The (S)Low Down on Crazy Busy

“Truth is, Melissa: seems you’re always busy.”

He was right, my almost eighty-year-old Dad, who, sober-eyed, watched me from where he sat at the foot of the bed.  I scrambled on the floor, foraging through piles of clothing and gear for the three-day pioneer trek reenactment my husband and sons were slated to leave for the next morning.  Crack of dawn in dungarees, Tom Sawyer hats, suspenders and hiking boots.  Pulling hand carts and sleeping under a sky hung loosely over the high desert of northeastern Utah. My men were heading here:

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Oh, Pioneers!

Oh, Pioneers!

Luc trek

Dalton trek

Since arriving at my parents’ in the States on vacation, I’d been scouring Salt Lake City’s thrift shops, Army Navy outlets and bona fide pioneer-outfitting stores in between doing television, radio and print interviews for my book launch.  Delay-onset jet lag. Little sleeping.  Spotty eating.  When did I last shower? On this continent?

My mind was shredded by the intensifying yank between hand carts and hard copy, and I was having night terrors about covered wagons and book covers. I was wound so tightly, you could have used my spine to drill a tunnel through the Rockies. My brain was doing that thing I call not worrying but whirrying.

Whiiiir-whiiiir-whiiiirrr, like the propellers of a plane left revving at top speed on an abandoned tarmac.  Tight spine, whirring mental blades, fatigued physique, against the backdrop of a crammed calendar. I was always busy. Dad had nailed it.

But I defended myself to his face, and I’ll do the same here.

“That’s not even it,” I exhaled. “‘Busy’ would be alright.  To be honest, Dad,” the tension was now probably visible in my neck, “I’m not ‘busy’. I am maxed out, burning out. This is modern life!” I punctuated that last phrase by smacking my open palms on a mound of pioneer-grade burlap tenting.

sjwhipp.com

sjwhipp.com

Sometimes I’m driven too far into the whirr.  I take on more than is reasonable, more than is healthy, more than is humanly doable, and more than is needed.  This escalation of responsibilities – insanely, the busier I get the more recklessly I tend to take on additional tasks, and the faster my whirry whirrs – means that not only am I left with too few resources to do normal and necessary things (sleep, eat, talk with my Dad), but the quality of things I do (sleeping, eating, talking) is altered.

Even in restful moments like sitting behind the wheel at a traffic light, waiting for my bread to toast, standing in line at a small town post office, or lying in bed waiting for slumber, I sense a low-grade agitation surging and heating my sinews.

Jittery sleeping. Gritted eating. Clenched talking.

And then someone’s four words – “seems you’re always busy”- harpoons me, the bend of that hook lodging itself squarely in my tense, multitasking torso, with its puny heart valves thunking irregularly, its lungs never quite filling for one deep, full breath. It snags my whirrying and makes me stop. Makes me sad.  Very sad.

eyesonsales.com

eyesonsales.com

What is going on here? Why does some part of me apparently believe the myth that doing more means doing better? When did I agree to this myth? Why does any one of us agree to this? What is happening in a person and in a culture at large, when “crazy busy” is venerated, cheered on, sought out and upheld as the standard? And shows no sign of slowing?

What are the costs of frenetic hyper-productivity, of crazy busy? And please, is there a cure?

Science has long since determined that the popularized crazy busy lifestyle delivers a sound wallop to our emotional and physical wellbeing.  Like armchair physicians, we coolly tick off all the ways in which accumulated stress weakens our immune system, leads to increased respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive and sexual dysfunction. We draw faint lines between stress and certain cancers.  We warn ourselves about the dangers of distraction – what it does to drivers, pilots, teachers, students, parents, children – and we wag a finger at multitasking, noting that it is not, in fact, more efficient or more productive, but more fragmenting to our minds and to our human relationships.

When was the last time I lay for unmeasured, luxurious swaths, next to my beloved (child or partner or, yes, my nearly eighty-year-old Dad) and just listened to him breathe?

When, for that matter, was the last time I lay for as long as I needed, and just listened – calmly, lovingly, openly – to my own breathing? Or to God’s?

My version of "rapt attention" at a theater production.

My version of “rapt attention” at a theater production.

Before my whirrwind month in the States came to an end – a month I’ve not been able to write about until now for all its crazy busy-ness – I made time to connect with some of my beloveds.

One evening, I wandered to the end of the upstairs hall and into my parents’ bedroom. It’s right above the basement bedroom of my childhood. There was that familiar parental smell, the shushed drag of the door over the pile carpet, the ceiling fan making the lace curtains breathe like two lungs on either side of the window to my left. The known contours of Mom’s and Dad’s shadowy forms in the receding light lay on their relegated sides of the bed. They were fully clothed, just resting there in the dusk before having to get themselves up and ready to go to sleep.  The years are finally, finally showing on them. They are in need of repose. And so am I.

