Friday, July 6, 2012

Too Busy to Dream?

A recent acquaintance thinks she's making conversation when she complains about how busy she is. She is busy: she works a regular job, exercises at the same place I do, ferries her kids to karate, gymnastics, and math tutoring, plays Bunco, and is in a book club. What's more, she hosts brunch for her husband's family after church every Sunday.

When I suggested she alternate brunch-hosting Sundays with her sister-in-law, I got a shake of the head and a long-suffering sigh. The sister-in-law's standards aren't up to those of my new acquaintance.   

Last Sunday, a New York Times article, "The 'Busy' Trap," made a distinction between the truly exhausted—those working back-to-back shifts at the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs--and those of us who willingly pile on chores and obligations in addition to the day jobs and family responsibilities. Tim Kreider, the article's author, says this of the voluntarily over-scheduled: "They're busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they have to face in its absence."

Kreider links idleness with creativity. "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."

Busyness isn't the same as productivity, and productivity-measured by insights on paper--is every writer's goal.

To achieve those insights, carve out pockets of idleness. A writer friend used to describe her drive home from the day job as "dream time." She'd think about the work in progress and plan the next scene. Once in a while, she'd miss her exit and have to double back, but dreaming had helped her accomplish what she wanted to accomplish.

Another sits in her car and writes during her daughter's piano lesson. She writes in the stands at her son's t-ball practice.

We can't do it all. Writers, especially, need to stand back from life to see it whole. If we don't alternate Sunday-brunch duty--my metaphor for whatever task or tasks keep us from doing our real work—we sabotage ourselves.

Let's distinguish between our true obligations and those that flatter us or make us feel important. Let's draw a line between what we want and what wants us.

Where and how do you find dream time?


Sarah Andre said...

Oh, thank God for Kreider! Someone who's given my "laziness" a bit of legitimacy.

I used to belong to the ranks of the overly busy because the stress hormone that kicks in can be quite addictive...and the added benefit of getting SO much done!

Down side? I ate because of my stress and usually junk food because I was too busy to shop or prepare fresh foods, NEVER had time to exercise and finally realized that crazy cortisol levels in mid-life can wreck your hormone balance and wreak havok on your body.

Now I cherish silence and looooong stretches of alone-time. Even in crowds I am training myself to get 'away' inside my head. I stare off into space in a luxurious romantic daydream until my husband says: "why are you smiling like that?" I jerk back to reality and mumble: "Oh. Just doing some research."

I agree that quiet reflectivness helps generate creativity and wish that for all my writer friends. I can honestly say I've never been happier.

Great post. Have a 'quiet' weekend, Pat!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I've always been away to get away in the midst of a crowd, Sarah. I cherish that time off.

Cortisol uptick? I hear you and am still working off the dangerous weight that wound up around my middle.

Here's to quiet time and an end to hamster-on-a-wheel days.

Lark Howard said...

Great post, Pat! Years ago I was in an industry where the marketers competed with each other to prove how impossibly busy they were--80+ hr weeks, insane travel schedules, all-nighters. I bought into it until I realized that a little organization and delegating to an excellent staff would give me a life.

Now I distinguish between what I have to do--my full time job--and what I choose to do. Some things that free up time to think, daydream and write are:

1. We turned off the TV and found how many hours we suddenly had to do other things.

2. I don't waste time or energy on people, organizations, social interactions that drag me down.

3. I don't force myself to read books I don't like, even if I personally like the author.

4. I set aside time to read, write, think, goof-off and treat it as an appointment with myself.

My best thinking time is before I go to sleep or when I first wake up. Those are the times, my conscious allows my sub-conscious to throw in some damn good ideas.

Brandie said...

My best dream time is in the shower. Yes, I'm weird :-)


Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Good job making--and keeping--those appointments with yourself, Lark. Your bullet points are thoughtful and are worthy of a blog post in themselves.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Brandie, dream time in the shower is NOT weird. There's something about water and ions that gives creativity a jumpstart.

Jennette Marie Powell said...

Shower's good, and also while on the treadmill! Except usually that's when I read. But if I finish a book and have just a few minutes left...

I don't daydream much while driving. I used to... I think going back to driving stick makes me pay more attention, not a bad thing!

LynNerdKelley said...

I daydream while driving, too. It's so bad, I need to have my GPS on even when I'm going to a familiar place. Seems like driving home after a writers meeting is when I get lots of ideas and also before falling asleep and before getting up in the mornings. I know many people who are busy like your aquaintance is and I wonder how in the world they're able to juggle it all. I've always known my limitations and don't commit to things I'm not sure I'll feel up to fulfilling. Nice post, Pat. Thanks for a good reason to be idle at times!

Kay Hudson said...

As much as I sometimes hate the traffic, I do find time spent by myself in the car good for thinking and planning.

When I do have down time, I find myself "trying to relax"--surely there's a contradiction in there somewhere. But it's hard to break old habits, including the ones that tell you that you really should be doing something useful/productive/measurable.

Jan Crow said...

Early in the morning. First half hour is thinking time. Dreaming, doddling, jotting down ideas, etc. I have to have that time or the whole day is shot.

Lynette M Burrows said...

What a great post, Pat. Brandie, if you're weird, there's a WHOLE bunch of us weird folk. The shower is a great time for me, too. I've taken additional time off the day job, stay-cations, if you will. I make certain to include a time for going to a coffee shop and just sitting, for walking in a park - particularly one that has water - a pond, lake, fountain. Journal writing - free writing - is another activity where I 'allow' myself to dream.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Jennette, you're driving your dream car, so it makes sense you're focused on it when driving.

I don't have a treadmill, but my walks in the park become my dream time.

I wish I could have heard your daughter and her choral group sing at Omaha Beach.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Lynn, the minutes before coming fully awake or falling asleep are important for me, too. And limitations? I've got 'em.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I hear you on "useful, productive, measurable," Kay, and I know the value of setting a timer to prod myself to turn out pages, but I need unscheduled time, too. Maybe the real reason I walk is because it's dream time disquised as exercise.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Your stay-cation idea's a winner, Lynette! You people-watch at the coffee shop and take your impressions to a park and let them gell. You're right about journaling being a form of dreaming. Now, why didn't I think of that?

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Me, too, Jan!! I need that half hour of silence in the a.m. It's my best thinking time.

Coleen Patrick said...

I was thinking about this busy stuff last night--and for the briefest moment I thought to myself--well if you didn't take time to relax you might not be so busy. And then I dismissed it b/c I have to carve out times to be alone, or be quiet, etc. It's necessary for my health--and for that matter those around me! :)