Suitably Slow: My Nine-Year Quest to Publish “Slow Media”

“Congrats, I can imagine that getting a book out to the world is quite a process!” That’s the kind of thing people have been saying a lot since Slow Media: Why Slow is Satisfying, Sustainable & Smart was finally released by Oxford University Press in September.

Folks, you have no idea.

The journey started in 2009, when I started pondering the possibilities of a less mediated life and searching for a Slow Media movement, as recounted in my Slow Media blog and on NPR’s Marketplace. Soon I was in the midst of the six-month Slow Media experiment, where I pretended it was 1989. (You can hear about my life without digital media in this audio story at Medium.com.)

Fast forward a couple of years, and I had an offer from an independent “print-on-demand” publisher to release an earlier version of this book. I declined because I didn’t feel confident signing a contract without representation. So I got an agent and spent a year working with her to develop a proposal. Yikes! She couldn’t sell it.

By 2013, I’m doubting the whole project and persuading myself that the world doesn’t need another book. It’s not like you get rich or famous in academic publishing, right? Not to mention the irony of having spent years of my life typing at a computer to spread the message that we should all spend less time staring at screens. On the backburner it goes.

Meanwhile, I write a couple of things about Slow Media for scholarly audiences: tracing the origins of the idea for an article in the journal Transformations and analyzing why slowness is a form of cultural resistance for a chapter in The Routledge Companion Alternative and Community Media.

The fact that people from all over the world keep reaching out to discuss Slow Media convinces me it’s worth another shot. To wit, I did some interviews with Radio National in Australia, La Presse of Montreal, Les Clés de la Presse in France, and Daily Beast in the U.S., among others. I’m ultimately glad to have let the project steep for a few years; my ideas evolved and the book is deeper and richer for having waited.

I’ve shared this timeline to demystify the process, especially for those of you who happen to be nurturing an unpublished book. I sent the proposal for Slow Media to a few academic publishers on my own in 2016 and had some offers, including from Oxford. Working with them was an amazing experience, although not without delays. It took around 32 months from contract to release.

Moral of the story: Slow and steady wins the race.

 

Slow Words in Italy: Meet Diana Marrone

Slow Words founder Diana Marrone
Slow Words founder Diana Marrone seeks the “hidden poetry” in life. Photo courtesy of Danilo Capasso.

Venice-based Diana Marrone started Slow Words in 2012 as a hybrid of literary fanzine and readers club that celebrates poems, songs and a wide range of other creative writing. She describes it as a “very horizontal gathering” where authors share their work and meet their readers live while readers are encouraged to participate and express themselves. Marrone and I recently compared notes on how Slow philosophy influences our respective cultures in Italy and the U.S. In this Q&A, she talks about the Slow Words publishing philosophy, some favorite interviews, and the intriguing notion of “dandy resistance.”

What inspired you to start Slow Words: People and Stories from this World? How does the project relate to your personal identity, your life philosophy, and your other creative work?

I wanted to create a space devoted to the act of reading and exploring, with calm and with slowness. As per trade, I’m a journalist, a design curator and a media officer/PR [specialist]. Knowing the media from the production side of the industry, I’m often horrified to see what happens there. I wanted to stand for the dignity of the reader, for the non-profit side of life.

I wanted to trace the way people dwell at any latitude, to find and tell stories which will never be found in traditional media. I seek the hidden poetry in lives. From the migrant who told us about his path to viable freedom to the choreographer who changed his life as a biologist to follow his dreams… [Slow Words] focus on ‘worlds inventors’ who are turning words and signs into published works: poets, journalists, songwriters, screenplay authors, composers.

These portraits as a whole help me to configure how a ‘lateral’ mankind – buried under an enormous amount of fake models of existence – still persists. In its peculiar treats, two [traits that they hold] in common are slowness and ‘dandy resistance’. (Dandy resistance is a way of opposing something with a certain style, like a dandy. ‘Dandy’ for me is someone who chooses timeless and sometimes priceless options. Someone with a very detailed style coming from the Belle Epoque or a mod or a 1930ish look can be ‘dandy.’ It all depends on the spirit and personality of the person.)

