The Right to Be Slow
Grandmothers, Big Data and Lord of the Rings
There is a solution and it comes from the outside, the winter and the cold: we must slow down. Who is ready to slow down? Who is ready to fight the power of this ubiquitous eye that is constantly watching us? Resident poet Marie-Andrée Gill reflects, together with Sunna Nosouniemi, on her residency on Sámi territory.
By Marie-Andrée Gill
The Power of GrandmothersI am currently on Sapmi territory, in Garegasnjerga, for a writing residency focused on art, indigenous knowledge and the North. With me is Sunna Nosouniemi, from the Sámi Nation.
We live together on her family homestead and share a daily routine. From the outset, Sunna takes care of me like a little girl: she shows me how to bead, feeds me until I am full, makes me eat boiled reindeer tongues and is patient with the English I struggle to speak at the level of a small child.
Sunna quickly becomes my Ahkku, my Kukum, my grandmother. It is a running gag between us because she is much younger than me, but it is clear that we are linked by this energy. We exchange a lot about it, and are inspired by the grandmothers of our nations to reflect upon the world: slowness, care, relational learning, non-performance. Everything we describe runs counter to the world today. We also talk about the many times tutorials replaced our real grandmothers, the days we felt caught in a vortex of messages waiting to be answered, and the anxiety related to these presences-absences in our relationship with the Internet. We worry that our references will shift to the artificial. For instance, when I see indescribably beautiful aurora borealis, I think of special effects in movies. When I see the Inari River and its morning colours and the Sacred Mountain merging with the clouds, I take pictures to show my friends and brag about how lucky I am to be here instead of breathing them in. When I look closely at fresh snow, it reminds me of big pixels. In short, I realize the virtual tends to serve as a reference point.
I, who write about nature, who write poetry, who am sensitive to social and environmental issues, am a little lost, like everyone else, in this new reality of the image and the felt. With Sunna, we talk about our Sámi and Pekuakamiulnuatsh ancestors, the knowledge that was passed down to us. We want to listen to their teachings, to be inspired by their way of life, and to make it our own. I am very aware that everything we experience right now is a reflection of what is happening elsewhere and within others as well.
There is a solution and it comes from the outside, the winter and the cold: we must slow down. Who is ready to slow down? Who is ready to fight the power of this ubiquitous eye that is constantly watching us?
One Ring to Rule Them AllThe sun is setting. It is as beautiful as when it rose just four hours ago. Sunna takes a chocolate from a box. I take one too. They are coconut flavoured. Talking about social networks and our relationship with cell phones, we soon draw a comparison with the Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s visionary gift:
Sunna: Like Frodo with the ring, sometimes I have to reach into my pocket and touch my phone and it makes me feel better to know it’s there!
Marie-Andrée: And when you look at your phone, it’s like putting on the ring – you disappear from the real world where nobody can see you, and you go to a parallel universe that makes you feel powerful, which is super addictive but also super anxiety-inducing!
Sunna: Yes, and the Nazguls – the black horsemen – represent the anxiety that invariably follows us when we enter this world.
Marie-Andrée: Agreed! And the eye of Sauron represents the big companies that can see everything we do and exercise advertising and algorithmic control. The cell phone towers that are everywhere are constantly widening their reach! It’s an analogy of capitalism.
I put a piece of coconut chocolate in my mouth and think to myself, surely, we are not the first to have this conversation and come to this conclusion. It is unsettling to see it like this. Still, a couple of minutes later, we check our apps for new messages. I reach my hand inside the box of chocolates: we’ve eaten them all.
The Heat of DataThese addictions also become a real climate issue. Like Sauron who, to extend his power, has to extract natural resources and devise huge forges to process them (ok, I’ll stop the comparisons now!), all the data and the clouds we use in the living world have a significant impact on climate, which is only increasing with time. The more we send messages, the more we download stuff, the more we scroll through our news feeds, the more we use connected objects… The more huge coolers installed all over the planet consume a phenomenal amount of energy. Because a phone is but a small object in our palm, we are under the impression that everything happens imperceptibly, and we become unaware of all it implies. Several large, well-known companies plan to build data coolers in the Arctic because the temperature there is already very low. But the amount of heat emitted will surely have an impact on global warming. Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed — we know our basic physics. The pleasure derived from our machines is stronger than our awareness of their devastating effects. It takes a lot of effort to get away from it all. In the meantime, the enjoyment of omnipresent, perpetual data turns into immense heat and energy production.
We live in a paradox: I am conscious, yet I still conform to this huge web. It might even seem like I have no choice if I want to keep participating in the march of the world and keep my pleasure — as well as thousands of data, opinions, information and cat videos — going. The more driven I am in my activism, the more it feels like I am going backwards because my every move has so much impact. I believe the solution lies in the archetypal grandmother and significantly slowing down our entire lifestyle. I remove social media apps from my phone to make them less accessible. Maybe that’s a start.
I go back to my beading and Sunna turns to me. “Do you think we’ll manage to throw all our phones into a volcano one day?” she asks. “If we keep doing this, the volcano will come by itself and swallow us,” I say.
I wanted to write to you when I saw you were coming back.
You always come back.
It reassures me.
With you I mark time, I leave traces, I tame slowness.
You my faithful, you in all languages and in mine that I offer to the flakes, you in the North that we share:
children's storm and rocking chair
green-coniferous, powdered sugar: mitanuiun
light acoustics and scent of ski-doo
sifted flour and animal heat
breaths in steams and ice skates
shoveling our breaths and sea salt
house creak and crazy carpet
beautiful red cheeks and flying squirrels
transparencies embroidery, ice mirrors, mishkumi
heart popcorn and white mascara and above all, two words to repeat:
You make the world believe that you are unlivable.
It's just an adornment, I know you.
You have detours, secret places where I know how to go and love you: the first freeze that makes apples sweet, snow mad with laughter, diagonal under the lampposts.
It reassures me that your only promise is that you won't stay.
I would like people to be able to make this promise to each other too,
the only real one: we don't stay.
I hold on to you enough to appreciate your passage, your surprises, the way you play with my children.
If I had anything to believe, it would look like your eyes.
it's always warm, my beautiful Pipun, my beautiful Winter,
when there is someone other than you
in my blankets