I read with great interest this article about the “busy trap.” The author, Tim Kreider, posits that our modern existential crisis of busyness is of our own making, that our frenetic schedules and many social obligations are self-imposed. We are not, in contrast, the kind of busy known to people in those countries where survival is a daily fight. Nor do most of us work four jobs just to get by. Ours is a more trivial busy, unnecessary activities to fill time, hedges against emptiness. To put it in blunt terms, we overload on life “stuff” because we’re afraid of death.
Call me death defying, then, because I abhor overwhelming busyness. My dark secret is that underneath all the hustle and bustle, the filled-up schedule, the frizzy hair and darting eyes and exasperated sighing, I would relish emptiness. I want to be lazy. I mean the pure, unadulterated laziness that would put Homer Simpson to shame. The laziness of molasses traveling uphill in winter. Ball-scratching lazy. The kind of lazy where the bed is much too comfortable to get up and pee.
There’s a question that career counselors supposedly ask clients who may be struggling to figure out their callings in life: If you didn’t have to work to earn money but had enough for the rest of your life, how would you choose to spend your time? The answer to that question is supposed to be what you should do for a living, the job that would make you happy. For me, the answer is and has always been that I would write and probably travel and volunteer. But what I never admit is that I would do nothing – absolutely nothing – for at least six weeks. I would sit on the couch and stare into space, humming “The Girl From Ipanema.” The laziness would be its own reward.
To Kreider’s point, I am usually busy with obligations of my own doing: work, dinners, phone calls. This can be compounded in New York City, where everyone has somewhere to go with somebody who “needs” them. Just this week, for example, I have/had a brunch, three dinners/drink dates with friends, a surprise party, and guests visiting. I try to fit in the gym 3-4 times a week. This is not to mention my book club or writing group or writing this blog post. I sometimes don’t eat dinner until 10 pm. I try to read books on my morning subway commute because otherwise, when would I get the chance? I also have to attend to my cat, my laundry pile, and my writing goals. I don’t invent these obligations to protect myself against Father Time hiding in the shadows; these are merely obligations of maintenance – that is, this is the bare minimum I have to do to keep my friendships, my marriage, and my household going.
These things fill my life with pleasure, of course, and I count myself lucky to have such a full life. But sometimes – just sometimes – I want to be by myself and do nothing of significance. This is not a polite option. And why not? Why shouldn’t we be able to say to someone: “I can’t do drinks tonight – there’s a blank wall that needs staring at”?
So let’s start this revolution! Once a week, at least for one evening, I’m going to try to carve out time in which I have nothing to do. I may use that time however I wish, but the point is that I don’t have to do anything. Viva la laziness, in whatever small quantities. I would love for you to join me in spirit. Or not. I don’t want to obligate you.