Help, I’m caught in the busy trap

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October 5, 2013 by nooffensebut


That’s my pat response when someone asks me how I am doing.

“I haven’t heard from you, Hol,” my mother will say on the phone.

“Sorry,” I’ll sigh, “I’ve been really busy.”

I’m not alone. Clearly. A New York Times opinion article, “The Busy Trap,” has been circulating on the Internet. In it, author Tim Kreider discusses how we’ve basically forced ourselves into a corner, convinced that we have to be occupied at all times, obsessed with the notions of doing and achieving.

“Almost everyone I know is busy,” Kreider writes. “They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work.”

Yes. And even when we are doing something for pleasure, we’re making sure everyone knows about it, adding it to the lists of special skills and interests on our resumes, blogging about it, or finding some way to turn everything we remotely enjoy doing into either glory or a paycheck.

For example, I enjoy baking, and I’m pretty good at it. Therefore, maybe I ought to start a little side business. At the very least, I should start a blog or, at minimum, take photos of my creations to put on Facebook and Twitter, just to make sure everyone I know can marvel in the glory that is my caramel apple biscotti, vegan chocolate muffins or mixed berry pie.

Indeed, this busy feeling is rooted not just in obligations at the office, though they are plentiful, but by this need we have to always be achieving, always be striving for some form of success.

I have friends who enjoy exercising — running and cycling — and I know all about this because they use apps that track their progress and post it to social-media sites. Hey, Jane, you ran 4.2 miles at a nine-minute-mile pace? Goodonya.

Quiet moments of peacefulness are traded for “likes” and retweets. “Susie Simons meditated for an hour in the sun. It was life-changing.” Like, Susie. Like.

Even Baby’s First Facebook Page is part of that: “Look how I’m SUCCEEDING as a mother!”

I’ve done a bit of blogging, and trust me, it’s not because I think I have so many profound pearls to share. No, it’s because on the off chance that some literary agent or editor of the New Yorker or Vanity Fair happens to happen across my words, well, I wouldn’t want to miss that opportunity.

In a world where a YouTube channel can lead to a recording contract and a Twitter feed can become a book deal, we’re all more desperate than ever to fulfill our Warholian destiny.

Which, if you ask me, has made us insufferable. We’ve forgotten the simple value of pleasure for pleasure’s sake. Even when we do permit ourselves an escape, too many of us will be seeking validation on our Tumblr accounts later on. I’m actually quite miffed that more people didn’t respond to my Facebook post about the difficulty of casting yarn on to knitting needles. Doesn’t anyone care? Don’t I get more credit for my efforts to achieve craftiness?

It seems almost nothing is done strictly for the pure sake of doing it but rather to advance ourselves, to rise above the masses, or, more accurately, to not drown in the eddy. We don’t do things so much as we achieve them, or check them off our to-do list. It’s not enough to just be good at your job or to have the degree: One must stand out. To do that, however, one must constantly be on the move. Nearly everything we do, it seems, is an investment in the future, a conscious choice to better ourselves and, more importantly, to make sure everyone else knows about it.

With such a spinning-wheel mentality, how can we help but feel constantly taxed and obligated?

“The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole,” Kreider writes, “for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration.”

Indeed, Mr. Kreider, those ‘wild summer lightning strikes’ sound lovely and all, but I don’t have time for inspiration.

I’m too busy.

Originally published July 13, 2012 in the Chattanooga Times Free Press

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