slowly extricating myself from The Busy Trap

Sunday, July 1, 2012

This beautiful young man is my nephew, a child growing up on the outskirts of London.  He is buoyant, instantly generous, loving, and a fine host at his own party.  I like how he smiles.  I like how he plays, how he relaxes with the hour.  I like how his job, right now, is happiness.

I thought of this happy kid as I read the New York Times Op/Ed piece (penned by Tim Kreider) on busyness, and its many bedevil-ments.  "If you live in American in the 21st century you've probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are," Kreider begins.  "It's become the default response when you ask anyone how they're doing: 'Busy!' 'So busy.' 'Crazy busy.'  It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint.  And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: 'That's a good problem to have,' or 'Better than the opposite.'"

Kreider was, of course, aiming his pen at me.  (Hey, as a memoirist/narcissist it's a conclusion I'm bound to draw.)  Crazy busy was my theme song.  Overwhelmed was my word du every jourI'd like to, but I can't.  Yes, folks.  That was me.  A lot of it was circumstance, pressures and responsibilities I had not actively chosen for myself.  But much of it stemmed from choices I had made—to endlessly shore up family finances, to write (again), to volunteer (some more), to chase spider webs at midnight that no one but yours truly can see.

Not long ago, I declared my desire for a lesser life—one less crammed with to-do lists, less amenable to busy boasts.  I wanted to, needed to, sleep more.  I wanted to live more.  I wanted to have more time away from the computer, more time in gardens, more time with books, more time to experiment in the kitchen.  I wanted, frankly, more time for walks with my son, more time to scheme up art projects with my husband, more time alone.  I bought close to three dozen books—recent classics I had missed—and set out to read them.  I made time for walks with long-time friends.  I sat and looked at photographs—not in a hurry, and for no applicable reason.

And when client work arrived, as client work must and will arrive, I didn't promise a next-day delivery.  I did the work, best as I could, same high standards in place.  But I didn't do it in a breathless rush when the rest of my timezone was sleeping.

I'm liking me better this way, but I know how hard it will be to avoid relapsing into BusyNess.  I am keeping Kreider's article close, therefore, for when I'm tempted to fall off the wagon.  I share this Kreider paragraph, with the hope that you'll read the whole:
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. I once knew a woman who interned at a magazine where she wasn’t allowed to take lunch hours out, lest she be urgently needed for some reason. This was an entertainment magazine whose raison d’être was obviated when “menu” buttons appeared on remotes, so it’s hard to see this pretense of indispensability as anything other than a form of institutional self-delusion. More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.
And then there's just one more thing.... My dear friend Katrina Kenison is featured in this equally important New York Times story (this one written by Alina Tugend), "Redefining Success and Celebrating the Ordinary."  I felt like one very lonesome mother a decade ago, when writing toward these themes in Seeing Past Z: Nurturing the Imagination in a Fast-Forward World.  It is extraordinarily heartwarming and hope-inducing to see Ordinary elevated to its rightful place of loveliness.  It is equally wonderful to read my friend Becca's words on her ordinary yesterday. Becca, who is the farthest thing imaginable from average.


Becca said...

Yes, our minds do travel the same path so often.

Like you, I get so caught up in busyness sometimes that I can’t see straight. When I have a day like yesterday, I’m reminded of what makes me truly happy, and how I should honor that more often.

I’m happy there is a grass roots movement to celebrate the ordinary, and happy to be in such wonderful company while doing so :)

Serena said...

I'm so glad that you are taking time to slow down. I appreciate that!

Missy K said...

Reading all these words leads to the deep sigh of relief and community.

Melissa Sarno said...

Everyone in New York City is very proud of their busyness. It's an exhausting and lonely place to live.

Propagandum said...

Beautiful post – thank you. I was trying to get near this kind of feeling in celebrating the book:

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