2017 is the Year to Unbusy Myself

Photo by Sam Brockway. Used with his kind permission.

To be centered. In the moment. Mindful. Call it what you will, the point is, the “I’m too busy” part of myself and I need to, well, part. For most of my life, I’ve been guilty of thinking that busyness equated with productivity, which equated with importance, visibility: Notice me! Notice me! To someone.

Ah, right. To me.

But not to my family; they’ve got their own lives, right? Nor to friends I had no time to see. But they didn’t necessarily have time to see me, either, because they were so busy. Before long, we weren’t friends any more. We were simply people who texted each other about how busy we were. And that sufficed for the idea of friendship, without requiring a commitment on anyone’s part.

Fuck that shit.

The thing is, I’ve fallen out of love with martyring myself to my work. Especially when I’m working for someone else. It’s very seductive, that competition. The busiest, most overcommitted person wins. Or loses.

I’m weary of losing.

Paradoxically, the busier I am, the less productive I am. If I’m always telling myself — and anyone else whose feet I can nail to the floor — that I’m so impossibly busy I can’t get anything finished, theeeeeeen, I don’t get anything finished. Which makes me feel busier.

Which ultimately made me feel buried. And hopeless. Once I realized I’d lapsed into the habit of telling people how many hours I’d worked in how many days, it was time for an intervention.


I’m taking myself out of the running. Being centered, maybe even mindful, they’re calling to me. I’m thinking of it as self-tidying-up.

So are a few friends who, amazingly, have persisted, regardless of how shittily I’ve treated them in terms of ever having time to see them, even to correspond with them. And The Son and The Daughter have quietly accepted times — too many — when I’ve had to cancel plans to visit because “something came up at work.” Because I was the person in whose lap the shit landed. Alternative fact: I was the person who permitted the shit to land in her lap.

Fuck that shit. Shit, I already said that shit.

Which brings me to fire.

In 2003, Food & Wine published a story, Educating Fanny, about Alice Waters’s daughter, Fanny Singer, during her junior year at Yale. The article focused on how her food practices had evolved since leaving home, how and what she cooked for roommates and friends. Summing up life with her mother, she explained,

“Living with my mother was such an aesthetic experience,” Fanny says. “Everything was cooked in the fireplace. My send-off-to-college breakfast was an egg sizzled with olive oil in a long metal spoon held over the coals.”

I never forgot that image.

At the time, we were living in a small-ish resort community on a medium-sized lake in the mountains of Northern California. Most of us heated our homes with wood-burning stoves. Very efficient for heating — and for heating food upon when the power went out, which was relatively often in winter. Not convenient for cooking anything inside one.

Still, I never let go of that small, riveting, primal image.

I’m a good person to have on your Trivial Pursuit team. Just saying.

Fast-forward to this winter in my corner of the Northern Rockies. Weather has been a beast ever since Thanksgiving. Cold, cold temperatures of zero and below for days and nights on end. Snow. Lots and lots of snow. Treacherous driving, walking, everything. If I could hibernate, this would be the winter for it.

I have two fireplaces. One upstairs, one down. I’ve never used either very often, and I don’t honestly know why.

Oh wait. That might be because the hundreds of cords of wood I stacked and lugged into the house over the course of twenty winters kinda got the firebug out of my system.

But this year, the spark flared again. It was just before Christmas, and I’d recently had a couple of loads of firewood delivered. If I was going to spend Christmas alone, but couldn’t hibernate, I could at least prop my feet in front of a fire while cradling a book and a cat.

Which I did with joyful abandon. One such night, arms wrapped around the cat in question, I gazed idly into the gentle flames and thought surely there must be a way to make their heat, much of which went right up the chimney, serve a greater purpose. That very evening, while browsing podcasts that tend to pile up, I came across a recent episode of The Splendid Table where Lynne Rosetto Kasper talked with Argentine chef Francis Mallmann about his preference for cooking over fire.

The chef talks about fire being both fragile and elemental. Fire comes, it goes. There’s always the risk that something will char. There’s always the chance it will be wonderful, regardless. Because you are cooking it yourself over fire. You didn’t put it in an oven and walk away. You tend both the fire and the food. You care deeply about the outcome.

I went online that night and ordered his books Mallmann on Fire and Seven Fires. The evening I came home from work and found the box on my front step, the FedEx driver had also left a couple of biscuits for the dogs who’d evidently barked their heads off at him.

And here we all are, finally. Talking about fire. And food. Family. Friends.

Is cooking simple foods in such a simple way practical for a family of however many? Of course not. That’s why I held onto that image of the egg in a spoon over coals for so long. Now that I’m a solitary cook, some things are possible that weren’t before.

Fire requires time. Attention. It is of the moment. Which I think makes it mindful. Or makes me mindful.

I’m still working out what mindful means. I’m terrified it involves meditation. I’m just not that highly evolved yet.

BUT! If I can maintain the attention, the close focus, that building and nurturing and feeding a fire requires, there may be the flicker of a chance I can do a better job of similarly slowing down and nurturing friendships, including among my Medium friends. My family. Myself.

Mary F. and KDub, Bevi and Karen and Beck, I’m coming for you!

That egg? We’ll get to it.

You can follow my nephew, Sam Brockway, on Instagram at brockwayout. He lives, recreates, and photographs in the next state to the west, about 24 hours ahead of us weather-wise. Mercifully, the storm whose foot of snow drove them back inside dipped south and missed us.

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