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.

Working on the Holidays

There has been a lot of backlash lately against retailers being open on Thanksgiving in the United States, and I’ll admit, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for Scrooge-like corporate executives who fear making a little less profit because they’ve given their employees some time with family. However, even if every retailer remained closed on Thanksgiving, there are a lot of people who would have to work, and I’m truly grateful for them. Some of those folks are pretty obvious, such as the doctors and nurses who work in the Emergency Room, fire crews, and utility workers. Will you be watching one of the big Thanksgiving ball games or perhaps the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Marathon? If so, be grateful for the people running the television stations and keeping the Internet up and running. Speaking of those games, there are the people who keep the stadiums clean, run the concessions, and sell tickets.

WIYN-2

As it turns out, Kitt Peak National Observatory does not close down for Thanksgiving either. The universe doesn’t take the day off, and neither do the astronomers who study it. This year, I lucked out and my schedule gave me the entire Thanksgiving weekend off work, which is a nice change of pace. I’ve had plenty of years where I’ve had to work all of the weekend or part of it. The photo above is from Thanksgiving 2013, when my daughter kept me company in the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope’s control room. The observer, Dr. Louise Edwards, was working remotely from Yale University taking spectra using the computer. Dr. Edwards communicated with us using Skype and it actually provided a neat opportunity for my daughter to interact with a woman who not only works in the sciences, but was featured on a Canadian postage stamp.

This brings me to one last group—those who work on the holidays simply because they enjoy it. I may have the weekend off from the observatory, but I’m in the home stretch of working through edits on The Astronomer’s Crypt and I have an exciting story idea that brings members of the Clockwork Legion and the Scarlet Order together that’s clamoring for me to write. Yeah, I’ll be making some quality time to hang out with family and friends, but you can bet that I’ll also spend some time working on these projects because, darn it, they’re fun. In fact, not getting a chance to work on these projects would almost feel like a punishment.

Another thing I enjoy is getting out to meet all of you. Because of that, I plan to be in Tucson on Saturday, November 28 at Bookmans on Speedway Boulevard from noon until 2pm for Tucson Writes. November is Shop Local-Give Local Month and Bookmans is celebrating by bringing in a number of local authors to sell and autograph their books. This is a great way to do some shopping for the holidays and get to know many local authors. I’ll have copies of all my novels there. If you’re in Tucson next weekend, I hope I’ll see you there!