The Disease of Being Busy

BY OMID SAFI (@OSTADJAAN) ON BEING COLUMNIST

This summer I promised I wouldn’t commit to any theater projects.  I need a chance at a summer without the additional stress of line-learning and production development.  I live in a season town, so while every year our enclave goes from its charming 3000 off-season population to upwards of 40, 50 , to 80K visitors in a 3 mile long, 1/4 mile wide stretch, I’m never quite prepared for the transition from low to high, slow to busy, quiet to crowded.  The past two summers I had the opportunity to do two amazing productions.  The Normal Heart and Venus in Fur.  Intense emotional and demanding roles.  All the time I spent during those two summers getting reading for the productions is now my own.  I am not filling it.  I am leaving it to simply exist.

Just like any dis-ease, the disease of being busy can be chronic.  This society breeds multitasking and places value in the competition for “Who is the Busiest” Award.  While I believe it’s probably harder for families with children, I think we’re all under an unfair pressure to fill every waking second with activity.  Gone are the days of porch sitting, watching clouds roll by while we lay on our backs in the tall grass, visiting neighbors simply because we enjoy their company and not because we need something from them.  So my project this summer was to see if I could manage not to start showing the symptoms of the disease of business.  Don’t get me wrong, I can pack a lot into a day.  Being woken by the cats at 5am and having a whole stretch of day until I start working at 2pm means I have a lot of my time on my hands.  There are the regular things which fill the time:  eating, exercising, cleaning.  I read about a book a week.  But there are a lot of minutes where I feel myself falling into the need to be busy.  I always have project or two going; my websites are definitely taking a lot more time than I thought.

There are all these little signs, those symptoms of discomfort which come not from being too busy but from having time on my hands.  Old voices pop into my head, “DO SOMETHING!” “Don’t be Lazy,” “You don’t deserve this much free time.” Those are the voices which will take me right back to my old patterns, right back into the disease of busyness.  Before I know it, I’ll start a few paintings thinking I could sell them over the summer, I’ll sit at the piano and make plans for that musical I have in my head, there’s the collection of short stories in draft form just sitting here, there’s my play that I haven’t sent out, there’s a bookcase to be built (when all else fails, I build bookcases.) All these things become tasks to accomplish rather than being acts of creation inspired by authenticity.  Too often they are inspired by the fact I haven’t gotten enough attention recently on Facebook.

I’m not really saying anything very profound here other to say that I am experimenting this summer.  Can I get through it, work my regular job, doing my regular activities without getting infected by the busyness bug?  So far so good, but I did check to see if I have any pine boards laying around in my basement yesterday.

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