Theodore Ross is a writer, journalist and former editor of Harper’s magazine. He now finds himself out of work, at home with his two kids, and surprisingly, without time for either of them.
It’s perplexing to imagine someone who has nowhere to go or be as having no free time, but Ross does a good job justifying his case: he’s writing a book, he’s pitching to every magazine in New York, and he’s dealing with the guilt of not being busy by, well, occupying himself.
You can read his eloquent excuse here.
Perhaps Ross’s case is unique; he’s playing with the idea of being dead beat when in fact it’s clear the man is hustling. What Ross alludes to in this playful writeup are a couple of fundamentals that seem to pry at the human condition and our busy-body culture.
For one: “The other morning, as I rode my bicycle across the Manhattan Bridge, a crowded subway train paralleled my progress out of Brooklyn, and I felt a rush of envy toward those folks headed to their offices, submerged in their iPod and e-reader dream worlds. It wasn’t just that they knew the source of their next paycheck. What, if anything, was expected of them, other than arriving at work and doing their jobs? I knew from experience that a steady job doesn’t free one from the pressures of home life, but to me, on that day, it seemed like it would help mitigate the guilt.”
Guilt is a huge part of the human condition. It manifests itself in many strange ways, and it seems that we are constantly attempting to ‘mitigate our guilt’. Guilt is a driving force, or rather, the need to deal with guilt is. Guilt that has gone unanswered will eat at you, and is largely counter-productive.Work provides a convenient and socially acceptable way of dealing with guilt, staying at home does not.
From the article: “I also know that being busy — or at least appearing to be — has become an almost-religious value in contemporary American culture. I came across a recent study in the journal of the Association of Psychological Science (nicely titled “Idleness Aversion and the Need for Justifiable Busyness”) that investigated the role of activity in the lives of ordinary people. “Busy people are happier than idle people,” the study’s authors wrote, “whether they choose to be busy or are forced to be busy.””
Appearing to be busy? Who would ever pretend to be busy?
It’s sad that in reality most of us we’ll never have as much time as we’d like for our family. It’s unfortunate that we may require being ‘justifiably busy’ to mitigate our guilt, and for many this will mean the need to be absent. Perhaps Ross is the type that can’t relax and play with the kids while he’s at home; this will seem too idle an activity. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be a stay-at-home parent – what emotions, feelings, and reactions I would have to deal with. From Ross’s portrayal, it seems like staying at home is quite a bit more complicated than going to work – going to work might be that much easier when you sum it up.