Recently a friend messaged on a WhatsApp group asking, “how you doing?” The response to it was a neat schedule of the day’s plans from one other friend on the group. I marvelled at how well her day was scheduled. They like me had spent most of their growing up years with adults around them saying: “An idle mind is a devil’s workshop”. For a long, long time, I took this sentence very seriously. I worked, I played, I read and spent time being “useful” and “busy”. I undertook project after project in a way to feel occupied and not let the devil wander into my life. If I was busy, I wouldn’t “waste time” – for time is money.
Busy-ness is an aspirational trait; a trait that if you had, meant that you were contributing in some way. Not just to society but to the people around you. You were “doing” something. If you are doing nothing, can you even justify your existence? I think back to that WhatsApp message to which I replied “its just another day for me”. I didn’t mean to be rude or offensive but time and its value had shifted in my life drastically. As a person who is sick for a large portion of my time and I spend a number of hours each day in maintaining my body, busy-ness had been transformed. I went from working 9 am to 9 pm at a job I loved and thrived in to not being able to sit at a desk from 10 am to noon. This shift in my body clock was because of my illness – and was not all, let’s say voluntary as I was literally forced into slowing down and taking time for myself.
This was not something people around me understood very easily. “Why do you sleep at 9 pm?” “Why are you so rigid about the projects you undertake?” “There is so much work to be done! Let’s go!” “Where has 2020 gone?” I reflect about how I and the world around me perceive the slowing down.
Being forced to slow down has been a reward in many ways – but also an uphill task. One of the things that people often say to me, as someone who freelances and takes up different projects, is that if I don’t “showcase” myself regularly, or take too long breaks, or have difficulty meeting deadlines, that people will forget me. That I will not be valued as a human anymore. Thus in many ways reminding me that my act of trying to not be busy is at odds with what the world prefers.
In the age of social media, this has taken a whole new turn. Jenny Odell, author of the book “How To Do Nothing” says: “In a situation where every waking moment has become the time in which we make our living, and when we submit even our leisure for numerical evaluation via likes on Facebook and Instagram, constantly checking on its performance like one checks a stock, monitoring the ongoing development of our personal brand, time becomes an economic resource that we can no longer justify spending on ‘nothing.’”
These pressures to keep “doing” consume me and I ponder about the rest, the maintenance and the sleep my body-mind needs. It is a reminder to self and to others that I am a human being, not a human doing. (This artwork is my go-to reminder). In the times of the pandemic as we explored in our season 1, we saw the many ways in which being occupied was preferred. The bold question that Jenny and many others ask then is “What happens when we do nothing?”
We hope you will tune into our social media as we try to pay attention to being over doing.