I’m not alone in this venture. Many friends love this scheme of joy/truth dispensation and suggest people to interview. Many of them also conduct interviews themselves, with their own personal touch. A bunch of questions are always present: the book they are reading, the music they are listening to, their secret place where they go to slow down.

The palimpsest of Slow Words is of three types. There is a weekly suggestion (an interview, two poems, a short story — these latter often unpublished; we also launch a newsletter every Thursday). There is self construction via tags; readers can search for ‘American Poetry’ or ‘Readers’ Club’ or ‘Kraftwerk’ to open all the interviews or texts including [those terms]. The last path is a pictorial ‘choice’ which often involves exhibitions I’ve seen or special places I’ve visited. It’s a way to use Slow Words as a travel blog via pics and also to involve people who like long reads less.

Slow Words for me is ‘TV for those who do not watch TV anymore’. My preferred reading diet is to dream and think at the same time. Slowly, once a week: our stories do not have expiration dates.

What are three of your favorite interviews for Slow Words so far? Why did you enjoy talking with and writing about those people?

Let’s try to select a few (three is impossible!) from different continents and genders. From the US: the story of Galen DeKemper, a young indie publisher who comes from the skateboard culture and makes self-printed erotic fanzines of his milieu in his tiny Chinatown room. The interview took place in a very funny, cheap and strictly Muslim NY delicatessen. I had encountered his fanzines – called One Dollar Stories – in Paris in an art exhibition months and months earlier.

From Venice (where I’m based), two stories of unstoppable love seekers and romance addicts: Pascal, a French hairdresser who chose Venice as his ‘home away from home.’ And the story of Marco-Isa, a transexual engineer who changed his and her gender twice. If you follow our tag on ‘Venice’ you will discover a totally differently textured city than you would ever have imagined!

From Australia: the story of Tattoo Tim, a man who turned to be a life-size artwork. [Tim sold his own body to a collector, for display in a gallery both before and after his death.]

The last story is from the Middle East, about a Syrian screenplay writer and director, Soudade Kaadan. It was told during a special month dedicated to the ‘female touch’ in writing for cinema, in which we hosted stories of this kind from other places and genres.

Slow Food is such a popular movement in Italy, as well as throughout the world. What influence do you see Slow philosophy having on Italian cultural production, beyond food?

Slow Food is now a bit of an ‘emperor’ here in food and general lifestyle trends — including the learning system, with dedicated courses and universities. It has been great to instill in people the value of forgotten produce and to boost preservation of local food traditions. We hope it will not be too over-merchandised in the future.

There is a strong need for this approach in some areas of the world. Some European Union laws are de facto destroying local food traditions for the sake of a more standardized (aka industrialized) approach in the food industry. We stand against that!

‘Slow’ culture outside the Slow Food path and industry is still a niche. Of course, the slow aptitude is very far from mainstream in the news industry, too. There is something good arising from tour operators promoting the ‘slow’ approach in contrast with fast-mass tourism. Especially in lands like Italy, this choice helps preserve the beauty and livability of small centers.

Slow Words, like most Slow projects, is founded on the Internet and promoted through social media. Yet some people think Slowness is opposed to digital media, that it’s nostalgic or backwards-looking. How do you view the relationship between Slow Words and new technology?

Paper and distribution are really very expensive, whereas the Internet can give voice to many little makers.

Our online philosophy is far from the dominant internet advertising ‘chain.’ We do not advertise ourselves, except through word of mouth and genuine links with foundations, places, bars, theatres and festivals.

We’re on social networks but we never ask people to ‘like’ our page. We personally write to anyone who does like it, talking with them and asking why. It’s a lot of work. Why are we still present on social networks? We fish for readers: not for our metrics but for our core business, which is to restore the dignity of quality reading. We are glad for casual, slow encounters happening in a slow way through our website.

For example: An American nun who took care of a dying British soldier in a military base in Afghanistan found out he was still alive via our pages. He turned out to have become a successful writer, after healing: Harry Parker. She wrote him a fantastic letter after the interview was published because she wanted to find out about his upcoming book launch.

There was also a French publisher who read an unpublished set of poems by an US-French writer based in Italy whom we had interviewed. Months and months later they published the poems in a nice book.

