Newton’s first law, or the law of inertia, says that an object in motion will stay in motion, in a straight line and at a constant speed, unless acted upon by an external force.
About a year and a half ago I made the drive to DC alone. I did it in two days, taking minimal breaks. Over that time, my body became used to the feeling of going 80 mph. Even dipping to 65 as I drove up behind someone, my internal rhythm was confused by this relational lull. When I officially entered the city around 3 p.m. and crossed into back-to-back 15 mph school zones, I thought to myself, “Certainly nobody in the world is physically capable of driving this slowly,” while fighting hard to keep myself from creeping above that threshold.
And yet, here in New Orleans, 15 mph can feel like a death sentence for the underside of my 1997 Toyota Camry. I will ride the brakes at a cool 10 wondering if this, even, is potentially too fast and furious for our craterous terrain while my car shakes beneath me. As usual, it’s about perspective.
It’s a tricky thing, inertia. As you adjust to your speed, and you acclimate to the movement of the world at that speed, changes are jarring. I have a tendency to become stuck in mine. Like a baby lacking object permanence, I forget that my current speed is not the only speed I can go.
As far back as I can remember, I have been a busy person, by my own doing. The reasons for this are varied and I’m sure deeper than I’ve yet probed, but at the base of it is a pleasure in saying yes. I like to help; I want to learn; I yearn for multifaceted fulfillment.
Much of this is inertia—me writing to you now, at the tail end of a slew of deadlines, is all inertia—some confounding inability to brake. When I consider Newton’s first law, I always remember the first half; if I am in motion, I will stay in motion, and that is physics. This gives me comfort in (or maybe justification for) the cycles of busyness I put myself through. But when I’m stuck going 80, the slowness of the world around me frustrates me more; the world blurs a bit. Even waiting in line at the grocery store can become a potentially day-ruining annoyance.
Lately, however, I have been trying to also consider the second half: that I can change speeds with some external force. Admittedly, this has been with the help of some solid external forces: my friends. They urge me to take walks with them, have dinner with them, watch movies with them, do cartwheels in the park with them. They are patient with me—slow.
Whether you are operating on your own warp speed, or simply trying to keep up with the world’s, I hope you find your inertia-disrupting external forces. —Marisa Clogher
illustration by Laura Frizzell
April 2023 cover by Henry Lipkis