Put down your cell phone and read ‘Little Women’

Starbucks is buzzing. Drifting among the sounds of garbled voices is the constant grinding, banging and pounding coming from the baristas behind the counter. Busy people are coming and going. There are those who rush in, grab their steaming coffee, and then like the wind, blow out the door.

Sitting off in a corner are a couple of university students engrossed in their laptops. The lady next to me is typing feverishly on her phone. I am seated at one of the round tables waiting for a colleague to show up. She’s late. I automatically reach for my phone.

It just doesn’t feel right to sit there doing what may be construed as nothing.

I begin reading my eclectic Twitter feed.  A post appears directing me to a feature about our addiction to busyness, a disease that has spread to all age groups, children, adults and retirees alike.

I’ve read numerous articles on this subject over the past few years. Many of them contend that new technologies and social media are huge contributors to the current amount of frenzy in our lives. We’re drowning in a sea of information, images and messages that clutter our minds and promote a perpetual sense of urgency and fear in us.

We perceive that the demands for our time at work, socially and at home are mounting exponentially. We are lost in the doing rather than in the being. Overbooked calendars and 9 pm work emails signify that we are important. We have value. And even when we aren’t busy, we’re determined to make the world think we are.

Living in the competitive culture of busyness gives us loads of acceptable excuses to avoid people, to be late for meetings and miss deadlines. It allows us to dodge obligations and actual problems. We get to complain incessantly and judge others who fail to meet our expectations. It justifies our impatient and rude behaviour. We are sustained by a fallacious sense of self-worth.

Surely this can’t be healthy for our minds, bodies or souls. Acquiescence to this lifestyle is a choice we make and one we can change – if it’s in our hearts to do so.

I sigh and continue scanning the Twitter feed. There’s an interesting post: “Louisa May Alcott’s book Little Women was first published on September 30, 1868.”

I remember this book; it’s on my long list of favorites. It’s a novel based on the author’s own childhood in which she pens a lively portrait of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March’s family life during the nineteenth-century. It starts in the middle of the American Civil War with Jo grumbling, “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.”

The sisters’ stories are rippled with lessons about love, patience, kindness, forgiveness, hope and courage. These are the attributes they are taught by their “Marmee” to value and live by, no matter how busy they are. At the end of the day, are these not among the traits that truly define our self-worth?

Almost one hundred fifty years later, this old-fashioned novel continues to be popular. It has never been out of print. Two years ago, the Guardian ranked Little Women as 20 out of 100 Best Novels Written in English. Hollywood recently announced that it will be releasing a modern re-telling of the tale next year.

Perhaps it is time we stepped out of the busyness trap and dusted off old copies of Little Women. I believe we all need periodic reminders of what is important in life.

***

This article of mine was published in the Times Colonist on Saturday, Sept 30 2017 and Vancouver Courier on October 6, 2017. 

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4 thoughts on “Put down your cell phone and read ‘Little Women’

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  1. [ DISCLAIMER / NOTICE: I couldn’t find an email address for you, so I am instead using this article’s comment functionality, which is not my style. What follows is a genuine fan mail from a reader to an author, not something pounded out to curry favor by preaching to the choir. I’d prefer it not be made public, but as long my contact information is not visible, I can live with that. I stand behind my words, but nobody cares what I as an individual have to say. I hope that makes sense. ]

    Ms. Spencer:

    I came across your thoughts on “busyness” just now, via its incarnation as a Times Colonist article, and have been, since reading it (twice, no less) compelled to track you down online. Not to complain. But very much the opposite … to wholeheartedly congratulate you for managing to distill this overarching, unwieldy mania, societal affliction, shared inanity/insanity into an approachable, accessible and coherent thought. Bravo!

    It is a lie, as are so many others, that we buy into. It destroys lives, masks the truth, destroys civil society and public discourse, and mints lineages of purported royalty we’d be far better served to use solely as compost than pay attention to, much less hold up as some kind of spiritual blueprint everyone should revere, adopt and emulate.

    You not only hit a nerve this morning, you are homesteading it, owning it. And I can’t wait to learn what else you have to say in the future. It’s your territory, madam, do your thing. Breakdance on it.

    But from one person to another, I felt like somebody understood. Connection. It’s a great feeling. Let’s bring back more of this and see what good things can be unleashed. It’s time. And what we all could use an extra helping of these days.

    And instead of spending an hour on Twitter, how about spending 30 minutes with your cat and the other with someone you love, but have been out of touch with (because you’re so damned busy keeping up with the … you know, that clan of sad little media whores), like a bestie from high school or college ?

    Big-ass Southern-style hug from me to you. And thank you. Keep up the good fight.

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    1. Thank you for your passionate response to my article and going the extra mile to insure I received it. I am grateful for your efforts and enthusiastic support of the message conveyed. I believe we can all make a change, even if it’s only in our own little universe. Thank you again, Kate

      Like

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