Raw, idiom, 14a: in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.
I'm writing from Point Reyes, where the sun is strong and the sky is clear and the tunes are solid. (Yes, those are my feet, and yes, they are up. Life is good.) We've got so much to talk about, yes, lots of developments: dudes and new nieces and trees and plans, and a helluva lot going on in the yoga-sphere, too.
But let's start here.
Did you catch last Sunday's NYT article, "The Busy Trap"? Everyone's talking about it, and, I think, often seeing a bit of themselves in it, too. Read it here.
A few highlights:
If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”....Yeah. Hell yeah. I related to this. Didn't you?
The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it....It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, 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....
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day....[but] I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.
....[This busyness] got more and more intolerable until finally I fled town to the Undisclosed Location from which I’m writing this.
Here I am largely unmolested by obligations. There is no TV. To check e-mail I have to drive to the library. I go a week at a time without seeing anyone I know. I’ve remembered about buttercups, stink bugs and the stars. I read. And I’m finally getting some real writing done for the first time in months. It’s hard to find anything to say about life without immersing yourself in the world, but it’s also just about impossible to figure out what it might be, or how best to say it, without getting the hell out of it again.
(Ok, not everyone did. Check out Joslyn's strong argument against it.)
But I grew up in a household that was informed by this sense that one's value is proportional to her level of busyness. The busier, the better. Doing, not being. There is most certainly an intangible underlying fear that drives this sense of scurrying, a vaguely Calvinist lack of trust in unconditional, inherent worth, a terror of sitting with the empty space, that rings true to me.
My mother, like many mothers, I imagine, was a "busy" one. People'd ask her how she was, and she'd sigh and say, "Ohhhh, SO busy!!" And I remember thinking as a kid that that was the way to be — well, because I was a kid and didn't realize there were other choices. But then across the dinner table was my Pops, who loved his job and spent his free hours putzing around in the garage or out in the yard, and he never seemed to need to qualify his worth by establishing how busy he was or serving on bullshit committees that he didn't want to serve on. He actually seemed, rather, to revel in the unscheduled hours spent in the woodshop or the garden or under the cars.
those sometimes-terrifying moments of stillness and emptiness that force us to be alone with ourselves and our shit.
And, in defense of busyness, a lot of it, for me at least, comes from the awareness that life is short and we don't know how long we have. You know, the fact that we're dying and all. Losing a few dear friends early in their lives over the last few years has taught me soberingly well about how little future we can confidently plan on seeing, and how we really don't want to take any down-the-road moments for granted, because we might kick the bucket at 28 or 38 or 48. So part of my desire to maximize my hours with coffee dates and cocktails and working and playing and loving and living comes from the existential understanding that, honestly, I could die at any moment, and if I do, then hell, wouldn't I like to have lived well in the few breaths I had while I had them? You know, to have been really alive, really present, in a life that is impermanent and always in flux, a life that's for sure going to end one day?
(Anne Lamott describes it this way in Bird By Bird:
"I remind myself of this when I cannot get any work done: to live as if I am dying, because the truth is we are all terminal on this bus. To live as if we are dying gives us a chance to experience some real presence. Time is so full for people who are dying in a conscious way, full in the way that life is for children. They spend big round hours. So instead of staring miserably at the computer screen trying to will my way into having a breakthrough, I say to myself, 'Okay, hmmm, let's see. Dying tomorrow. What should I do today?'")Sobering, all this death talk, I know. But true.
So there's life in the stillness, in the quiet, in the peace. And somehow, in it, the days seem to stretch a little longer.
In these long languid summer hours up here on the coast, I keep thinking of writers like Annie Dillard and Willa Cather and Thoreau. They didn't (or still don't, in Annie's case) waste their time with cocktail hours and Facebook updates and YouTube bullshit. They spent their waking creative hours knee-deep in nature, seated by creeks with notebooks in hand, lost in haystacks in the prairie. They rooted themselves in earth and sky instead of Google and iCal. And their connection with spirit was evident, and rich, and present.
[Is the opposite of busyness spaciousness? Is that space what's required to create art, to write, to compose music, to paint? I have to say yes. I have to. Yes.]
That's what I want. That's who I want to be. The busy crap can pass. The sun, the sky, the stillness, the writing, the creeks, the crickets? Yes, please.