Tag Archives: Relationships

On Being Busy

According to Merriam-Webster, my dictionary of choice since reading Kory Stamper‘s clever, hilarious Word by Word, the word “busy” has five definitions:

1a. engaged in action
1b. being in use
2. full of activity
3. foolishly or intrusively active
4. full of distracting detail

At my school, there’s an obsession with being busy. People are constantly talking about how busy they are and that they’re busy all the time. Yes, there’s a lot going on. Yes, we are pulled in multiple directions. Yes, sometimes lunch is skipped or rushed or postponed until later. Yes, many people come in early, stay late, and work weekends. Busy. Sure.

But there are also periods of the year or even times of the week that are less busy. There are times when we sit around and chat, times when lunch is leisurely, times when a few people take it upon themselves to decorate the department office. There are times when we check personal email, read the news, scroll through Facebook, or even write blog posts. Not as busy.

In many ways, I think claiming that we’re busy is an excuse. It gives us something to hide behind when we’re tired, when we don’t want to move onto the next thing, when we’re overwhelmed for some other reason. It gives us an instant connection with others while simultaneously absolving us (or so we think) for being unfriendly or impolite. After all, we’re in a rush. We’re busy.

I don’t quite buy that. As one of my colleagues says, “We wear busy as a badge – and we need to stop.”

Self-Worth
For many people I work with, being busy seems like a goal. To those people, if you’re clearly working harder than others, that says something about you. If you’re not busy, you’re clearly not contributing as much as the next person. Being busy gives a purpose to the work being done and therefore meaning to your job. And to be clear, I’m not talking about people who are legitimately working steadily for long periods of time. I’m talking about people who are “always busy” . . . but never seem to do anything important or always seem behind.

Avoidance
Claiming that we’re busy is also sometimes a way of avoiding the things that we actually have to do, or things we know we should do but aren’t quite ready to face. It’s easy to make excuses when we’re “already busy” doing something else, which only makes it more challenging to do the things we need to do. And because “I’m busy” is an excuse our society has decided is acceptable, we give ourselves excuses to procrastinate (which is something we decry for different reasons, funnily enough). We can avoid doing things we don’t want to do because we’re busy, which only makes them harder when we can’t avoid them anymore.

Excuses
I know several people, and I’m sure you can think of a few, who use being busy as an excuse to avoid difficult conversations. We can avoid asking others how they are. We can avoid addressing problems that have come up in our relationships. We tell ourselves, and perhaps also tell others, that everything will settle back down when we’re not so busy and besides, we’re too busy right now to deal with that. These excuses become patterns. They become the behavior itself. They act as barriers to things that really matter and they can be harmful.

Alternatives
We don’t have to be so busy.

We also don’t have to claim that we’re so busy. Because much of the time, we’re probably not. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We don’t actually like, being busy – remember?

We can choose differently, as Leo Babauta writes on his excellent blog zen habits. We can choose to slow down, to simplify, to cultivate a sense of contentment. While I encourage a read of the whole post, these are they key ideas of what he says:

Slowing down is about pausing in the middle of the rush. Taking a breath. Creating a little space. Reflecting on what we’re doing. Finding a little mindfulness, being present with our bodies, breath and surroundings. . . .

This is what it means to simplify. Picking one thing (even if it’s just answering one of those emails that have been sitting in your inbox for a week), and then letting go of everything else. Letting this one thing be enough, for right now. Letting it be everything. . . .

What does it mean for this “one thing” to be enough? It means acknowledging that it’s impossible to do everything on your list, impossible to get everything done. So you have to focus on one thing, and let that be enough.

These are alternatives to being busy that I think are valuable, energizing, and far healthier than just rushing from this thing to the next thing and back again.

Slowing down is what lets us experience our lives rather than just letting them pass by.

Simplifying is what allows us to prioritize and do one thing well instead of several things poorly.

Cultivating a sense of contentment is being satisfied with accomplishing the one thing.

Wouldn’t that be better?

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Starrucca, Pennsylvania – September 2016

On Loving

Love is a verb.

A verb is an action.

An action is doing, is being.

Love is behaving in a way that shows care, that listens, that hears, that sees. Love is affirming others, making them part of our lives, creating spaces where we exist together.

Love is intimate and love is public. Love takes many forms. In its truest form, perhaps, love is peace.


Over cups of coffee, they talk about work. They talk about family. They talk about books. 

She leans forward. “And what about you?” She uses his name for the first time in their conversation. “Are you happy?”

He nods. A shy smile. Mentions a few mutual friends. Mentions someone’s new girlfriend. “I’ve been seeing someone, as well,” he says, his smile broader. 

Her own smile matches his and she’s happy. She asks questions; he gives answers.

“Are you in love?”

He tilts his head side to side, small smile on his lips and quiet joy in his eyes, a look she’s seen a thousand times before. “Yeah.”

His smile grows and she’s happy.


Loving is wishing for others what we want for ourselves, and sometimes more.

Loving is playing a part in the joys of others and doing what we can to create those joys.

And as with everything else, love surprises. We’re sometimes stunned, taken aback. People we’ve never imagined walk into our lives. People we’ve rarely been without fade into the background. Sometimes, people who love us are generous in ways we’ve never known, astonishing in the ways they express love to us and welcome our love in return. People who love show care, compassion, forgiveness. They accept who we were, affirm who we are, and remain part of our journey as we become.


The first emotion is happiness. Others would come later, but happiness remains for the rest of the afternoon.


Sometimes the people we love stand by our side and cling as tightly to our hands as we do to theirs. Sometimes they hold us up and sometimes it is our turn to steady them. Sometimes we close our eyes and jump together; sometimes one encourages the other along. Sometimes we hesitate because we’re not sure. And then, sometimes, we know.

