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
.

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