Take Your Time

Why our busy nation needs to chill out


| January-February 2005



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Yuko Shimizu

 

In her 1929 classic, A Room of One’s Own, author Virginia Woolf wrote: “It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.” A lovely thought, but who has time to be idle anymore? These days, we’re so busy living in multiple moments—cell phone in one hand, BlackBerry in the other—that we never find time to just focus on the moment, much less indulge in leisure. In these pages, we celebrate the art of taking a break from the American go-go way of life, and finding a sanctuary in which to reflect and recharge. So, take a breath, turn the page, and prepare to exhale.—The Editors 

Lately, I’ve been approaching bedtime the way, I assume, marathoners approach the finish line, which is to say, exhausted and in need of a nourishing IV. Buoyed by the frenetic pace of what philosophy professor Al Gini has called “the Everydayathon” of modern life, I leapfrog from errand to errand, desperate to get my unwieldy to-do list under control. No longer do I have time in my overbooked life for the kind of roomy, deep-focus activities that used to sustain me. The bookcase behind my bed is a shrine to my aborted attempts at reading novels, my e-mail inbox a painful reminder of the nurturing friendships I’ve let drift away. I even have a slow cooker I’ve never used. 

Indeed, many people these days seem to suffer from what comedian Ellen DeGeneres has termed TBS, or Too-Busy Syndrome. We speed date, guzzle Red Bull, race to yoga, schedule Cesareans, and, in the ultimate catch-22, engage in faux-leisure activities such as scrapbooking, which requires us to pack our schedules ever more tightly in order to glean experiences worthy of scrapbooking. Quips DeGeneres: “It’s enough to make you miss Mayberry, isn’t it?” 

It’s a joke, but an apt one. Many Americans, worn out by what former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins calls “this culture’s mad theology of speed,” have started to cast their minds back to the rural values of simplicity associated with small towns like Mayberry, the famously “easy and slow” setting of The Andy Griffith Show. In fact, four months before the 2004 presidential election, renowned Republican pollster Frank Luntz revealed that lack of free time was the biggest concern among swing voters. Not the economy. Not health care. Not even the war in Iraq. 

“The number one thing that matters to them is that they don’t have the time that they want for their job, for their kids, for their spouse, for themselves, for their friends,” Luntz said on NOW with Bill Moyers (July 2, 2004). “The issue of time matters to them more than anything else in life.”