Yet, our paths might diverge. One might ask how far while the other has already jumped. One might run headlong into whatever’s next while the other is unsure of what’s now. We might make mistakes. We might hurt. We might cry. We might realize it is best to go our separate ways, forge unique trails, learn who we are as individuals. We might find ourselves completely different people.

Sometimes we stop speaking. We might realize the most loving action is to walk away or to let another go. Sometimes we get back in touch. We might look on from afar, holding our breath.


They finish their coffee and go for a walk. They talk some more.

“You’ve changed a lot,” she observes.

“Yes,” he agrees, “and so have you.”

She nods. They look at each other and she puts up her hand. They high-five.

When it’s time to go, it’s his turn to put up his hand. They high-five again. They’d hugged hello out of habit but hug goodbye out of fondness. Out of love.


Love is more than a feeling.

Love is a verb.

A verb is an action.

When we act, we do. We are. We become. We can love those around us, and we can love ourselves, through the choices we make, our accomplishments, the lives we lead.

We love through what we do. We fall in love when others respond, when they let us in, when they act towards us as we do towards them. We can love without being in love, but we cannot fall in love without loving.

Love is more than a feeling.

Love is a verb.

A verb is an action.

Love is doing. Love is being. Love is peace.

On Dreams

I think I’m a lucid dreamer. Or maybe this is just how dreams go. The science behind lucid dreaming is sketchy at best, as is much of the science behind sleep, but I know where I am in many of my dreams and make decisions about what I want to happen next. Once I’ve woken up, sometimes I can fall back into the dream and redo what has already “happened.” My own laughter has woken me more than once in the middle of the night, but I don’t think I’ve ever woken up in tears. I think the last time I had a nightmare was in college. I woke up with my arm outstretched, grabbing at something that wasn’t there.

I dreamed about this blog post last night. Or, rather, I dreamed about what I was actually thinking but couldn’t articulate when I spent a couple hours writing yesterday afternoon. That’s why I’m rewriting it.

We sleep. Neurons fire. Things make more sense once our brains have had time to process.

Last night I dreamed about love. I dreamed about what we used to talk about, where we used to go, what we used to do. I woke up with a physical ache that I soothed by resetting my breathing; I turned off that dream before rolling over to fall back asleep. I liked the memories. I didn’t like the longing. Dreams can pull us back into the past and the past can be dangerous. Just look at Gatsby.

I’ve learned that it is one thing to dwell on the past, to romanticize it and see it through rose-colored glasses, but it is quite another, I think, to look upon the past as an old friend, with the knowing smile that comes from the expected. The school year is ending, which means that this, too, will join the past. This is the time of year when I begin to look back on what was, which always leads me to think about what could be or could have been.

“The past” enters, stage left.

Since my life follows a school calendar, “next year” begins with the start of the school year in August and “this year” ends in just a week. Soon, I’ll speak of “last year,” meaning right now and the ten months preceding it. Where we are now, the “end of the year,” is a lot of fun, busy, and always bittersweet. At international schools, we say goodbye a lot and at least for me, it never gets easier. We turn over a lot of new leaves.

Sometimes I indulge when I find myself feeling sentimental. Sometimes I go up to the roof and sit in the dark, eyes closed, Lana del Rey or Bon Iver filling my ears, a soundtrack for feelings too wrapped up in themselves to be put to words. Sometimes I run through a few old favorites – things that were, unspoken dreams of things that will never be, imagination for what is still within the realm of possible but only on a technicality. My mind is filled with people I’ve known and loved, maybe for a long time or maybe they’re brand new. People come and go in transient cities, in international schools, and we’re often just counting time.

Thinking about the end of the year got me thinking about the past and is likely why I dreamed about a love I once had. The past becomes the story we tell ourselves, true or not, and it’s what we do with the story that matters. We write those stories all the time.

This is the end of the school year, prompting me to write the story about wanting to be better next year. This is the part when I am reminded of why, how, and who I was. Who I am. Who I can be. This is the part that reminds me of the people who have been with me along the way and I miss them, even if we have yet to be apart.

But of course, sometimes, my imagination catches me off guard, an enemy rather than a friend. Those are the times when I find myself angry or hurt, which are really just emotions that mask feeling fear. Maybe I don’t have nightmares because I can admit when I’m afraid. It doesn’t come up in the dark the way it used to and I don’t push it away as insistently anymore. I’ve learned to make my peace with people and times and events, recall what I’ve learned from them, and wish them well.

When I let my mind wander, I find myself writing stories about what I want and what I hope for, both for myself and for others. I invent conversations that I wish had taken place, rewrite conversations that could have easily gone another way, and imagine conversations yet to happen. Sometimes my imagination is like a tape that won’t stop running, no matter how many times I press stop. Sometimes it fills me such delight that it’s almost disappointing to keep my dreams to myself. And sometimes I catch myself with a silly grin on my face and can’t help but laugh out loud. I think about my people, the broad category that they are, and hold them tightly.

The end of the year is a time of transition. Living on a school calendar provides a convenient opportunity to make changes, restart, and try again, but it also forces endings and beginnings, often sooner than I’m ready for them.

But here we are. Already. So soon. And yet, we thought it would never come. Or so we told ourselves months ago. There’s so much time and never enough. This is the time to remember or say goodbye to people who have built my dreams, occupied a space in my mind and made it their own. It’s the time to send love and good wishes half the world over, to those gone, those going, and all of those I have left behind.

Thank you for being part of my story, part of my dreams. Lucky are those who will come to know you; lucky are we who already do.

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