Liz Farrell

Farrell: Speed your way through books and podcasts, but maybe not life itself

On Tuesday, before I left to catch a flight back to the Lowcountry, I sat and watched the "Today" show from my sister's apartment in Queens, N.Y.

I enjoy the "Today" show, but I especially like to watch it in New York City because the commercials are usually for Broadway shows.

Even though I've never been to a show on Broadway because I hate the theater (Yes, I do. I hate it. Even when I enjoy it.), watching those commercials makes me feel optimistic, as if I were sitting in a hotel room and about to experience a perfectly planned New York City day full of New York City activity.

"We must stop for a bagel! And then get a 'slice' for lunch!"

"Yes, indeedy! Just give me a, heh-heh, New York minute to velcro up my walking shoes!"

I really love the idea of that scenario and being those people. It is so hopeful and devoid of the subway rat that prevented me from exiting the station at Columbus Circle last Monday.

Anyway, this is what the "Today" show commercials in New York City do for me. They make me happy for other people's vacations.

So I watch them.

But on Tuesday, the usual Broadway commercials were overtaken by a short, single commercial for Big Lots, in which three middle-age women sang "She's a Black Friday Woman" to the tune of Santana's "Black Magic Woman." They moved in a tight, Jazzercising cluster toward the camera, which felt like my face.

This commercial played over and over and over and over again.

I was repulsed and enthralled by it. And I watched their every dance move. Every time I heard the first notes of the commercial, I stopped what I was doing.

They're going to point. And walk forward. And lift their hands. And freeze. And make me feel like getting up early to shop at Big Lots in three weeks.

On my way to the airport I was annoyed at myself. I thought about how much time I had wasted watching that commercial. It was like 30 seconds times what? A thousand? Those minutes could have been used for something productive, Liz.

Like finishing a podcast or an audiobook!

It was then I realized that I didn't listen to a single podcast or audiobook when I was in New York, which is absolutely counter to what I had planned to do while there.

Every day I listen to either podcasts or audiobooks in between life and work and hanging out.

Audiobooks have become a particular obsession. Right now I'm in the middle of a 22-hour book about Hemingway's boat that I put zero effort into. It just plays while I drive, and I escaped to Key West and Cuba.

Every week I tear through new audiobooks. And I crave the moment when an audiobook is finished so I can start a new one. I salivate at the thought of it.

Boom. Another one down. Line up the next one.

Recently I discovered that I can speed up my listening to make a book EVEN SHORTER.

And I feel like I've been waiting my whole life to find this out.

There are so many smart podcasts and books out there. There is so much to learn and explore. I want to know it all, which is why this is amazing. I can upload books to my brain.

There are even apps to help with it -- apps that shorten the silences between words, that say "Nope. No time for pausing."

Right now I'm only a 1.5-speed listener. Some daredevils can get up to three times the intended speed. People who are into this are obsessed with improving their times. It's a de facto way to extend our years.

It's like the intellectual equivalent of luging.

As I get older, I've started to think about life in the same way I do speeding through audiobooks.

Shouldn't I be maximizing this existence? Shouldn't I be plotting every minute of these dying days?

Shouldn't life be a succession of weeks and years jam-packed with things that make us happy and feel fulfilled and special? A life in which no moment is wasted, in which every day has its own itinerary, its own version of a bagel, a "slice" and a Broadway show? A life with purpose and the utter awareness that we're all running out of time?

Shouldn't we do more?

When it comes time for a few days off, I picture myself in this way. Doing more. In the case of my recent trip, I was supposed to be using all available time for More Listening to Audiobooks.

This is why I was annoyed with myself.

The plan was this:

I'll listen to books on the subway.

At the airport.

While walking to a museum.

While shopping.

While meandering.

While ignoring magicians and Times Square Elmos.

But it turns out I'm way too nosy to block up my ears when other people are around.

If I listened to audiobooks, how could I have possibly overheard that sallow, clumsy girl on the subway talk about her boyfriend, who basically told her that he doesn't want to keep her from seeing other people, but she was like "No! No! No! You're not holding ME back. I am holding MYSELF back."

(It broke my heart that she didn't know what he was telling her.)

If I listened to audiobooks, how could I have heard the salespeople at Bergdorf Goodman fawn all over a model who couldn't stop saying, "I'm obsessed with this dress. I need a place to wear this dress. I'm obsessed. I'm obsessed with it."

(JUST BUY THE DRESS. JUST BUY IT.)

If I listened to audiobooks, how could I have known to walk a block down and over because there was clearly something dramatic happening on 38th Street?

(It was a building collapse.)

If listened to audiobooks, how could I be experiencing actual life?

Follow columnist and senior editor Liz Farrell at twitter.com/elizfarrell and facebook.com/elizfarrell.

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