Zen in the Season of Busy

Tim Kreider is a cartoonist who last June wrote a much-quoted column for the New York Times about “busyness” and its glorification. “A boast disguised as a complaint,” he said of the quick, thoughtless reply (“Busy!”) to any question of how one is doing; something not often heard from the working poor dead on their feet from double shifts and routinely from them who’ve staffed-out their precious hours to a multitude of tasks taken on out of “ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.” As is probably pretty clear, among these frantic doers Kreider does not count himself. “I am not busy,” he says. “I am the laziest ambitious person I know,” going on to describe an idyllic daily regimen comprising a few hours of morning work, long bike rides and errands done, evenings consumed in watching movies with friends, having drinks, et cetera et cetera. Reading this, you–if you’re me–surround all of a sudden a feeling in your belly like a pinch and a punch and a warm glow of covetous pleasure all at the same time, because you, like me, are, if not a deeply lazy person, at least someone who places a steep premium on leisure time, who has somehow gotten off track, veered into a lane where the traffic is faster and tailgating rampant and highway noise loud enough to disrupt one’s train of thought. (Although, to be honest, it is usually less a “train” of thought than a listless, colorful regatta, or a twilit-sky-filled-with-hot-air-balloons of thought.)

“It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this,” Kreider goes on, brilliantly, “any more than any one person wants to be 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.”

To pick one nit, it does seem sometimes to happen all by itself–independent of a person’s anxious desire to be occupied. Day follows day follows day, a box of To-Do appears behind this door, which, son of a gun, was that even there yesterday? And what about this list in my hand? Who put that there? Hold on, wait, I have to answer this…  You rise sore into the day that keeps you on your feet and going until you collapse into the night’s sleep equivalent of a Megadeath concert however many hours later, then rise sore into the day… And you (you, who like sitting) didn’t ask for it. The days were longer, before…idler, more free…less productive.

Well, boxes of To-Do have indeed been proliferating around our rickety old barn by the stream, lately. There’s a crate with a canning line in it, a newly leased space, a just-installed mother of a brite tank that, freshly packed with IPA, sprung an alarming leak, a swirl of roster changes around which we’re all learning to dance (with new partners and the tune unknown)…this on top of the gradual incorporation of the grain augur that’s redeeming the elbows’ and backs’ of our brewers from their many batches of toil (though not without its hiccoughs) and the systemic alterations made front of house that necessitated last month a three day furlough for the Tasting Room. Commerce, we disorganize and rebuild ourselves around you.

Also: listened day before yesterday to an excerpt from a keynote address given by the late David Foster Wallace to a class of college graduates. I forget what college, but I feel enormously envious and protective of their experience, ’cause this excerpt flat knocked me down. Click the link, please! I will not demean those nine plus minutes with summary, but will say that they involve consciously practiced thought. They involve the lame truth that our default mental state is woefully small and self-interested. It speaks to the intelligent person’s capacity, however, to substitute for this automatic childishness a wider, more adult awareness: the world does not exist for me; the people in the world do not exist for me; neither my comfort nor my convenience are the point of the human day. This is good!

So let this be a quality of the busy season: that we occasionally sublimate ourselves to the great, shifting abundance of folks and needs and places that clutter the day and the unseeable vectors of cause and effect that put us where we are, next to who we’re next to, doing things. Let our engines churn but our minds find time to idle.

I’ll take mine with a pint, if you please. And how are you, after all?