Life is Too Short to be Busy

Small Point, Maine, my favorite place in all the world to forget about busy and live each day at a pace that is self-defined

Tim Kreider‘s opinion piece in the Sunday Times, The ‘Busy’ Trap, is a timely summertime reminder of how easy it is to lose touch with our own rhythms, our own pacing. Kreider, a writer and cartoonist, has written an admonition that runs counter to the prevailing—and increasing—trends in our culture to overbook, overextend, overcomplexify.

And it isn’t working.

I have been an artist for 40 years. And the longer I am at this vocation the more I understand how critical it is for me to pull away from that workaholic, perpetually in motion mentality. And as regular readers of this blog know, I consistently advocate stepping away from the should have/could have/would have’s to listen more carefully to that inner sense of balance. Isn’t it possible to be productive and also make room each day for the quiet mind? I’m still a beginner at figuring out what this looks like for me. But I am devoutly devoted to finding out how.

A few excerpts from Kreider:

Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work…The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it…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.

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. “Idle dreaming is often of the essence of what we do,” wrote Thomas Pynchon in his essay on sloth.

My own resolute idleness has mostly been a luxury rather than a virtue, but I did make a conscious decision, a long time ago, to choose time over money, since I’ve always understood that the best investment of my limited time on earth was to spend it with people I love…Life is too short to be busy.

9 Replies to “Life is Too Short to be Busy”

  1. I also saw this article in the NYT yesterday. I feel the same way you do — I am devoted to my quiet time as this is essential to my working process which is meditative and contemplative. I was also very surprised to read comments from other women artists about this article, blasting the author for his elitist, male, privileged perspective. They sounded bitter and way too overworked. Like you, I believe time is more important than money, and have managed to live by that, sometimes with great stress and sacrifice, but always with the acknowledgment that for me life’s quiet moments are too precious to waste. “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness…” writes Kreider. That says it all.

  2. Diane, there is a perception out there that “downtime” in any of its forms is a luxury and is another example of elitist thinking. To me that speaks to just how deep we are in our story, in our way of seeing the world.

    I have spent a lot of time in countries where the culture endorses a more balanced view of life. It is no wonder that many of them talk about the “North American disease” of materialism and absence of introspective quiet time.

    I don’t want to lecture anybody on how to live their life. But I have been working through this issue for many years and it has had a huge impact on the quality of my daily life and the direction of my work. So I am always grateful when others, like you, are of a like mind. Thanks for this.

  3. Indeed, my husband pointed that essay out to me. Busy-ness is a modern disease…

    But Maine is a good palliative! (My getaway there is Leighton Point).

    1. Re Maine: Is it the Leighton Point north of Machias? I haven’t been that far up for years. Small Point is about 30 minutes outside of Bath so not a bad drive from Boston. Thanks for your comments Ann.

      1. Leighton Point is up by the 44th parallel, a bit south actually. Kind of stark, plenty of bogs and spits of peninsulas that fracture the Atlantic.

  4. And I’ll reiterate C. Wiman’s passage you quoted earlier: “I’ve never been able to write poetry, which I find infinitely more satisfying, without having vast tracts of dead time. Poetry requires a certain kind of disciplined indolence that the world, including many prose writers (even, at times, this one), doesn’t recognize as discipline.”

    Probably also true for visual artists?

    1. I rely on poets to describe most everything for me. The mastery of words! So yes, Wiman’s words are so apropos for my life too.

  5. Wonderful reminder – thank you for sharing this! True to my gemini nature, I have a split personality about this. One side of me is very good about sitting peacefully, soaking in the smells, sounds, etc. The other side is very goal driven and loves to be “busy”. It is the balancing of the two that becomes difficult. Usually one side takes over (the driven side more often than the peaceful side) and my life gets off-kilter. Like you, Deborah, I am devoted to figuring it out. It may be a life-long journey!

    1. I am a lot like you Lisa, have both stories running. But definitely want to shift the weight in my life towards that quiet mind self. Thanks so much for your comment.

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