiner and her group were meeting at a Washington restaurant to raise money for the National Arboretum. The movement has "created a certain amount of domestic dissension" between her and her partner, who thinks she does too much volunteer work, Weiner says. On the upside, she says: "We've made great friends. It's been a wonderful social network."
When we catch up by cell phone with John Robinson, a 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, town of massages and mud baths -- a far cry from Washington's whirl-a-gig lifestyle.
"Technology is speeding up everything," he says. "The temptation is to take advantage of that."
In his studies, Robinson has found that although Americans feel they have more free time than ever, they also feel rushed. Robinson believes many who feel stressed by life's increased pace have squandered much of their free time watching television. Idle Americans increasingly tune in to "American Idol."
And he cites a German sociologist who predicts the world will continue speeding up. "There is the danger," Robinson says, "that life for people will be a series of 'been theres' and 'done thats.' "
Some people are even exercising more slowly.
Heather Miller Podesta, 34, a lawyer and lobbyist, lives life in the passing lane. "I use my BlackBerry while I'm driving," she says. But "there are three things I take slowly: slow food, slow burn and my slow husband."
They stop by Engineered Exercise, a suburban boutique weight room, to 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: The workout consists of six weight-lifting exercises, three for the upper body and three for the lower, each repeated four to six times, very slowly. As the repetitions get easier, more weight is added. The workout is done only twice a week. The physical result: greater muscular and cardiovascular strength.
"You get your heart rate up very high. You are really breathing," says Podesta, who's been following the regimen for more than a year.
The auditory result: "It sounds like folks are either having childbirth," she says, "or really enjoying the moment."
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."
Laurie Handlers has been teaching the principles of tantra in the Washington area for about six years through her company, Butterfly Workshops. Tantra is about much more than sexuality, she says. 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."
Because many Americans consider it New Agey and somewhat hokey, "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."
Once you incorporate the tantric methods into your lovemaking, she says, "it slows down and can last for hours."
Handlers 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."
Honore laughs about his tantric sex experience. He and his wife signed up for a tantric sex workshop, but one of their children got sick and his wife had to dash home. Honore went through the training solo. They haven't had time to attend another workshop.
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