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?