Yesterday the New York Times featured an OpEd titled “The Busy Trap,” about how Americans seemed to delight in the sound and fury of unproductive busyness. Here is an excerpt:
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.
That first sentence describes me perfectly. I am too busy to think about anything off-mission, or to catch up with friends, or write this blog.
The OpEd made me think of my life from 2006, before Arcati Crisis, before I was playing open mics, before was in an acappella group. I remember trying to make plans with a pair of my friends and finding it impossible to find a free day. They were interminably booked for weeks into the future. Not a spot of daylight on the schedule for me to hang out and listen to music with them unless I could plan months ahead.
I remember thinking, “What is it you have to show for being a packrat of appointments? What have you accomplished? You just waste your money and get fatter. It’s miserable.” I had my songs to comfort me, and my ridiculous spreadsheets and fastidious budget. I loved my time to myself.
Lately I have been trying to schedule coffee dates with social media friends who I’ve never had a chance to get to know better offline. These arrangements have yet to be consummated, due to my impenetrable schedule. The first one will finally happen tomorrow, because I am free Mondays. I hate to make plans on Mondays, so they are paradoxically the best night to make plans.
Am I that person that I secretly hated, all those years prior?
I choose not to think so. I have less time for my songs, but so many more of them are being played. My spreadsheets aren’t as plentiful, but they’re more meaningful and permanent. My budget is still on-pace down to the cent, but I don’t ogle it every day. And the things I fit into my free time – my bands and my book and my comic collection – they are the things I always wanted. Coveted for myself but thought would stay relegated to some impossible adolescent dream, never to be fulfilled.
I don’t think busyness has to be a trap, unless you can be trapped into being happy and fulfilled. Oh no! I wish we could stretch each day a little further so I had more free time to sit and speculate, or just drape myself over furniture and listen to music, but if that’s all I ever did I wouldn’t even have a blog in the first place.
I wish my busyness on you, so long as it does not become a cage. It should be a gossamer bubble, shimmering and iridescent in the air around you, making the untouchable world beyond shimmer in delightful color as you float by.