Wednesday 17 January 2018

Eloquent plea for time serendipity versus busyness

Overwhelmed: Work Love and Play When No One Has the Time, Brigid Schulte, Bloomsbury, €18.60

Hands on mum: Author Brigid Schulte
Hands on mum: Author Brigid Schulte
John Drennan

John Drennan

Time; or rather the absence of it has been a constant human obsession. Robert Herrick warned those virgins to make 'much of time' to 'gather ye rosebuds while ye may'; Andrew Marvell warned a recalcitrant lover over the dangers presented by 'time's winged chariot' whilst Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland invented the White Rabbit who introduced himself to the world by wailing "Oh Dear, Oh Dear, I shall be late''.

Sadly, increasingly in a post-recession world everyone feels, like the rabbit, that they are eternally late. In a more civilized age than today the Greek philosopher Aristotle claimed ''we work to have leisure; on which happiness depends''

Today, those of us who live in an economy (as distinct to a society) dominated by unfriendly oligarchs and their feeble political cheerleaders, leisure has evolved into the modern equivalent of 'impure thoughts'.

As an award-winning Washington Post journalist and a mother, Schulte has an intimate knowledge of the competing demands of a modern society. She initially examines the phenomenon of the accelerating erosion of time from the perspective of a modern career woman who juggles work and children.

Or that at least is how it starts out before Schulte increasingly recognizes men as well as women face stark challenges when it comes to carving out careers and maintaining a personal private life under the constraints of the new neo-capitalism.

The credibility and worth of the text is enhanced by Ms Schulte's recognition that working class Americans managing two or three jobs and a similar amount of children face similar challenges and difficulties to celebrity lawyers.

Schulte admits she bowed to the Motherhood cult of baking ''cupcakes until 2 am'' and the mad work demands of finishing ''writing stories at 4am" and a scenario where life had started to resemble a form of ''time confetti'' where life resembled ''one big chaotic burst of exploding slivers bits and scraps''. She warns that if society is to be healthy we must reverse the scenario where ''mothers (and fathers too) have given up time to play'' in a 'time-starved' world.

Schulte dates the beginning of this world to that point where ''somewhere towards the end of the 20th century ... busyness became not just a way of life but glamorous''.

This has sparked a great death of intimacy where people are too busy for friends or dating or sex, while one other unexpected consequence of the race to speed is that the ''typical sound bite for a presidential candidate has been compressed from forty seconds in 1968 to 7.3 seconds in 2000''.

The problem with a world where ''work has become the new religion and a predicator of your very own self regard'' is that ''the death march of corporate America'' involves a ''denial of humanity - we have to deny that we are parents, that we have ageing parents''.

Schulte posits the observation that in a scenario where ''five times as many high school and college students are depressed and anxious today than were youths during the Great Depression'' how women and men organise their lives must change.

In particular, Schulte observes that ''competitive Mom'' must re-learn the ''art of play'' with her children and that both men and women must accept, if they are to secure some degree of "time serendipity'' that ''you will never be able to do everything you think you need want or should do''.

The alternative to accepting such counsels on the virtue of imperfection, she warns, consists of being ''stuck in the trance of busyness, of unworthiness of anxiety''.

It is, however, a banal busyness that ultimately starves ''the capacity we have to love'' and creates "the unquiet heart" that as St Augustine said 'is ever desperate for fulfilment'.

Sunday Independent

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