Leah McFall: The age of busy

"I brush my teeth on the toilet. You can linger on that image; I must race on."
Illustration: Alistair Hughes

"I brush my teeth on the toilet. You can linger on that image; I must race on."

OPINION: As I sit here in top-to-toe EziBuy, I wonder: what happened to the person who could once spend an entire Saturday – and then a whole Sunday – looking for the perfect belt?

She's long gone. Today, I have about 90 minutes every four months to shop for clothes. This explains why I'm dressed from a catalogue. I don't go shopping; I conduct drone strikes.

Unflinching and emotionless, I approach my target. Does it fit? Can I bung it in a standard wash? If yes, I purchase the item. No collateral damage, just a smoking hole where the garment had been. Time's up; I return to base.

(FYI, internet shopping is not the answer. The last time I went on Asos, it was to help choose a gown for Em, my maid of honour. It turned out to be a little bit cheap; during her speech, the diamantes were dropping off her bodice. Luckily we were all a few champagnes down. "Of course these diamonds aren't real," she told everyone, gaily. "I'm from Invercargill.")

I used to have weeks to waste. Once, I did one of those life-changing women's mini-triathlons. You know the ones. Everyone wears matching T-shirts, and entire families turn out to urge their mums across the finish line, which is usually represented by an arch of pink balloons.

I finished the triathlon. But while fellow runners, revved up by the experience, went on to leave their cheating husbands, lose dramatic amounts of weight, or return to university for a law degree so they could fight through the courts to release their wrongfully imprisoned brother, you know what I did?

I sat in a beanbag and read Woman's Day. For a year.

Not any more. Who has the time? I'll tell you who: nobody.

We're all so busy! Busy! Busy! You have Pilates before your working breakfast, followed by two reports and a muffin, standing up, while on the phone to Manila, trying to change your internet banking password.

Then there are emails to open, followed by a PowerPoint presentation (fact: it won't come up the first time. You'll have to find someone who knows how to work the doodad. Secondary fact: this person is also the only one with the key to the cupboard with the Jif in it, and is also most likely of any of your workmates to give you mouth-to-mouth in an emergency).

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Lunch. Lunch! Who has the time? Followed by collecting your dry-cleaning, followed by collecting your children, returning the library books, after-school activities, making tea/eating tea/cleaning up after tea/bath-time/story-time/bed-time, a large glass of wine, half a page of Joanna Trollope, and slumber.

Everyone is swarming around the hive of Busy. And on the roads, Busy meets Angry, usually in a Holden, right up your back bumper, hassling you to move, you silly cow! (Fact: the tailgater is almost always towing a boat called Mr Bojangles.)

I'd invite you to take a hard look at yourself, Mr Bojangles]. You're in a hurry to relax. With that attitude, the fish won't be biting.

Meanwhile, I shuffle dates like packs of cards. People cancel on me, I postpone on them. I text as I cook, and brush my teeth on the toilet. You can linger on that image; I must race on.

Meanwhile, we're all boasting about how busy we are.

"I haven't seen a movie in months."

"Oh? I haven't seen my husband in months."

"Well I haven't seen my own yahoo in months. I just don't have time to look down."

Our calendars are chessboards and we are the pawns. Why not be the Grand Master of your own life? The bustling has to stop. Being busy isn't a virtue; you shouldn't get a badge. You should get credit, in my view, for taking it slow.

I'll go first. My bold move is not to take my children anywhere. Not for us, the circuit from Te Papa to Junglerama to story time at the library. Instead we stay at home, often just in our pants.

I give them tubs of water, and chalks to colour the fence. Once, in a stroke of genius, I emptied dry pasta shells into the bucket of my son's digger. Hours of fun, he had. Except the next time, all I had to give him was a packet of risoni. This was regrettable.

It took 45 minutes to clean that up; we took it in turns.

There was something fascinating about watching the pasta clatter up the tube. As I vacuumed, it occurred to me there was nothing else I'd rather be doing. It was a total waste of time. How retro! It reminded me of the good old days.

Doing next to nothing is a counter-cultural act in this, the Age of Busy. Somebody should do a thesis on it. But it won't be me. I'm snowed.

 - Sunday Magazine


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