The Cult of Busyness


“I don’t have long,” a friend apologizes.

I do this a lot. To my sister in law whose foot is in a cast, or our friend David whose heart is broken and we still haven’t invited him over.

I have settled into a novel by Beth Powning set in Puritan New England. In my alternate reading world busy means fleeing for your life through the snowy bush. It means figuring out shelter so you can dig a foundation for your new house given that you ditched your last home. Busy might be pushing out your 8th child while your husband is away. Indefinitely.

I need that reminder.

*******

I'd had a crummy day. I walk over to my friend Jen’s house. In the fading light I see her sitting straight in a chair, her eyes closed.

I debate disturbing her and opt for my needs. I knock quietly. Jen gets up slowly and opens the door open for me with a smile. I sit at her kitchen counter and unburden my first world woes while she listens and slowly makes herself a tomato sandwich.

We know she created this space; it wasn’t because her fridge drawers were spotless, bills paid and an empty inbox.

Her sitting quietly was a gift to me, although I don't think that was her intention.

Painting takes enormous patience. Progress peeks out from behind the curtain after a decade. But it is not guaranteed.

My students individually apologize for their ineptitude before the course; their shame up bristles against their deep yearning to create. Delineating the time to be still, never mind putting a mark on a page, cracks something in our defenses. One student says she has a habit of doing life saving work and painting seems hopelessly frivilous.

Productivity is our religion. For much of my life I would have considered work ethic to be reasonable. If you had said it had seeds of unkindness I might have looked at you quizzically.

When I begin painting an image I do so with a need for quiet. The image I conjure holds affection for some mundane thing. Connecting with the friendliness of of an object, trying to convey that in brushstrokes is a very odd way to spend one’s life.

I hope in my indulgence the images act as an open door, a warm smile, a welcome on a bad day.

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