Here is what is helpful to know about me before you read the rest of this. Two things – One is if you have a copy of that New Yorker cartoon that shows a guy looking through his diary while he is on the phone and saying something like, ‘Nope. Tuesday is no good. How ‘bout never? Is never good for you?’ THEN I LOVE YOU and we will be instant friends. What makes you laugh, makes me laugh. Like all the best jokes, it speaks an essential truth we find a bit uncomfortable. That everyone is busier than you are, or, they just don’t wanna hang. They are JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU.
The second thing and this is weirder, is that my favourite ads, either personal or jobs (and I have no cause to look for either as I have a person and I have a job) cry out: ‘No Time Wasters, please’. Well jeez, Louise, who gets to decide who is a time waster and who is a time spender? And who gets to decide which is the better thing to be?
Wait, I’m not finished. OK, I imagine the first scenario, the job seeker out to waste your time, would say something like, ‘No, I’ve no experience in astrophysics, but as a server in Greggs, I feel I have many transferable skills….’ And you know they COULD be right. Maybe at some point in an astrophysicist’s job, they have to wear a Rayon uniform, and not sweat too badly in it. Bingo. It’s a Greggs thing as well, or could be. In the second scenario, some octopus on Octopus.com or some such dating site says he or she likes walking, (like the special kind with those hiking stick things), going out for meals, pubs, and watching films. No time wasters, please. Ergo, no octopus (don’t ask why octopuses, I just like ‘em, all those HANDS!”) who did not like hiking (this would be so interesting, octopus hiking, they’d need so many sticks!) or going to Octopus Express for a pizza or Octospoons (preferably one in near a mainline station) for a nice pint of ink, or watching Betty Blue (not an exclusively Octopus related film; I just really like it) and you thought I was going to say the one about the love affair with the Octopus would be a time-waster, i.e. a bad Octopus, probably destined to wind up as a little frozen ring in a freezer compartment of Lidl.
Now that you know I have a fairly relaxed attitude to time-wasting, and that I question not only the entire concept of time wasters in general but also, more specifically, those who feel I am wasting their time. I have to tell you, I think all of you who say you are busy all the time, are lying. And if you are not lying, you should make more time to lie, plausibly.
Lately, I have been told ‘Gotta go now’ by more friends and acquaintances cutting a conversation short, than feels strictly necessary, or truthful. They will meet me for tea, but only for an hour. They will instant message me, but only until whoops there’s the porridge boiling over. I am not one for the waffle, the pregnant pause, the chatting just for the hell of it (though I do quite like the latter, I like small talk) if I know someone is very busy. I get that. Time is money, time is short, etc, but I resent the notion that the other person’s time is shorter than mine, more valuable than mine. To be fair, I work part-time now, and I do like sitting around, staring at stained coffee mugs and wondering if and when I should soak them in a solution, or even sitting in a chair, staring at my feet, wondering which one will move first, and which will fall asleep. These things are not important, but I like doing them, which means, it’s possible I have more time than my friends do. I have a tendency towards idleness, and I’m OK with that, even if others are not. But what compounds my irritation of other people being busier than I am, is their itemisation of that being busy. They’ve got to do this, and then that, and then the shopping, and then the cooking, and then they are meeting so and so (not you) at such and such and heck yes, call again, soon, we’ll make a plan. Some day. Not Tuesday. Never.
Hey, I’ve done it myself. In my long life, I’ve been both agoraphobic and alcoholic. Both are occupations where the job description includes cancelling at the last minute, being passed out at the last minute (and the first one, come to think) or just not showing up at all, and before mobile phones, this was even a bigger deal than it is now. In fact, I have sympathy for those who are similarly afflicted, with, I guess now they call it social anxiety, or some addiction, or other mental or physical health issues. And I also understand not everyone is comfortable or open about saying stuff like that if that is the reason they can’t or won’t show up. I still have agoraphobic tendencies, but I try, and my agoraphobia is not consistent. I remember often making the train journey between Liverpool and London and my mate Julie would meet me in London, me with all my suitcases, and say, ‘You’re rather well travelled for an agoraphobic,’ and this I could not deny, having flown back and forth between New York and London more times than I can count on my fingers and toes.
But now that these afflictions, though still present, do not run my life, I guess I try harder, to show up, to go for that coffee, to go to that gig, to get on that train, to meet even in rush hour, without snivelling as I used to, ‘Buuuut, it’s rush hour….’
When I was in rehab (you knew I had to get that in somewhere) one of the main things that stuck with me was that addicts are really bad at showing up for their own life. I sobbed my heart out at that one because it resonated more than any of their other slogans. Now that I am older and less addict-ish, I get baffled by people who are NOT addicts but have what I would call, time management issues. I say, take the time to see me. Make the time to see your pals, do fun stuff, or waste time with me or someone else. All of us at A of A is not getting any younger, and time is going by faster, so rather than spend all your time being productive, seeing important people and doing important stuff, why not waste a bit of time with someone you can stand, or someone you quite like? I say, which would you rather, hitting targets, or shooting the breeze with a buddy?
I get that this is not so easy. Particularly for freelancers, where downtime and work time melt into one giant puddle of busyness. Chase the work, get the work, do the work, repeat.
I also get that we are coming out of two years of time fuckery, the pandemic, the isolation, the Brady Bunch screen view of the outside world. Hell yeah, it’s time to get back into the land of the living, real people in real-time in real places. My gosh, if this stupid virus has taught us anything, it’s that, we are social animals, for the most part, and that friendship is for the grasping and keeping and doing. We’re not perfect, and lots of us, myself included, have more stuff to pack in, stuff we had to put off because the world was having a sickie.
Does this sound like sour grapes, like someone who has been cancelled too many times, and I mean cancelled not as in culturally, but as in the old-fashioned sense of being blown out, stood up, postponed, relegated to the C list of friendship, or just ‘Meh’-ed out of someone’s bursting social diary? Well, yeah, it kind of does. Even to me, and I’m writing this, and I have a good amount of friends, some of whom, I blow out, still.
I’m just saying, even if the pandemic is not as over as the government would like us to think, let’s all try harder. Go for that coffee. Go for that walk. See that movie. Ring your pals. Make definite plans and try to keep ‘em. Try harder. You might be busy, you might be busier than I am, but what are you all doing next Tuesday?
Michele Kirsch is the author of CLEAN (Short Books) – a memoir about killing time badly, and cleaning flats, also not brilliantly.