Rory Uphold is the creative groove behind HelLA, a smart, witty web series about living on planet LA. A friend zapped me one of her videos, "Pretentious Hollywood." Two friends run into each other on the street and the small talk revolves around -- what else -- but a grocery list chock-full of busy. Volunteering at a downtown women's shelter, working with inner-city youth, organizing a 5K and taking in a disabled dog from a rescue shelter -- the actress' earnest delivery is dead-on, which is part of what makes the simple premise so funny and so sad. We all have people like this in our lives, and some of us ARE those people: knee-deep in the addiction to busy.
Busy has replaced the luxury car, the sprawling home or the designer handbag as the status symbol of the moment. Really, if you're not running car pool, cooking a dinner for your best gal pals, chairing the library renovation committee, keeping up with Pilates and building a school in Africa, then you're doing it wrong. At least that's what we tell ourselves and anyone else within earshot. The telling of the busyness, the exhausting mouth relay we sustain to reassure our self-importance is almost more important than the doing of the things that keep us so damn busy.
After tumbling out of grad school, I landed a job at a small, private college teaching as well as acting as the assistant director for their new women's leadership center. Busy snuck up on me and latched itself onto my ankle, python-style. Fewer than a hundred emails in my inbox felt weird. One day, my brother asked, "Who do you have lunch with?" And I stared at him. "What do you mean?" I said. "No one. I'm too busy working and catching up on things to grab lunch with other people." Ick. Gross.
Women are among the most ardent devotees to the culture of busy. The fourth or sixth wave feminism perks have finally kicked in with a resounding YES to having/doing/being it all ricocheting around America. Why not get credit for it? Science and socio-economics have gifted many middle-class, educated women with time and opportunity, but neither of these things are theirs to waste. Instead, the race is on to prove that you're worthy of this legacy, that you're not about to "lean out" any time soon, you couldn't possibly even if you wanted because, hey, way too busy.
There's no honor in busy, there's no reward; there's only kinesis eroding the now, pushing us further away from the shore of here. It's turned us into walking news tickers. Busy is the worst kind of drug, filling us with an inflated sense of ourselves, stealing moments from us because who has the time to sit on the back patio on a summer's evening doing nothing in particular but letting night creep in around you? What's wrong with you? Weak. Lame.
I'm as guilty as anyone else in feeling the pinch of pressure to, literally, keep up with the Joneses. I admit to rising to the bait of competition in tallying up my activities against someone else's life and work. I accepted this as the new normal. One day I was on the phone with a friend listening to her recite the litany of errands, responsibilities, tasks and obligations she had been fulfilling that day. I felt like I was drowning in the eddy of her busy wake. What no one tells you is that some of life's biggest revolutions unfold in quiet, dark pockets of ordinary moments. The desire to chime in with my own laundry list of stuff disappeared, vanishing into the ozone like a cartoon genie. Nope o'clock, I thought.
And so it was that I simply decided I was over busy. Yes, just like that, like waking up one day committed to vegetarianism, like finally getting algebra, like the moment you know you love your person. "No thank you, please," I said, cribbing the firm politeness of my 4-year-old nephew.
I refuse to feel guilty about the time I spend or how I spend it. I want to cradle time, not chase it away. I want to survey my day and think about what I did, not what got done. I won't apologize for doing nothing on any given evening. I won't be made to feel less than because of the way I invest or choose not to invest my energies. So, sorry busy, I'm out, and we are never getting back together.