Wednesday, April 17, 2013

To be…or to be busy – THAT is the question

"Ms. Erin, you are always so busy.”


What once was a standard and required state of being a mere two years ago has turned into a 4-letter word. Here, 'busy' has another meaning. When someone utters these words to me, I immediately wince because, in my community, this statement really means, "Ms. Erin, you don't have time for me."

Getting Things Done

In the early days at my site with no schedule and nowhere to be in particular, I’d immediately update my calendar and make a list of tasks that needed to get done to feel I was moving forward in my daily existence. Run, wash clothes, clean, study Indonesian, prepare lesson plans for school, so on and so forth. On slow days, the knowledge that I’d swept my room, taken all of my required daily Peace Corps medications, and trimmed my nails was enough to make me feel like I was really accomplishing something (f
or more on making up things to keep me busy, check out prior post "Science Fairs and 'I Don't Care's").

Getting things done.

Gets me to thinking….why do I require this completion of tasks, no matter how inconsequential they may be, to make me feel whole? Sure, my ibu gets her sweeping done, the trash gets burned, and we’ve never gone hungry as the meals get cooked, but I doubt she needs this endless list of items to complete to feel satisfied in her life. Her life is certainly as full, if not, fuller and more fruitful than mine.

Pace of Things Here

In the early days at my school, I’d look around at teachers just sitting in the teacher room. Not on a computer, not on a phone, not reading a book.  Maybe occasionally chatting, but for the most part, just sitting. Being.
Our ruang guru, or teacher room, in a rare 
moment when we are all glued to our laptops.

I remember thinking I’d go crazy doing that. I need to be doing something. I need music. I need a book. I need to constantly check for the immediate gratification and validation that a Facebook like brings. “So much wasted time” is all I could think. Just go home. You could be doing so many other things.

Now, I sort of admire it. I’ve certainly stretched my ability to “just be” here. Just sit in the teacher room or on a bus for what might be hours. And take what comes. Have a chat with someone. Think things over. Just enjoy the life that’s happening around me. Or embracing the revelations of life in these moments like…
  • realizing my family taught me the meaning of life from day 1, and how lucky I am to have that foundation now to try and share with other people... 
  • or how the evolution of Neil Patrick Harris’ career** may be one of the greatest of my generation… 
  • or how so many of the problems of the world come down to varying core values and how daunting and seemingly impossible bridging those differences can sometimes appear (look for upcoming post entitled “Big News! We are All Indeed Different!”)...
  • or how I want to make it a mission to bring back “take it easy” as an acceptable departing phrase…. 
  • or generally spending time in my own head, getting to know the inner array of nooks and crannies, for better or worse (oh my gosh, that’s the first time I have thought of an English muffin in awhile….oh man)... 
  • and reflecting on the genius of the band 2ge+her*** and wondering why we don’t talk about them more (Chris Farley’s brother with braces in a boy band…I'm unclear as to why we don't partake in this joy on a daily basis). 
This way of being - it’s liberating. One of my favorite things has been hanging out on my porch with my ibu and my host nieces, Ila and Ayuk. Just sitting and waiting for the rain to come.

It’s pretty much what life is all about.

I Want to “Be”
I recognize the value of this slower pace of life now so much more than I did two years ago, and one could argue I’ve become somewhat Indonesian myself in regard to time or the standard schedule interruptions that come.

For example, today I had only one late class scheduled, so I planned to get up early to do laundry and run. At 4am I get a text that we must report for senam (teacher aerobics at school) at 5:45am. Personal plans foiled, but no biggie. Once at school, I track down one of my teaching counterparts to confirm what we will do in class today, and he says there will be no class today because we will have a meeting instead. Gotcha.

My reactions to all of these things are pretty even keel now. Sure, I don’t have any clean clothes for a trip with my family tomorrow. Sure, coming to school especially when there is no class usually means sitting around when I could be home getting these other things done. Sure, these changes are inconsiderate of anything people already had planned. But now, I sort of appreciate these burps that make up my life.
  • First off, things rarely ever go exactly according to plan. I don’t know when we convinced ourselves that a planned, smoothly paved route is a normal way of life. Or that we truly have full control over our lives. I am grateful Indonesia brought me back to reality and helped me prepare for the more natural interruptions that I think life really brings with it. Granted, we could probably at least pick a date for graduation more than a couple weeks in advance, but hey, different strokes….
  • Second, as a person who gets charged up pretty easily, these interruptions have helped me practice how to swallow my initial reactions and sit on them a bit more. Grace has never been my forte. Luckily, I have the exercises Indonesia presents to me and my own personal PCV grace guru (thanks, MF) to tutor me on how to hone my calm and keep the cool.  
  • People sometimes just have better ideas than I do. I make plans and schedule based on what I think is best, but having to relinquish control, as so often happens here, I’ve gotten to experience great things I never knew I'd enjoy – like stand in fire, learn to long jump, or witness an uprising of teachers wanting to go to an amusement park. 
But I’m the Worst
Regardless of all this exercise and practice in “being”, it's hard to escape the fact that I just like getting things done. I like to feel in control. After that teacher aerobics today and pinning down the start time of the impromptu meeting (9:30am, which really meant it could start anywhere from 10am to 11:30am), I biked home, did my laundry, texted plans for an upcoming Peace Corps project, finished a book I was reading, and then biked back to school to attend the meeting. You can take the girl out of the city….

I’ve got a long way to go. Ah, balance, you’re a slippery little sucker. 

Take It Home

One reason I joined Peace Corps was to become a nice person again. In New York and at my job, the pace just didn’t allow the space for some things. Sometimes, I was just too busy to be kind. Too busy to be open. Too busy to learn why I should support one cause or another. Too busy to make myself "emotionally available". Too busy to look up from my computer at the person who was talking to me. Too busy to make new friends.

When asked at our final Peace Corps training what it is we have learned here that we want to bring back with us, this was mine: That when I am doing tasks or getting things done that I remember to stop and assess why I am doing things and who I am doing them for. To remember to ask myself: Do I need to be doing this right now? Am I choosing tasks over building relationships? Which is more valuable to me in this moment? 

So, when my Indonesian friends says to me, “Ms Erin, you’re so busy,” it’s my queue to examine what I’m doing – at the time and in the grand scheme. Because, not only does this mean, “You don’t have time for me,” in Indonesia, but isn’t this what 'busy' means pretty much everywhere?

Here are some of the great things that happen when I take time to not be busy on my porch: 


* Check out an article that inspired this post shared by fellow PCV Emily: The 'Busy' Trap

For sure, a bit pretentious, but favorite line: "if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter." 

** NPH craftily escaped the child stardom curse by making some key career moves - accepting roles that poke fun at himself in cameos, coming out and hitting the musical scene, voice overs in cartoons, and landing a gig as a womanizer in a long-running sitcom. At times now, I do find myself asking, "What Would NPH Do?"


*** I, for one, have loaded this on my desktop for daily viewing:

The story of the band 2ge+her runs deeper than the lyrical mastery or flashy American flag jumpsuits. In addition to the Farley connection already mentioned in the post above, Michael Cuccione, who played the youngest member of the band, Jason "QT" McKnight, had Hodgkin's Disease in real life. He died shortly after the group filmed the second season of their MTV series, and David Hasselhoff performed a tribute song at his memorial.  

Had I not just been sitting and "being" in the teacher room, it never would have occurred to me to devote the time to conduct this research. Thank you, Indonesia.

1 comment:

  1. OMG, just saw this now you beautiful writer! Love you!