Tending to Busy-ness

I read an interesting article on the New York Times website about a week and a half ago that suggested that being perpetually busy has become something of a status symbol. I can see that. I know a lot of successful and ambitious people and judging from our conversations and their social media feeds, they are in demand and on the go and they like to talk about how they are in demand and on the go. The article also suggests that there’s a danger in people becoming too busy, that we need to allow some idleness to creep into our lives. As someone who has two careers, one in astronomy and one in writing, the article definitely spoke to me.

Presenting a talk at the Astronomical Society of Las Cruces

I see this attitude of equating busy-ness with status and success starting in school days. My daughters were and are encouraged to participate in as many extracurricular activities as possible, partly with the justification that listing them on college applications would make them more appealing to those institutions. For that matter, I was told much the same thing back in the days when I applied for college.

I feel like this attitude of busy-ness being a status symbol is easily exploited by the powers that be. I won’t go so far as to say there has been any kind of conspiracy on the part of business owners to make this environment happen, but the powers that be are often quite adept at exploiting and encouraging trends that function to their benefit. After all, if being busy is a status symbol, it makes it easier for an employer to ask an employee to take a larger work load for no added benefit, other than the benefit of the status the employee gains from being busier. In all fairness, there can be benefit from this, a busier-looking employee might be the one looked at first for promotion, as long as that busy-ness produces results and is recognized.

The New York Times article extolled the virtues of idleness. It suggested that true idle time where are thoughts are not directed are important to both creativity and productivity and we are in some danger of not allowing ourselves enough idle time. I would certainly agree that when I don’t take enough idle time for myself, I have a hard time coming up with ideas for my writing or being at my best on my astronomy job. Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of getting eight hours of sleep in a 24-hour cycle (at least as close to eight hours as my work life allows. That can be a challenge at the observatory in winter!) I also find it’s important to have quiet time each day just to let my mind wander and daydream. When the weather’s cooperative, I often combine this with a walk through my neighborhood. This way my mind not only gets some idle time, but I’m doing something healthy as well! At any rate, these daydreams often lead me to story ideas. About the time I’ve become bored with the wanderings, is about the time I feel compelled to sit down at the keyboard and write.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was writing The Pirates of Sufiro, and before being busy was a status symbol in its own right, I wrote a scene where Manuel Raton, the son of a farmer and a bit of a dreamer, was speaking to Sam Stone who aspired to be a powerful businessman. Manuel chided Sam for not taking enough time to relax and explore the world around him. He said he didn’t want to turn into the kind of person who was all work and no play. Somehow that seems like it’s become a timely scene. That’s one of the reasons I’m working on a new edition of the novel. If you want to see the updated chapters as they’re rewritten and also help me reach the goal of making this an ad-free blog, you can support my Patreon campaign at http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers.

Away to College

Today finds me in New Orleans, Louisiana, where I’m leaving my daughter to start her college career at Tulane University. It’s an exciting, bittersweet time and I find myself remembering when I went away to college thirty years ago. I grew up in Southern California and, like my daughter, wanted to experience some place different when I went to school. Of the schools I was accepted to, I decided on the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in the small town of Socorro. One of its strong appeals was that the offices for the VLA radio telescope were on campus. Moving from a city sixty miles east of Los Angeles to a town of 8,000 people was a huge change. Here’s the view from my dorm room.

dorm-view

I remember the combination of nerves and excitement from my first day. I looked forward to meeting new people. I hoped I would do well in classes and that the classes would actually be engaging. I remember the uncertainty about meeting my roommate for the first time. It turns out we got along rather well. Our relationship was not without difficulties, but I’m pleased to say we’ve remained friends even over the distance of time and space. New Mexico Tech proved to be an extremely difficult school, but I graduated in four years and I even spent my senior year working at the VLA doing preliminary site survey work for the telescope that would become the ALMA Array.

While working on my physics degree at New Mexico Tech, I pursued my writing. I worked on short stories and even a Star Trek novel I hoped one day to sell to Pocket Books. When I realized that would be a challenge, I created a new universe for that story. That work laid the foundation for The Pirates of Sufiro and its sequels. After graduating, I stayed for graduate school. During that time, I found my first writer’s group.

Since college, I’ve been constantly employed either in the astronomy or writing fields. I feel like my time in college set me on a good path toward a sustainable career and I feel good about the education my daughter will receive at Tulane. I will miss my daughter terribly, but I’m also excited for the opportunities ahead of her.

Now some people may read this and think that since my daughter’s attending a private university like Tulane we must be very well off, indeed. In fact, my daughter is able to go through a combination of scholarships and grants. My choice of career has had many rewards, but a top-dollar income isn’t one of them. What’s more, I may have full time employment at an observatory, but writing is a significant part of my income.

I hope you’ll take a moment to browse my books page to see if there’s something you’d enjoy. Each title and cover will take you to a page with more info and buying links. Of course, not only will you be helping us out as our family goes through changes, you’ll be getting an exciting, thrill packed story in return.