A week ago, I walked along the fine white sands of Trunk Bay on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The sun, the sea, and a coconut-pineapple-rum drink aptly named a Painkiller combined for a heavenly escape from the dregs of a northern Vermont winter.
I didn't realize how much I needed a vacation until I plopped myself into a beach chair and opened my book. From what? You'd be right to ask. I don't have a "real" job, I report to no one, and I'm under no deadlines (except the ones on my never-ending "to-do" list). And yet—
I've been soooo busy!
The 19th-century philosopher Kierkegaard would say I'm being ridiculous. I tend to focus on external things, the things only I think I'm expected to do—even though no one has presented me with a list of demands. But I have demands.
There's the house, the dog, the parents, and my writing goals. The digital information overload, the nurturing of human connections, and the grief and anger that demand political action. There is, after thirty years of working for others, the vestigial urge to contribute and prove my worth.
On top of that, I wonder if Felix* is happy and check in with him far more than necessary. "Are you okay?" I ask when what I mean is, "are we okay?" even though I'm certain we are.
What I really should be asking is, "Am I okay?" Yet, I don't stop long enough to consider it.
Busy is an old English word, originally meaning anxiousness, and it still conveys a hectic, stressful state—frenzied, hustling, overwhelmed. In my working days, I was a badge of honor, "Gee, look how many things require my attention!"
Unless you're a bee, busy does not mean focused, fulfilled, accomplished—or even making progress. I pushed myself to get to 80,000 words in the first draft of my book before I left for vacation. I appeared to be very busy, as I whined about the lack of time, and I copied and pasted bits of previously drafted essays and notes until I met the word count.
Done. Crossed off the list. But was I okay?
Hardly. Along with bathing suits, books, and sunscreen, I packed disappointment and self-doubt about my hurried writing effort. Like a stow-away, "busy" came along for the trip. Every day I sketched plot structures and possible scenes in my mind and notebook—not good enough, still not good enough. "You need to finish by May," said no one but me.
Busy is a mind fuck.
Busy is not a state of action or accomplishment. Busy is self-imposed, and worse, it's self-fulfilling. I am not focused on the things that build and restore me when I'm busy. I am not okay.
I've been tired since we flew home, my stomach rumbling like something was up. Busy insisted I get back to work. I re-arranged files, transcribed notes, and organized research. Buzzing around, not moving forward. Feeding my need to be perfectly prepared before I start writing is busy's favorite head game.
My body went on the defense.
Last Thursday, I hoped I'd applied enough sunscreen while we watched the sunset from the Windmill Bar above Cruz Bay. This Thursday, I held my breath in a CT Scanner with an IV in my arm—not for the Gwyneth Paltrow special, for a colitis flare-up. (I'll spare you the details and share this article on the link between stress and your gut instead.)
With bone broth and medications in hand, I was advised to rest.
"It's the last Thursday of the month!" Busy screamed to remind me I had scheduled a newsletter. Determined not to let busy down, I opened my laptop.
That's when I stumbled across a Facebook post I'd saved from the author Rebecca Solnit:
"I'm not the Nap Ministry but I'm for the power of rest and the holiness of respite and the you that is your cells and circulatory system and all those inner workings that are so mysterious and necessary and regenerative if we let them be."
Body overrules busy. Solnit continued.
"Take refuge in that beautiful stillness in which everything is happening in all the ways that nothing is happening in busyness."
I knew this. Why had I forgotten? In last month's post, I list seven ways to get a head start on your midlife reinvention – REST is #3.
I should move it to the top of the list, but first, I’m taking a nap.
*My life partner of 15 years said I could write about him with one caveat. "Just call me Felix." IYKYK.
Prompts to reinspire your next chapter
Drop a few lines of writing in the comments, and I’ll share mine too. There is only one rule. Be kind to yourself as you write and to others as they trust us with their words.
Reflection: Copy 5-10 items from your actual to-do list on one side of a page. On the other side, list the reason each thing is important.
Inspiration: Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Picture yourself on a tropical beach (or your favorite spot in nature). On one side of a page, list 5-10 things you notice (how does your body feel? what do you see, what can you smell or hear?). On the other side, list why or how these feelings are important to you.
Work hard. Be brave. Believe.
LOVE THIS PIECE (and love YOU). "'You need to finish by May,' said no one but me." Ha. Sorry to hear about the colitis flare though, ugh.
So true. Loved it. We need to take care of ourselves. ❤️