My teacher/mentor/friend/occasional-lifesaver, Chris, posted this yesterday on the Book of Face. 1) It's a great read. 2) I've been thinking about it all day... so something definitely stuck. "The 'Busy' Trap" by Tim Krieder.
Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren't either working or doing something to promote their work.
I'll be the first person to admit I have a serious problem saying "no" to people. If you need me to do something for you (that I feel will benefit me in some way) then I'll most likely do it. This includes (and is not limited to): stage managing, interning/volunteering, photographing, editing, and designing. Now don't get me wrong, these are all things I LOVE to do, but you have to pick and choose your projects. I've always sucked at that because I LOVE loading up my plate. Always having somewhere to go, something to do, and someone who needs me. And it's not until I catch myself skipping class to do laundry and go grocery shopping that I stop to think, "hey, maybe I shouldn't have bitten off more than I can chew". But that never stops me from doing the same thing again in the future, overcommitting, and just barely being able to hold it together. And why? Because we've been conditioned to think that if we are not incredibly busy then we are not driven, and if we are not driven we are lazy, and if we are lazy we are not successful. So, Not Busy = Not Successful... or Busy = Successful.
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless is you are so busy, completely booked, in demand ever hour of the day.
One of the best things I did for myself this year was stay in Boston for the summer. I didn't really bother auditioning for any summer stock theatres because frankly I was exhausted. I desperately needed to not be busy for once. I knew I wanted my little internship. I knew I wanted to get a lot of writing done. I knew I wanted to plow through all the unread plays stacking up in my library. I knew I wanted to catch up on my TV shows. I knew I wanted to spend an exorbitant amount of time doing nothing. And I knew none of these things were gonna happen if I shipped off to the middle of the woods to do 5 shows in 3 months for the summer. So I'm here. I have my internship. I have a stupid part time job that pays my bills and coffee. I've written a ton. I've read 14 plays plus The Hunger Games series. I caught up on SVU, 30 Rock, Dexter, Girls, and re-watched Slings and Arrows (there are rumors it's coming back!). I have a LOT of fun with my friends. And there have been more than a few times when my day has gone like this: wake up at noon, make brunch, go back to sleep, wake up at 5, go to Starbucks, sit on Facebook, watch TV until I fall asleep again. Being bored is severely underrated.
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.
And I think of all of the things idleness has brought. The summer of '08 when I started this blog. The first scene I wrote for Pity Party after sitting in a Degas exhibit alone in silence for an hour. The list goes on. I think it's a Quaker thing... to sit in silence and wait for the tiny voice inside of you for revelation. And what I always seem to forget is that when I am "busiest" it's only until I stop to breathe and clear my head that I'm able to accomplish anything. I spent a good deal of time this semester sitting at the Reflection Pool at the Christian Science Center just to let my mind drift. It took awhile to muster up the courage to sit there for more than a minute. Don't I have something more productive to be doing? Are people judging me for sitting alone? Should I get out my phone or something and look busy? It got easier. And I made it a point to give the pool at least an hour a week (usually in 20 minute segments, first thing in the morning on my way to school). In a way my time there became as important as my voice lessons and dance classes. It was a place to let my guard down and breathe. Things are better when you breathe.
What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality -- driven, cranky, anxious and sad -- turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It's not as it any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be a part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school -- it's something we collectively force one another to do.
This is what seems to stick with me the most. Our personalities are crafted by our environments. We're always acting, always making a choice on how to respond to things. And I don't give enough credit to the fact that it is a choice, it is our choice. And we also have some degree in choice when it comes to our environment. Don't hang out with the people who bring out the worst in you--you'll end up feeling bad about yourself. The people I enjoy spending my time with are the people who I can be silly, loud, and excited around. Excited, especially. We're in a business where we have to watch out who we get excited in front of--don't wanna hurt anyones feelings. Being passive is a good cover, but I'm not a passive person. I think this summer I'm starting to remember that. I've been hanging out with a very small and specific group of people and they're helping me re-discover who I am when I'm not "busy" all the time. Who I am when I'm not in class from 9:30-6:30 everyday. Who am I when I don't have 40 things on my To Do list. Who I am when the only thing I want to accomplish today is going to Starbucks and the pool. I'm not as serious of a person as I remember. And I'm really happy about that.
But I know it's only summer. In the fall I'm going to have to go back to school. I'm going to have to be busy again. So what are the things I need to remember?
- Seek out the people who make me the best version of myself.
- Make time to do absolutely nothing or do things that aren't "productive".
- Say "yes" to projects that fill my soul, not my ego.
- Don't feel guilty when I have to say "no".
- If there isn't a road for what I wanna do, then I just need to pave it. Create, don't complain.
- Ask for help.
- Make lists.
- Watch stupid TV.
- Read things that aren't assigned in school.
- When it's time to get work done, get it done.
- Remember I have the time I need to be both ambitious and lazy. I just need to use it efficiently.
That's it for now. I'm going to go to Starbucks. Gavin's coming over and we're going to sit at my pool. We'll probably watch a few episodes of SVU since it's Tuesday and there's a marathon on USA. We'll wait for Trevor to get off work and Collin to get out of dance and we'll make our way to Coolidge Corner to catch Moonrise Kingdom.
None of these things will go on my resume. None of these things will help me land a job. None of these things will get me a good review. And that's okay.
Happy Summer, everyone. Have a good and safe 4th of July!