The other day I did something very old fashioned. I stayed away from my computer, the internet, TV, Facebook, and even my phone for an entire day. Instead, I took advantage of sore muscles from the previous day’s long run and read a book.
Oh, okay, I read a book on my Kindle, but other than that small, insignificant detail, I was technology-free.
My Kindle-hating friend swears that I alone am the sole reason for the demise of Borders and the end of books as we know them. I loved Borders back in the day. I loved nothing more than spending an hour or so browsing the aisles, seeing where my interests would lead me, wanting to read everything in the place. If one could get paid to read books, I would be a millionaire. Many solutions to problems large and small have been found between the pages of a book, and the best dates with myself have been in a Borders or Half Price Bookstore on a Friday or Saturday night.
I smugly tell my friend, I’m saving trees.
Spending an entire Sunday doing nothing but reading was lovely. I became so engrossed in my book that I literally didn’t move from the couch for hours. I thought about checking my email and catching up on Facebook, but it didn’t seem important. Michael was playing touch rugby with his friends, it was stiflingly hot outside (again), and I had nothing to stop me. If the dogs can sleep all day, why can’t I read all day?
This got me to thinking: why do we feel guilty when we take a day for ourselves to “just” read a book? Do other people feel this same way? I almost always feel guilty when I take time during the day to read, even on a Sunday. I feel like there’s something else I should be doing, and that reading a book is a frivolous, self-indulgent pleasure that should be put off until everything else gets done first. This is, of course, ironic since I’ve spent the past 20 years trying to teach children, including my own son, the joys of reading. Maybe it’s because of the fact that I do see reading as such a joyous activity that it therefore becomes such a guilty pleasure (and no, I’m not Catholic).
The larger issue is, when did we all get so busy? Being so busy has suddenly turned into our national religion. I’m opting out. My friends who work full-time seem worried that I still haven’t found a job (I’m not even looking) and ask what I do with myself all day (as if whatever it is I do all day is without value since there’s no money attached to it). Sometimes I get annoyed and tell them I don’t do anything, I just sit around all day and eat chocolate, and that shuts them up. Sometimes I get defensive and talk about my blogs, or the running website we’re developing, or the next marathon I’m training for, or the fact that I rarely turn on the TV during the day. The fact is, I stay plenty busy and have nothing to explain.
This summer I had all kinds of plans for simplifying my life and slowing things down. I was going to walk the dogs more, do yoga on a daily basis, cook more, read more, and even start a daily meditation practice. I have made some significant changes, but not nearly as many as I had hoped to make. Our record heat has kept me and the dogs mostly indoors all summer (like vampires, we only venture out for walks or runs before/after the sun is up/down), yoga was making me too sore to run, I still hate to cook, and meditation . . . well, it’s always last on the list. The only thing I do more of is read books, but almost only in the evenings when Michael’s also off work and is watching TV. Again, must be the guilt factor.
So, I don’t work at a paying job but I’m still too busy. Maybe it’s merely a continuation of life as we know it. It’s the only way I’ve ever been and know how to be. Maybe it’s just a part of who I am. One thing I can say, though, is that my everyday pace of life has slowed down dramatically. I may still be too busy, but I’m not going 100 mph to get everything done. Now I have the luxury of slowing down, getting the most important things done each day, and not stressing over what remains to be done on the To Do list. Everything I do now is because I want to do it, it’s directly related to something important to me, as opposed to hours in the classroom mired in senseless paperwork meant to justify someone not in the classroom’s job–which is the most senseless, time-wasting kind of busyness there is.
I know that not everyone can quit their job like I did and lead a less frenetic life, but I’m wondering what price we pay for being so busy. There have always been and always will be rude people, but I can’t help but notice lately how angry everyone seems, from the people on the roads to the politicians in Washington. Could it be that we’re all so incredibly stressed out and busy that we view others as enemies to be angrily shoved out of the way as quickly as possible? Have we all become so impatient that rather than make an effort to look at someone and smile, we instead avoid their eyes altogether? We seem to have lost our ability to find a middle ground, everything’s either my way or the wrong way–and get out of my way, I’m in a hurry!
It’s not a good way to live. If we’re always so busy, when do we ever have time to just sit and think about things, to gather our thoughts and figure out the world and ourselves? Even our days off, when we’re busy running errands and shuttling our kids to soccer games, or on vacation, when we’re busy traveling or sightseeing, seem less relaxing and more driven. Maybe what we need is a little introspection, a little more time spent off our feet and on the couch, with a good book or good music or a good meal–or all of the above. Maybe if we took more time for ourselves, to just be, to enjoy life, all the other days of the week wouldn’t seem so bad.