So, without invitation and in my street clothes, I crawled onto their bed and shimmied in between them. Lay down flat on my back. Took my Mom’s hand in my right (her trademark plush palms) and Dad’s in my left (his fingers always a bit chilly) and without much talk at all and with light disappearing along the walls and out of those lace curtains, I listened in love and reverence to them breathe.

Thunder

Was awakened at about 4:30 this morning by the blast-shwoosh-bam of a thunderstorm.  It rattled the shutters, shiiiisssshed and teased in eerie whispers while the sky shook to the blinding flash of Zeus’ wrath.  Those veiny, scraggly arms of lightning, slapping the face of earth. I had covers up around my ears, eyes like ping-pong balls bouncing in that last little trill when you hold them against the table under your paddle. Skittish. A grown woman gone infantile.  All thanks to thunder.

Photo credit: Seekingalpha

The Swiss version of a thunderstorm is meek compared to the rip-roaring variety in Singapore, the kind I miss, the kind that uprooted a 30 foot-tall palm tree right out of our yard and laid it, like your toothbrush falling out of its holder, right across our neighbor’s roof.

Neighbor woman no happy.

So to avoid a lawsuit, which she threatened, that very week we had eight trees (four of which were towering, elegant palms) pulled out of our garden.  Had a team of sweat-shiny men come with their trucks and power saws and clear out nearly all the foliage around our home.  Man, did it look stark afterwards, like those odd altered pictures of celebrities without eyebrows.

But we did keep up neighborly relations.

I missed my palms.  And I still miss Singapore thunderstorms.

Photo credit: 123rf

But I cannot experience one anywhere, and neither can Randall, without thinking immediately of the most heinous and life-splitting thunderstorm in our memory.  Actually, it is in Randall’s memory, not mine, as he’s the one who lived it.  I have only heard him tell the story.

At the moment of that storm he was fast asleep in Munich, Germany and I was in Provo, Utah, probably tucking our two youngest, Dalton and Luc, and their cousin, Wesley, into sleeping bags on my parent’s basement floor.  It was Thursday, July 19th, and I’d arrived in Provo just that Sunday, eager to be with the children, who had gone ahead to camps and family in the American west, while I negotiated the move with Randall from Paris to Bavaria.

Claire was with her best friend, Caroline, at a youth camp called Especially For Youth on the campus of Brigham Young University.  They were sleeping in a dorm room. Caroline’s cell phone, by a stroke of inexplicable fate-luck-blessing-divine intervention, she’d left on all night long next to her dorm bed.  She would get a critical call on it in just an hour or so.

I had spent the day before, Wednesday the 18th, in Rexburg, Idaho, (first time there in my life), where I’d spent the afternoon with Parker just a week into a program at university called Freshman Academy.  It was a scorchingly hot afternoon, but we hugged and laughed and walked around together meeting other students and joking with Dalton, who was trailing his big brother, whom he idolized, showing him his most recent comic sketches.  Parker was the perfect older brother then, all complimentary and aglow.

We went to Wells Fargo Bank to open an account and dump some money in to get him through a week or so. The bank officer there, I can remember this scene in slo-mo, had turned his computer screen around to show us images of a “real cool place.”

“It’s the best place to just cool off. Not too far,” he’d told Parker. “Have to ask locals how to get there, though. Kinda middle of nowhere.  But every one goes there, ‘know? Engagement pictures, Family Home Evening groups, the works.  You been there yet, Parker? To Monkey Rock?”

He had. Once already. Which made me shake my head. Something about the place, those black lava rocks, the white froth of the 15 ft. water fall, the soupy lagoon, the canal. I’m not sure what, but it made my stomach turn.

Can I say it looked foreboding? Will you say this is retrospective sense-making, that I’m projecting my horror for that place on my memories? Will you stop believing me or anything I write altogether?

Still I insist: it did look foreboding.

In fact, Parker asked me while the man behind the desk went to get some forms for us to fill out, why I’d shaken my head at the man and had said, “That place. . .I don’t like it.”

“Mom, it’s their favorite place.  Don’t want to diss it. It’s great for them, you know. Besides, I’ve been there. It is cool.”

Right then, Dad called for Parker on my cell phone. He was calling from Munich, knew we were together in Rexburg, was jealous and eager to chat. Parker stepped away, walked up the small carpeted ramp that feeds to the back entrance of the bank, and stood there in his jeans and royal blue T-shirt.  (The one I still sleep with.)  They talked for a minute or two, I watched Parker laughing and doing the quick run down with his Dad.  I was the one who motioned he should get off.  We had these important forms to sign.