The list is long. We are slowly enjoying such sparks of hope from our little, real, tireless window on this world.

Getting Gratification: Delayed and Belated

Issue No. 30 of a quarterly. That means almost eight years of publication. Good on you, mates.

My new issue of Delayed Gratification just arrived, and it’s gorgeous. As you can see (below), the packaging is almost as pretty as the magazine.

I’ve been talking about this publication’s contribution to Slow Journalism for a few years. It’s hard to find hard copies in the U.S. outside of big cities, though. I had never held an issue in my hands before going to a Slow News summit at the University of Oregon this summer. I have finally, belatedly subscribed.

One of DG’s editors, Matthew Lee, talked about the Slow paradigm shift that people like us are nudging forward. Journalists from the local daily paper and alternative newsweekly also participated in the summit, as well as several scholars, educators and students.

The summit was organized by UO professor Peter Laufer, a Polk Award-winning investigative reporter and author of the vital book Organic: A Journalist’s Quest to Discover the Truth about Food Labels. He explores what “organic” really means and whether products thus marketed really live up to the promise. It sent me scurrying to the pantry with a big Sharpie, to see how my nuts, rice, cereal and beans fared.

The Italian producers of a documentary about Slow News recorded the event for posterity. (I’ll write more about that next year when IK Produzioni releases the film.)

Gosh, this is just the envelope.

What makes DG “Slow,” you ask? The gist of their mission is: the editors wait three months to cover all the news from the previous quarter. Then, they put together a comprehensive summary and analysis of everything important and interesting that happened. With benefit of hindsight, they can help you understand what mattered and why.

Instead of following the news in a piecemeal fashion and being swamped with breaking news that lacks context, you can get the big picture from a trustworthy source. You could virtually ignore the news for months — skipping all the dubious or fake stuff — and still be comprehensively informed.

Designed Gratification is tactile, ad-free and built to last, with original artwork, beautiful photography and their famous infographics. (Just noticed that I accidentally typed “designed” gratification there instead of “delayed.” Freudian.) These publications are not planned for obsolescence, e.g. to become tomorrow’s trash.

Hope this doesn’t sound too swoon-y. I just get excited about groovy print projects like this. My curiosity is also piqued by Slightly Foxed, another quarterly British magazine with a similar vibe as DG and a more literary focus.

It was Eight Years Ago…

Starting in July 2011, I went offline and shunned digital media for six months — just as an experiment, to see what it was like (after having given up my cellphone six months previously). I road-tripped from Denver through the Southwest and Pacific Coast to Seattle. I got engaged in Sonoma, the first “Slow City” in the U.S., and planned a wedding at an antebellum mansion on Staten Island. In other words,  I got by perfectly fine, with only a few quasi-crises during which a networked device seemed essential. (More stories about my unplugging experience are shared on Medium, HuffPost and the SlowMedia blog). Could I do it again today? Honestly, probably not.

Moleskine Journaling by Students

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The assignment for my Slow Media class: Carry a journal with you for one week. Write or draw whatever you want in it. Just think of something to fill every page before submitting it.  To get warmed up to the idea of journal-keeping, we read and discussed  articles about the Moleskine revival.

P1050883One student found friends admiring her journal and saying that they had one, too. She had never heard of Moleskines before and started noticing them everywhere. By contrast, another student said people mistook his journal for a passport and wondered why he carried it around with him.

“I saw a girl on the train (probably in her 20s) carrying a big bag of VHS tapes,” one wrote. It made her smile because in the previous day’s class we had been talking about the extinction of videocassettes. “Oh, how the world works!”

Some of them opted to sketch and doodle; some were less creative. Keep in mind that these weren’t art or communication majors; many of them were pursing Pharmacy degrees and studying a lot of organic chemistry.

P1050847Some of them shared quotes that had caught their attention, like this one from computer designer and software publisher Adam Osborne: “People think computers will keep them from making mistakes. They’re wrong. With computers you make mistakes faster.”

Some of my students shared personal thoughts about their relationships with technology, other people and themselves; others were less reflective. Most of them enjoyed the project; a few less so. The author of this journal (below) considered the journal a burden. On another page, he implored, “Facebook, why are you so terribly distracting?”

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