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Against Busyness

I have been reading Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed: Work and Play When You Have No Time recently, and enjoying it thoroughly. It is one of those books that looks like one thing but is almost another: it looks like a productivity/business/personal development book on the surface, but it is also a rich cultural history of time, leisure and what constitutes a good life.

There’s so much to recommend about it: it’s sharply written, well-researched, and does a phenomenal job of tracing how these “natural” ideas about time and productivity are deeply tied to gender, economics and other factors in social context. I’m really enjoying it thoroughly, to the point where I kind of don’t want to return it to my local library! It’s a real smartypants read, but very accessible and non-academic.

But this isn’t a smartypants review of it. Because, as I was reading it, I noticed my underlying emotional reaction and realized it was: Boy, am I so happy I don’t relate to this book! Which was weird, and worthy of deconstruction.

It was kind of embarrassing thing to realize. Schulte writes a lot about herself in the book, in a good way — her harried juggling of her work as a reporter for the Washington Post, her marriage, her childrearing, her householding. But it wasn’t that I didn’t relate to her role overload — I have plenty to do and lots of projects, relationships, and priorities to manage. It was that I realized: I’m not that frenzied anymore. I don’t periodically announce, “I’m so busy!” like I used to when I was living in New York.

If you read the book, you know how insanely profane such a statement is. No matter who you are or what you do, you must be busy. Or, you just aren’t important, a successful human being. If you aren’t busy, you are lame, a slacker, not fulfilling your potential. And reading Overwhelmed, I felt maybe there was something a little wrong with me. And then I opened my hippie productivity planner and tried to find a list to make. (List-making makes me feel very important to myself.) It was a bit of a crisis, oddly: am I not fulfilling my human potential? Am I wasting precious time? Am I a loser?

But then I backtracked, slowed down, stopped the shame spiral. Not-busyness for me, I realized, is the end result of many major shifts and decisions, some of which I’ve covered here. My notions of success have changed; my desire to have different kind of relationships as well. Changing my approach to finances and prosperity played a role in keeping me less busy. It wasn’t a deliberate move, but slowly I reconfigured my life towards a less frenetic, jam-packed existence.

I’ve always been deeply interested in our experiences of time, and have written about kairos time (the way we “lose” time when we’re immersed in something we love doing) vs. chronos time (the sense of time represented by stopwatches, deadlines). I guess you can say I’ve made more of an effort to shift my life to privilege kairos time: time that hasn’t been sliced up by distraction or obligation or competing priorities. I’ve refused well-paying jobs that demanded 60-70 hours workweeks, for example. I moved from New York, which reduced my expenses considerably and gives me more flexibility in the type of work I take. I don’t work in film anymore, or any job that requires significant “face time” on someone else’s schedule. I’m very privileged to be able to be in a position to make these decisions, but it wasn’t like I had it right away — I chipped away at it slowly, incrementally. And this affects my finances, my social network and my opportunities. But it also gives me swathes of beautifully open kairos time. Reading Schulte’s book makes me realize what a rare approach this is. Or perhaps not rare, but not framed in these notions of kairos vs. chronos.

(You may think “Big deal!” but kairos time is vitally important to our happiness and perhaps to our progress overall. Kairos is where we invent stories, innovations, works of art. Our brains need kairos time to fully rest and revitalize — just grabbing a quarter-hour of rest here and there won’t truly relax you. Schulte makes the sharp observation that socially, historically, and culturally, institutions and individuals have privileged men’s kairos time over women’s — she has loads of historical and statistical information in Overwhelmed, and makes a strong case for time as a feminist issue.)

Ironically, as I was reading Overwhelmed, I actually did consult my planner and agenda a lot less than usual. Partly because it’s kind of senioritis season and a lot of major projects and work stuff wrapped up, but maybe, after reading so much about the toxic effects of our cultural elevation of busyness, I was just more well-aware of the larger imperative to fill our lives to the brim with perfectionism, over-achievement and fueling acquisition. I wanted the mental space to think about what’s important — after all, no one’s eulogy or obituary will ever read, “And you know what else was so awesome about this person? They were so busy!” And so I closed the book when I was done and felt relieved. If I don’t directly relate to Overwhelmed, I must be doing something right!

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Soul + Wisdom on May 28th, 2014 | No Comments »

On Wonder (Or, Listening to Unwound in Cars)

unwound

I always seem to say this a lot these days, but how can it be May already? This year is flying by so quickly. It just seemed like New Years not so long ago, and we had a spandy-new year to fill with experiences, emotions, projects and meaning. So far I have been humming along in life — my work and job situation has shifted and evolved, I (FINALLY!) finished writing the novel I started in the fall, and life has felt very rich and full in many ways in terms of friendship, community, and expansive new experiences. Yes, there have been lots of tumult, but it bulldozed a lot of unnecessary attachments out of my life and forced me to look at deep underlying emotions and patterns within myself, and I can truly say I’ve learned a lot.

