As a writer, I have a keen ear for language and I noticed something new this year. It's only one word but it keeps cropping up and like all shifts in language, it underscores a greater shift in our culture. The word is 'busy'.
'How are you doing?' 'I'm so busy. It's just hectic at the moment.'
Busy has become 2015's thing to be. In earlier eras it was fashionable to have leisure because leisure meant that you didn't have to work. But in post-crash Britain, we need to justify our existence by cramming every moment with activity. It's almost a competitive sport. To be busy has become about being needed - about being important. I met several people over Christmas who were so busy that they didn't take all their holidays this year. That made me wonder if busy has become important as a way to survive the recession. After all, being busy marks you out as indispensable. Busy, in that sense, is a political action. To be busy is to be a success. In the current political climate it seems we all spend a good deal of time justifying ourselves.
Like the recession, the trend has been underway for a while but this year a scale has been tipped. We monitor ourselves constantly whether on social media or simply using activity monitors. These tools are useful, of course, but it's almost as if we have put ourselves under surveillance to ensure we're using all of our time - so a stroll has become quantifiable as a certain number of steps (to be measured against the proscribed 10,000 a day) and a trip to the art gallery has become a Facebook or Twitter post.
Busy, I suppose, is the antithesis of creative living. One of the moments I remember most clearly this year was a morning when I arrived unexpectedly early to take a class. I slipped into a coffee shop nearby, ordered a cup, sat in the window and for twenty minutes, I watched the world go by. I daydreamed. I suddenly had a little space to stop and think. Honestly, it stands out as a moment of extraordinary and unexpected happiness.
The following day I made a very early New Year's Resolution: I decided not to be so busy. I had been getting up at six in the morning to write because there was no other space. I had been working at my desk till seven most evenings. It was stressful but what else was I going to do with so much on my plate? Well, after my coffee shop moment, I made two changes.
The first was hardly a real change at all. I decided to stop 'thinking busy'. It's relative, after all. Many of the tasks on my list still had to be undertaken, but they were mostly things I wanted to do. I love writing. I enjoy taking part in writing projects. I'm up for the activities in my women's group. I like managing the small business I run from home. My father has been ill this year and like the rest of my family, I've been helping out. So I simply decided there was time to do all of these things. I stopped rolling my eyes and being so breathless. In fact, I decided I'm lucky to have such a full life. I'd probably be bored if there wasn't so much going on. One person's jam-packed, crazy nightmare is another person's normal weekend. It's about finding the right busy for you.
Secondly, I decided to take little spaces and breathe into them. I now arrive 20 minutes early every week for that class and I go to the coffee shop for a daydream. During the summer I took fifteen minutes every day to nip to the park over the road and literally smell the roses - the borders were glorious. These tiny slivers of time have added value to the rest of my lovely, hectic days creating space for new ideas - meditative joy in a sea of activity.
Close to Christmas I invited an acquaintance to an event. 'I'm so busy. I can't,' she said. During the resulting chat, I realised that what she meant by busy was that she had, like many of us, a 9-5 job and a family. She simply didn't fancy going to the event and busy was her excuse. But in making that excuse she had left herself no choice. It became beyond her control, somehow. So in 2016 I've decided not to be at the mercy of busy. Busy is a privilege if you allow it to be, not a taskmaster and if you aren't careful, busy will enslave you. It's your choice. It's your time. Use it as you will.