Transfer #9 from Blogspot

The Cult of Being Busy


Annie Dillard once wrote that reading a book was no big deal, and anybody could do it. But to spend a lifetime reading, well, to paraphrase a country singer, she really thought that was a life you could hang your hat on.  From the moment I first encountered her thoughts on the subject, I knew I wanted a "reading" life, or rather, the "writing" life, a life made up of books and stories and essays and long walks in the woods, a quiet kind of life.  In graduate school I did, of course, always feel busy – classes and students and late nights at the Warhol museum and early morning jaunts to get coffee and movies in Squirrel Hill and everything else all took its toll on the writing/reading life but damnit, it was FUN. It was, kinetic.   Electric. Fabulous. And I was more than ready for it to end when it did because it was life that led you, instead of you leading it – it was all margaritas at midnight and cigarettes on the porch and in Pittsburgh that kind of living eventually took its toll on the people who lived  there; you could see it in the deep lines around their eyes and chapped, raw hands. I wanted to move away from that kind of static cling.

Since leaving school and moving back to Michigan, though, I've noticed how people covet being busy, and not busy in the kind of way that's fun to be busy, which in my mind is drinks and brunches and almost anything that makes you gain weight and laugh lines, but busy in a way that is not particularly pleasurable, but easy to succomb to.  Here it seems important (and this is only after a few months of observation, but I believe the observations fair because I work in a huge office with hundreds of people and moreover meet their family members and beyond that I am always trying to schedule interviews with people), here it seems important to have weekends booked in advance, way in advance, and people will go to lengths to make sure that you are booked up as well, that he or she can't have brunch this month or next but May looks good, and how do you feel about a Memorial Day brunch, downtown, shall we make the reservation?  There are Tuesday night dinner plans and Thursday shopping days and all this business is conducted without any sign of displeasure about the fact that we happen to just be this busy.   And it's easy to succumb to, as I noted, easy because nobody wants to be the fool with a saturday afternoon open, the only person available at a moment's notice to hang out, and yet within these busy lives we lead its important to see each other, to connect, to spend time with one another, just so long as it can fit into my schedule.

When we first moved here I watched our summer fill up with graduations and weddings and family reunions and I fell prey to the cult of being busy, deploring over my cell phone that "my summer was just booked up, I don't know how it happened, it just – got – full" until Sam put a halt to all of that.

"We cannot have every weekend of our summer booked up," he said.

"But none of them are things we can get out of,"I pointed out. "It's all, family or friends stuff."

"We pick four – one a month and that's it," he said.  "And no more scheduling months in advance." Sam is a quiet soul, quiet to the point that many people mistake him for being arrogant or snobbish or something along those lines, all the more so because he is by nature quiet and prefers to live gently, without going out particularly frequently.  It's difficult to explain sometimes.  But when he put his foot down regarding our social life, I found myself agreeing.  I promised myself years ago that I didn't want to hear myself constantly say "I'm stressed out," or "I'm too tired" or "I'm too busy" to have fun.   To keep a quiet life, a life where reading and writing the center of the day's activities, is not particularly easy, particularly in a culture where people value an overloaded palm pilot,  a crazy schedule considered almost a badge of honor in our fight against tedium.  In some ways I think my husband is quite the warrior for protecting his time so ferociously, for knowing what it is he needs on a daily basis to just – be -happy.   And I don't even think this cult of being busy is endemic to Michigan, but perhaps more endemic to the late-twenties and early thirties, because my friends across the country are much the same way. 

I don't, unfortunately, think much of this will change in my lifetime – we are too busy nowadays to make time to allow the possibility of spontanaeity.  And I even catch myself feeling swamped, looking at my life as a series of well-intentioned plans that I highlight in my planner with yellow, as days that I am, yes, busy. And there are many, many yellow days ahead.

I don't know…can the cult of being busy be broken? Can we start prioritizing "do nothing" time in order to see what would fill the gaps if for a few moments we just sat, and thought about what kind of lifetime we hoped to have?

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