Crazy busy? Tim Kreider has some advice for you

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First aired on Tapestry (21/10/12)


Tim Kreider refers to himself "as an out-of-the-closet idler." He doesn't have a TV or an answering machine. He's the author of "The Busy Trap," an essay that appeared in the online edition of the New York Times and struck a chord with many readers. In a recent interview on Tapestry, he talked to host Mary Hines about the opinion piece and why he thinks that our culture of non-stop busyness is a problem.

"I think I wrote the essay in a fit of pique," the author and cartoonist admitted. "Because I live most of the time in New York City, and most of my friends in New York are freelancers and artists of various kinds, and so a lot of them who work out in home studios. So they're never not working, or else feeling anxious and guilty about not working. Consequently it's very hard to get them to just goof off and have fun with you."

Kreider believes that people say they're busy "almost as a reflex response" when asked how they are. He's careful to point out that he was not directing his comments at "people so besieged by economic circumstance or other things beyond their control that they simply have no time to themselves," he said. "There are people who have to take care of their parents and their kids at the same time. There are people working three minimum wage jobs that they commute to. But I'm not writing about those people."

Kreider compares the "busy trap" to "traffic jams and stadium tramplings. Things that no one person decides to have happen. It's something we collectively do. We're all making our own lives collectively worse. Maybe it's just that the busiest and most ambitious people among us, the ones who actually want their lives to be like this, force the rest of us to keep up, because otherwise they get ahead," he said. "They're the ones who dictate the agenda in the world."

Kreider regards "The Busy Trap" as "a sort of playful provocation." He went on to say that "it was an act of mock bravery for me to come out of the closet and admit to being idle, since everyone else is so proud of complaining about their busyness. And I did notice that quite a lot of people were able to find time in their frantically busy schedules not only to read an essay on the internet, but to compose some angry comments in defence of the very thing they claim to hate."

Kreider thinks that idleness can actually be productive, at least when it comes to creative work. 'If you're building a stone wall, say, idleness is not going to help you with that task. But if you're trying to write something or solve a problem, say, I think idleness is necessary," he said. "You don't get the real work done while you're sitting there supposedly working. You get that work done when you're in the shower, or doing dishes. Or a walk. You know Nietzsche said he never trusted sedentary thoughts, only the ones that came to him while he was ambulatory." Kreider added that idleness "keeps you limber, it creates the kind of mental space for unexpected connections to happen and inspirations to strike."

Kreider also acknowledged that people may also use busyness as a hedge against emptiness, or to avoid facing the "big picture" questions like what you want out of life. "Busyness can take the form not just of work but of doing whatever it is we do for hours on end on the internet or just watching back to back episodes of a TV series on DVD," he pointed out. "Anything to keep your brain distracted."

In "The Busy Trap," Kreider writes that he has made the choice of time over money in his life. He acknowledges that he's been privileged (his parents were supportive of his being an artist, and have subsidized his living at times). But he argues, too, that "your time is more important than money. You can always make more money. Money is a renewable resource." The values of time and money "come into play in a lot of decisions we make, and I think it's better to err on the side of time."

Kreider compares his perspective on busyness to that of a designated driver in a bar. "When you're the only sober guy, you see drunkenness in a way that people who are experiencing drunkenness cannot." His solution for those who are too busy is simple: "Do less stuff."

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