Lowly Worm was a worm, not a snake, but I feel you.
The best part of that NYT article on Busyness that everyone’s linking to:
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.
I loved this. I also loved this:
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. Not long ago I Skyped with a friend who was driven out of the city by high rent and now has an artist’s residency in a small town in the south of France. She described herself as happy and relaxed for the first time in years. She still gets her work done, but it doesn’t consume her entire day and brain.
I can’t help but think this “busyness” comes partly down to living in New York (or London, or San Francisco, or Chicago — any place where you might be forced to choose between two bands you love on the same night). Not to harp on about how great Ohio has been for us, but it really has been. My instinct when talking to people was always to repeat the busy refrain (“Busy. SO busy.”), but ever since moving to Ohio, this has felt entirely strange to say. I’m not busy at all. During work hours: yes, but those hours are tied to an office in New York where people are scrambling to make up numbers and meet deadlines and turn things around faster faster FASTER.
But when the working day is over (a working day that is, I must say, more productive than it ever was in New York), I am utterly and completely relaxed. If I feel like going to a museum, I can, but I don’t have to. I could go to a ball game. I could see a movie. Or I could just stay home. There was something about living in New York that made me feel like I always had to be doing something, and if I wasn’t, I was missing out. And there’s nothing worse than missing out, right?
But missing out here means I get to sit on my patio in a canvas chair, beer in hand, listening to the cicadas and crickets warm up in the twilight. I get to think about the books I want to read or write, maybe read or write them, maybe just put on a movie from the library.
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.
It’s not just about living in a place where you can relax: it’s about working for a company that will let you do so, or finding a job that will allow flexibility (something I acknowledge is not a possibility for everyone, but still). A friend of mine in Latvia, a commercial director, figures out at the beginning of the year how much work he has to do to pay the bills, works like a maniac for however many months it takes, and then doesn’t work the rest of the year. Sometimes this is only six months a year. He will spend the rest of the time going to a monastery in Myanmar, spending time with his daughter, or coming up with ideas for films. Would that it were that way for all of us.
I still work from 9-5, taking vacation on the company’s (admittedly generous) terms, but I have the sanctuary of my home office, which is, at times, like a monastery: a better place to think. I wish more companies would realize this and let people figure out how and where to do their jobs the way mine did. I’m extremely lucky, and I know it. But my company has made a better worker out of me by allowing me to move to Ohio.
And finally, simply this:
Life is too short to be busy.