But I’ve been thinking about my original New Year’s intention, which was to have a simple yet profound experience of wonder. Of course, that was kind of a nutsy resolution to begin with…because WTF is wonder, anyway? What makes it profound? It’s definitely way more amorphous, ambiguous and elusive than the usual “Exercise more” routine you pledge to follow starting January 1. It was a fun thing to announce — and a sincere wish and longing — but taking it apart to really analyze what wonder is and how to create experiences of it seemed so big and unwieldy. And honestly, life got so crazy and nutso right at the beginning of the year that I just forgot.

And then I read Arianna Huffington’s new book Thrive Overall a pretty average book about the need to incorporate wisdom and well-being into our definitions of what constitutes success — nice message, but with about as much depth as, yes, a HuffPo article. But she has a chapter about wonder in there, which functioned as a kind of pinch, a wakeup call, a Post-It to remember and ask, “Oh yeah, how is that whole wonder thing going for you, Kat?”

Wonder, according to the book, is basically a feeling of astonishment or admiration, often brought about by a change in perspective — in other words, feeling the immensity of the world around you, or feeling the utter smallness of yourself in a way that is both awe-inspiring and humbling. And when I looked at it this way, I realized how narrow and humdrum my perspective has been lately — my tumult had made me focus on my 99 problems, so to speak, and while I had to attend or else life would fall apart, it came at the expense of a larger, broader perspective on everything.

But what provokes wonder? For me, it’s been: seeing the ocean, or any immense, beautiful nature scene; seeing sublimely stunning art; listening to breathtakingly moving music. I remember feeling wonder in the redwood groves of Muir Woods, or seeing the Pacific for the first time. I felt wonder when I held my newborn niece in my arms and she first opened her eyes, or holding my nephew after he was born and feeling amazed at having a whole new member of my family to love. Wonder often sneaks up on you, often in the eddies of quiet and silence, so you just can’t go out and think, “Oh, yeah, let’s go out and experience some wonder!”

So I’d been thinking about all this, thinking wonder is out of my reach…and then I had an experience of it, in the most unexpected way: in a car, listening to a band.

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Soul + Wisdom on May 13th, 2014 | 15 Comments »

So You Were Accepted By an MFA Program

Congratulations! After all those personal statements, interviews, recommendations and a generalized state of anxiety/expectation, you’re probably feeling pretty good about life. You should revel in that feeling! Enjoy it, embrace it and, please, try to at least remember a little about this moment: that flush of excitement, that delicious feeling of being chosen and, yes, a little validated.

Please bookmark this post, and when you’re done celebrating, come back here for a little straight talk. Because while you’re probably like, “Um, Kat, why? I already know I’m gonna go!”, I’m here to say, “Sure, but let’s be sure you know exactly what you’re choosing…and let’s do some things now that’ll help you make it through the times when you’re like ‘WTF WAS I THINKING WITH THIS GRAD SCHOOL BUSINESS?!!!'” Because you will question yourself, but tapping into your memory of this celebratory, hopeful, excited point will help keep you just a little from grad art school blues.

Take a moment to write down why you applied to school

Make a list, free associate, draw or take a photograph or something…but whatever you do, try to remember the big reasons why you want to attend a program in the first place. And while you’re at it, jot down what it was you wanted to learn, your goals, the ways you hope to grow and learn with grad school. At some point, you will be so sleep-deprived, disheartened, irritated, overwhelmed and BUSY that you will lose track of why you made this life-altering decision for yourself, so it helps to see a reminder of it, written at the time you actually had the most amount of idealistic hope.

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Creativity + Writing on May 8th, 2014 | 6 Comments »

So You Were Rejected By An MFA Program

I do remember this time many years ago, when I was anxiously awaiting for my letters of acceptance from the MFA programs I applied to. I had that sense of my life trajectory hinging upon it, the course of my existence waiting for this great, giant, neon sign. Do I go back to the East Coast? Do I stay in San Francisco and find a new path for myself?

Ironically, waiting to find out if I was going to get a master’s in filmmaking made me feel as if I were in the middle of my own life-movie, and I was in that montage sequence that showed me keeping busy, checking the mailbox, going out, checking the mailbox, going on trips and then checking the mailbox once again when I got back.

I’ve been in the position of getting a “Yay!” letter; I’ve also been in the other position of being rejected. I’ll tackle both, because both are what I call “pivot points,” though in different ways. This is the more obvious “How to cope with being rejected” post, where you’re probably feeling discouraged, unhappy, flummoxed, sad or angry. You might be wondering why the hell you spent all that time and money applying, only to get nothing. You may be feeling like you’re untalented. You might just be pissed. Here’s what you can do with all that, as well as a bit of tough love and a wallop of comfort:

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Creativity + Writing on May 1st, 2014 | 1 Comment »

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