At my college, the library coffee shop served as a watering hole for the busy-beasts, a gaggle of fellow students who evidently prided themselves on constantly growling about how busy they were. Never mind that the large majority of them could have finished their work in a reasonable amount of time if they had actually concentrated on doing it instead of discussing it over burnt espresso at 3 a.m.
This is the kind of mentality Tim Kreider criticizes in his much-discussed New York Times essay “The ‘Busy’ Trap,” and he’s right, at least in part. In that responding to “How are you?” with a breathless “SOOOO BUSSSYYY” is clearly, as he writes, “a boast disguised as a complaint,” Kreider is satisfyingly spot-on. Being busy is not something to be proud of in the abstract; certain kinds of busyness—such as being busy caring for loved ones, for example—are necessary and good, but many others are of the “choose your own adventure” variety (and one shouldn’t complain too much if she chooses poorly).
Where I lose Kreider, however, is in his suggested speed-bump for our “endless frenetic hustle.” Instead of offering realistic solutions like, say, the institution of a Spanish-style siesta for everyone into the workday afternoon, he glibly praises his ability to beg off work for an entire day dedicated to “chilled pink minty cocktails” or, better yet, to decamp completely to an “undisclosed location” (according to an author bio, a country house somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay), as if these were steps we all could take if only we were brave enough to do so.
While both sound like lovely ways to relax and focus on writing, respectively, the likelihood that most readers will be able to join Kreider in his charmed indolence is low; so low, in fact, that his waxing romantic about the spontaneously chill life smacks of a kind of obnoxious classism which unfortunately undermines an otherwise provocative point.
As Kreider himself admits, his own “resolute idleness has mostly been a luxury rather than a virtue,” even if he did “make a conscious decision, a long time ago, to choose time over money.” Regardless of Kreider’s own personal financial situation (which I know nothing of), the pleasantly open schedule that he advocates is almost never possible without a healthy stack of family money or generous institutional grant.
I resent the implicit assumption of Kreider’s piece that anyone—from a soybean farmer to a New York blogger—could disappear for a retreat or fizzy drink in the middle of the day if only we wanted to escape our silly self-imposed bonds badly enough. Most of us need a stable income (hello, student loans), and moreover, the ongoing nature of assignments in many jobs means that as much as we might like to dedicate only morning hours to “the work,” we do, in fact, need to be connected for much of the day.
While there’s no doubt that Americans, on the whole, do not have a healthy work, life, and yes, laziness balance, it’s not helpful for some bon vivant to naively suggest that we all just, you know, go to southern France and relax or whatever. We need changes in both policy and cultural attitudes in order to make our working lives more humane; only then can we disable the busy trap for everyone rather than scampering smugly away.
Correction: This post originally mispelled Tim Kreider’s name.