Three links caught my eye this week. The first was You’re Not As Busy As You Say You Are, which caused the immediate reaction of Oh, really? But I read the article and in the end I did find some things of interest, such as the idea of ‘contaminated time’:
To be deep in the overwhelm requires not just doing too many things in one 24-hour period but doing so many different kinds of things that they all blend into each other and a day has no sense of distinct phases. Researchers call it “contaminated time,” and apparently women are more susceptible to it than men, because they have a harder time shutting down the tape that runs in their heads about what needs to get done that day.
How about the tape that runs about what needs to get done this year? This month? Are you a list-writer? I sure am. My lists get buried under lists, and yet I still think I need to keep all of that stuff in my head, all the time. Garden lists, shopping lists, work lists, critter lists… Do you wear busy like a badge?
The art of busyness is to convey genuine alarm at the pace of your life and a helpless resignation, as if someone else is setting the clock, and yet simultaneously make it clear that you are completely on top of your game. These are not exactly humble brags. They are more like fretful brags, and they are increasingly becoming the idiom of our age.
I thought maybe sometimes I do wear my busy like a badge, even though I certainly don’t mean to. But here is where it really hit home for me:
Busyness is a virtue, so people are terrified of hearing they may have empty time, as Tim Kreider wrote in “The ‘Busy’ Trap.” It’s the equivalent of being told that you’re redundant or obsolete.
In the age of the internet, if we aren’t out there all the time, on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or take your pick, as far as the online world is concerned, we are obsolete. Poof! Gone. It’s a funny old world. Maybe this has played a part in our love affair with overwhelm. I’m going to start boasting about the long, slow days, the days in the garden, the hours daydreaming, long walks with the dog. I’m going to make sure I have those kinds of days and appreciate them when I do.
The next article that caught my attention was A Personalized Approach to Productivity — one for the writers among us.
This is the kind of advice often given to writers: early morning writing hours, daily word or page counts, stringent deadlines. It reminds me of nothing so much as the myriad diets I’ve been on over the years: the enforced exercise, obsessive point or calorie counting, weekly weight goals.
We all know what happens with most diets: we fail at them. And as we fail, we feel even worse about ourselves than we did when we began.
This is such a healthy article I couldn’t help but share it. There are so many articles on the internet about how a writer should work: Ten Habits of Geniuses; One Hundred Rules of Writing; Sit Down and Write; The Daily Routines of Famous Writers; etc. What about how each individual writer should work? Never mind what Hemingway did. What works best for you?
One of the reasons it took me seven years to write my last novel, for example, is because of a number of catastrophic events: my mother’s house was destroyed in a hurricane, several people I loved died, I had some health issues to fight through. During those times, my self-opinion was pretty low. I called myself every name I mentioned earlier in this post. But I can see it now for what it was: I was overwhelmed and barely holding it together enough to keep my paying jobs. I think it’s okay that I didn’t get much writing done during that time. I’d love to be a sacred vessel for my art, unperturbed by mundane afflictions, but I’m not. I’m human. And while my humanity is vital to my work, it also sometimes makes it impossible to get it done.
The Two Fridas, 1939, by Frida Kahlo
The last article isn’t the kind of thing I normally read: 30 questions to ask yourself before you die. I’ve spent a lifetime asking myself questions — it gets exhausting after a while — but if we stop questioning, then what? I’d rather be exhausted than bored.
Grab your journal. Turn this into a self-inquiry practice. You will be surprised at all the subterranean world that comes out of you.
To live a creative life is to be full of questions, and it is to dig deep within ourselves for answers that may never come. The artist has to know how she sees the world before she can paint that world on a canvas. The writer has to know what lies in the deep recesses of the heart before she can create a living, breathing character. The musician has to know what sound sings of joy and sorrow. This particular set of questions is well-matched to those of us on a creative journey.
My epitaph shall read: send chocolate.