To Be: Busy (Part 1)

“Busyness is the religion of distraction.”  —Terry Tempest Williams

“I’m Busy” is an answer, a shorthand, a mundane excuse that’s applied to a hundred mundane situations every day. We seem to keep this phrase on the tip of the tongue, and utter it quickly and often, as it so briskly sums up why something else isn’t, wasn’t, or won’t be.

But to be busy confers a kind of status, too, if that’s the kind of thing you want to be known for, and good at, as so many of us seem to.

“Are you staying busy?” The correct response, we all know, is Yes. We’ve been taught this. To be busy is a way of being or seeming successful, at least according to a certain way of thinking.


To not be busy, generally speaking, means that you are failing. Are you sure you’re trying hard enough?

I no longer wish to answer that question, which is just one more way that Late Capitalism hijacks the lives of perfectly good people. I am interested in other questions. If you ask if I’m busy I will change the subject.


“I cannot do what I want, because I’m doing what I must. Must I forever walk away from what is real and true and hard?” —Terry Tempest Williams

Such a crucial question: what is your relationship to what is real and true and hard? Are you interested? Inclined to look further? Too busy?

I try to teach writing and creative process in such a way that we look at all of these things: our culture’s urge to overdo it and over-schedule, as well as our deep yearning, most of us, to not be harried. To have some attention available for the real and the true.

This week, while preparing for Winter Poetry Forge, I returned to a beloved book by Helene Cixous, Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, in which she quotes Franz Kafka: “Paradise is not lost. We are the ones who haven’t yet regained it, and if we haven’t regained it, it’s because we’re suffering from two vices: laziness and impatience. As a result, we do nothing and don’t advance, we stop out of laziness, hurry from impatience. Between the two, the work of descending isn’t accomplished. Paradise is down below.”


Installation by Jenny Holzer.



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