I spent my weeklong vacation at my parents’ house in Maine, and when I set out for my trip it seemed like I had all the time in the world.
Of course, this was something of an illusion: About an hour after I arrived, I dashed off to a barbecue for a bride-and-groom-to-be, and then on Saturday I attended their wedding in Portland, which was followed by a very nice reception where I got to eat Taiwanese wedding cake for the first time. Which is, by the way, the best wedding cake I’ve ever had — like angel food cake, but lighter, with a lot of whipped cream and berries.
On Sunday I got up early and went to church, which was followed by the world’s best lobster roll, from Red’s Eats in Wiscasset (the hour wait is worth it), and a stop at the nearby botanical gardens. Monday was spent hiking in New Hampshire, but on Tuesday the schedule relaxed a little. Until I glanced at Facebook and noticed that an old high-school friend, who lives in Miami, was also vacationing in Maine. We exchanged messages, and around 5 p.m. I set off for York to see my friend, meet his 6-month-old baby and eat lobster. The next morning my parents and I traveled to Rye, N.H., for a Fourth of July party with friends I hadn’t seen in a long time.
The rest of the week was, thankfully, free of events.
My sister, her husband and my two-month-old niece arrived for a three-night stay on Thursday, and we filled up the time with the beach, seafood, badminton and movies. I also found time to go for bike rides and read, although not as much as I meant to. I had ambitious plans to finally finish Studs Terkel’s “Working,” plow through my magazine backlog and read “The Hunger Games,” which friends have assured me only takes about three hours.
But I didn’t come very close to meeting my goal.
As of this writing, I’m about 40 pages away from the end of “Working,” which remains on my coffee table next to a small stack of unread magazines. This is pretty galling: I hate going on vacation and failing to finish a single book. Although, in my defense, I managed to read several hundred pages of “Working.” And my vacation was, on the whole, fairly busy.
Which raises the question: When I describe my vacation as busy, what exactly do I mean? Am I whining? Bragging? Simply stating a fact?
After all, vacations are supposed to be a respite from work — from obligations and schedules and, well, being busy. But it’s quite possible we live in a world where time is viewed as such a valuable commodity that many people, including myself, live in fear of wasting a single second of it. That if we’re not busy, we’re missing out.
While I was on vacation, The New York Times ran a piece called “The ‘Busy’ Trap” in which the writer, Tim Kreider, ponders why people like to proclaim how busy they are to friends, family, acquaintances and complete strangers.
“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,” Kreider writes. “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.’ ”
Kreider goes on to suggest that the people who most often complain of being busy are not “people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum wage jobs,” but rather “people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve ‘encouraged’ their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence. Almost everyone I know is busy. … They schedule in time with friends the way students with 4.0 G.P.A.’s make sure to sign up for community service because it looks good on their college applications. I recently wrote a friend to ask if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn’t have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation.”
Reading this essay made me feel guilty because I recognized myself.
Lately, whenever people ask me how I am, I usually reply that I’m pretty busy.
I don’t know that this is a bad thing, but it’s worth examining whether it’s possible to pack your life with so much activity that you forget to relax and take in the scenery.
This is largely, I suspect, a concern for the middle and upper middle class, as a recent blog post on The Atlantic, titled “Why Only Yuppies Feel Busy,” suggests. Citing a research paper by a University of Texas economist, the writer explains that the more money you have, the more likely you are to complain that you’re too busy. “There’s a lot the rich could be doing and too few hours to do it all,” the post observes.
And while I don’t consider myself rich, I am privileged — privileged to have parents who live on the Maine coast and friends in fun and interesting places like the British Virgin Islands, California and Denver, mountains and waterfronts in close proximity, and a plethora of entertainment options almost every night of the week. There’s a great big world out there, and even on my vacations I’m scrambling to do everything I want to do.
I guess I’ll just be thankful I have the means to stay busy and look for ways to make my life a little less frenzied.
I think I can do it.
Once I get everything I want to do done.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.