That would be the last time Randall would hear his son’s voice.  At least his human voice.

Because the next night there would be a water activity organized at Money Rock.  And in Provo, Mom would be tucking in two little brothers after a day with their cousin at the public pool.  And sister would be sleeping in a dorm room with her friend’s cell phone serendipitously turned on.  And Dad would be sound asleep in Munich, dreaming, maybe, of his flight scheduled for a day and a half later, the trip that would make for our family’s surprise arrival, several days earlier than Parker expected.  In Idaho.

What happened at this moment no one can explain, but Randall speaks of it in tones that change his color.  He slept soundly in that dark apartment.  The windows were ajar for fresh summer air.  There were no city sounds to disturb. Soothing, slow-breathing sleep.  Then instantly, the skies split with the light and sound of an air raid crashing across Munich. Bombs, firebombs, wall-shaking eruptions literally shocked Randall’s heart, throwing him to full sitting-up attention.

Thunderstorm. Unlike anything he had ever known in his life.  It pounded and howled, going right to his bones.

Alone and shaking, he flew out of bed, running through the rooms closing and checking windows, the huge explosions of light electrifying his movements, perforating the darkness, stabbing the eyes.  His heart raced.  The reverberations grabbed the old building and yanked it, it seemed, by the shoulders, like a furious bully manhandles a thin victim.  The rain flew sideways, debris flying with it, and hit the windows with metal-whip sounds, whipping, whipping.  And shriek-yowling.

It was 4:37 a.m.  The din lasted less than an hour. Then it drained away, leaving dripping sounds and big branches and soggy trash plastered all over Munich. When the sun would rise, the town would look like it had been in one of those little plastic snow domes you shook as a child. Only this dome was full of leaves, newspapers and your random sweatshirt wrapped around a plank of corrugated roofing.  Roughed up.

But Randall would never take notice of the branches or trash at sunrise.  Because after he would fall back asleep — big day ahead at the office, you know, regional meetings, he’d have to pack for the weekend flight, lock up the apartment, change some Euros to dollars, probably — after he would fall back asleep for a couple of hours, he would get a phone call from his wife.

“Honey?  You awake?  Something’s happened.”

Randall’s voice, in spite of sleep lost to the storm, would be crisp and alert.

“What is it?”

“No idea, but it’s serious. . .”

Minutes later, a follow-up call and the serious news became more detailed, much much more serious, and from that second and for many hours on end until he landed in the middle of the night on the Pocatello, Idaho airstrip, Randall would only run and run. Weep and weep.  Pray and pray.  The wife and the husband would meet each other in an ICU at the regional medical center. There, they would become, in the space of time it takes for one shaft of lightning to travel to earth, in the space of time for the clap of one thunderbolt to burst an eardrum, different people forever.  Struck, burnt through, electrocuted.

They learn that at exactly 4:30 a.m. Munich time (which would have been 8:30 p.m., Rexburg time), there was another kind of electrical release, a transfer of energy, we’ll say, taking place in the cross-cut canals feeding over the falls and into the lagoon of a common water hole called Monkey Rock.

Photo credit: naturedesktopnexus

Thunder

4:37 a.m., Munich

8:37 p.m., Monkey Rock

“. . .The sound that follows a flash of lightning and is caused by sudden expansion of the air in the path of the electrical discharge. . .”

—-N. Webster

At that exact hour, galactic detonation.

First, the splatting, cracking, then the sky above,

like the water below,

churning, foisting up,

whirling, dragging particulate matter into a current

surging, slitting with stiff slivers, splewing and spitting out,

Discharging at its will.

He who sleeps, sits up straight.

His heart hammers like the

rains that bludgeon in silvercold diagonal planks.

Rain, like those metal sheets rattled to make theater thunder,

wails and splutters, like a river

splatters as it hits stone.

Where you are.

Where he is

through the core of the earth to the paired side.

In this splitting instant

 creation is alarmed.

God’s dome claps an acoustic ka-boom

congealing in this sky-and-earth-quake

this subatomic shockwave,

sympathetic timpani—

(On earth as it is in heaven)

which fires currents through the sphere, shaking nature,

unhinging it.

Something big is being done.

Something big is being undone.

He who is awakened, sitting up, will lie back down.

He who is standing, grabbing hands, will lie down.

With thunderous voice buried under thunder—

a silent, glorious roar—

he will be sent to sleep.

And all at once, things are distilled.

Evanescence.

A sudden expansion of thunderbolt voltage bursts the threshold and

shoots into that pellucid vastness—

sends soaring above this banal torrent—

a flash of reversed lightning.

Startling.

Enlivening.

**
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.