A saw whined in the distance. A man got out of his work truck coughing. Birds chattered in the trees. Clouds hung low over the sea today blurring the horizon so that the Bay dissolved into sky. I had my red sweater zipped up to my neck because the sun hadn’t penetrated the cloud cover yet and I was cold. The sun looked like a bright white hole, a laser beam, drilling through the mists. G. came up the hill towards me, alone. “How are you?” I asked. “I’m dying,” she said “But I’m still going to continue up the hill and do the stairs on the other side.” “You don’t have your friends to distract you today,” I noted. “Tell me about it,” she said. She had this to motivate her, pointing to the extra pounds around her waist. “I know every body is beautiful, big and small…but my husband recently lost 30 pounds and he’s smaller than me now in the photographs and I don’t like it.” “I’m rooting for you,” I told her. “And I’m rooting for your knitting,” she said as she continued on her way to do the stairs. Shortly afterwards, G.’s walking partner, the woman with the round spectacles, came strolling towards me, her scruffy toy terrier on a leash, its skinny back legs flicking grass finishing up invisible business. I told her that G. had walked up the hill, and she thanked me and said how useful it was that I am here knitting. Later she came back down. “I have to go do my job now,” she said. “Where do you work?” “I have two jobs,” she said. “You must be really busy,” I said. She said, “I try not to look at it that way. I read a slogan recently that I really liked: Stop the Glorification of Busy.”
Of course, this is a slogan that I like very much as someone who has devoted hours of my life to “useless” tasks like knitting a rope to the sea or painting portraits that nobody wants to buy. It is easy for me to lose myself in busyness, efficiency, speed, the future, moneymaking schemes. Why? Because it makes me feel important, successful, focused. The addictive feedback loop of accomplishment and immediate gratification. Too, it is really hard to justify “work” that doesn’t pay. I have a friend who writes 4 hours aday on a novel, and has worked at it for the last 10 years. To have this kind of faith and devotion to one’s work (without tangible pay) feels miraculous to me. Recently, I heard about two artists who had made a pact to pay each other $20 per hour spent in the studio. If someone asks them to do something that conflicts with their studio time, they can honestly say that they have to go to work. At the end of the month, they don’t owe each other any money so long as both of them have maintained their end of the agreement…This motivates them to keep making art. The problem with art is that it requires far more time, energy, and materials than anyone but the very wealthy can afford to repay. I kept of tally of how much time I was pouring into my art for a while…it just made me bitter and resentful. The impetus to make art arises from a different economy, an older one. Before time equaled money. Before assembly lines. Time as life energy. Time as gift. Time as mystery. Time as devotion.
Whenever I start marching to the drumbeat of the world’s busy beat, there is a gentle voice that asks me why and what for? I want to do work that has meaning in time and eternity, even if it doesn’t immediately pay off my grad school loans. To keep my heart clear and uncluttered so I can hear the inner voice that helps me discern the line that leads me through each day to the end of my life on earth. I can’t say yes to everything, can’t pursue every possible venue. I give myself permission to “waste” time, to cultivate a life of integrity and peace. And I also give myself permission to keep the “real” job, and the commissions, and to pay off my debts. It is a delicate balancing act like the boy who zipped past me on his bicycle, raised his arms off the handle bars and spread them like wings.