The other day, my mother called and I picked up the phone. This is noteworthy because I don't usually pick up the phone when anyone calls me, not even my mother, because I'm a very busy person whose life is full of many busy things. But I picked up the phone, and she asked me what I was up to, and I said that I was very busy with work and work-related fancy cocktail New York activities. The fact of the matter is that I was sitting pantsless on the edge of my tub trying to shave my legs with mushed up banana instead of shaving cream. But I told her I was busy, and I assumed that she'd understand that "busy" implied "with important things," because telling people that you're busy and overworked and pretending that your life is a mental endurance test is part of our understood patriotic duty as Americans.
There's been a lot of talk about being too busy lately. In a piece for the Times this weekend, Tim Kreider argued that the "I'm busy" pissing contest is actually a trap that makes Americans miserable. But their misery doesn't come from actual fatigue of doing actual work; it's a humblebrag designed to convince others that you are busy because you are constantly necessary to a large number of people. Your kids need you. Your friends need you. Your boss needs you. Your coworkers need you. In reality, he asserts, the stress that comes from being "too busy" is self-imposed and completely unnecessary, albeit socially inescapable. Idleness is a virtue that too many Americans are foregoing. Which is why Tim Kreider now writes from an undisclosed location in the middle of a giant meadow, where birds do his hair every morning. Bless him.
For women, the pressure to appear busy folds nicely into the beaten dead horse discussion around whether or not we can have all of the things on account of the fact that we're babymakers. After Anne-Marie Slaughter postulated that things are very difficult for working women because the world still expects successful people to have a wife to take care of their non-work responsibilities at home, the entire internet weighed in. The verdict? Women can't have it all because no one can have it all, because we're all already too busy to have any more than what we already have. If a woman somehow found the time to do much more than what she's already doing, then is she busted inflating her busyness for the sake of conformity?
Kreider's right about the socially imposed expectation that we all appear to be busy at all times; according to The Atlantic, 80% of Americans keep working outside of the hours they're technically at work. They're checking email before 8 am. They're responding to messages at the dinner table. An astonishing 69% of American workers surveyed in this particular small but depressing study said they can't go to sleep without checking their work email first. And all of this is going down in the only industrialized country in the world without government-mandated employer-provided paid vacation time. We're getting hosed! We're allowing this encroachment to happen! Why aren't people more upset?
As I chatted with my mother on the phone, hands covered in banana slime, I didn't tell her what I'd really done with the previous evening. I got done with work, stared at my nose pores in the mirror, and then fed my cat while singing "Call Me Maybe" to her (I changed the words to "Call me Kitty." Obviously.). Then I changed clothes from what I had been wearing (man shorts and a WISCONSIN POLK COUNTY tee shirt that I bought in 1995) and took a train to meet my coworkers for a viewing of Magic Mike, which was pretty much the best movie about the promise of wang I'd ever seen, where my job was to count how many times women in the audience couldn't stop themselves from saying "Woo!" loudly. Then I got home and ordered Indian food and read the news on the internet until I fell asleep. Why the hell did I tell my mother I was busy? I should have said that I work really hard at my job and then spend the rest of my time putting off doing the other non-work things that I should be doing with my non-work time because — UGH. Later. Which, from what I can glean, is what most people do, when they're not busy telling people how busy they are.