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.