Friday, November 26, 2010

Word Wonder -- busy

Friday, November 26, 2010

Today's Word Wonder idea springs from how busy I have been in the past two weeks -- too busy to get even a short post on this blog of mine. It's been crazy, and I realized my lapse provides me with the perfect lead-in to today's post.

busy
1. Actively engaged in something; occupied.  2. Filled with activity; never still.  3. Officiously active; meddling; prying.      And the verb form: To make busy; occupy (oneself). [from the Old English (before 1050) bysig, meaning "active"] -- Funk & Wagnall's Canadian College Dictionary

This is such a small, common word that it seemed almost pointless to discuss it. But then I thought of all that attaches to the concept of being busy, the stress and hubbub, the satisfaction and productivity. Like many things in which we humans engage, being busy can be good for us and not so good for us.

The word itself is very old. For a long time, keeping busy was not a good thing at all. Close to our modern term "busy-body," it implied that only a fool or a mischievous person was busy. Shakespeare put these words in the mouth of Hamlet in about 1600, as he lamented the dead Polonius' eavesdropping: Thou find'st to be too busy is some danger. Dangerous, indeed. Hamlet had just stabbed him.

In 1633, John Donne chided the sun in these lines:

     Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
     Why dost thou thus
Through windows and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' season run?
     Saucy wretch, go chide
     Late school-boys or sour prentices...

It's possible that only the wealthy and the educated could afford to scorn physical effort, but rich and poor alike seem to have resented the unruly wretch whose nose poked into others' affairs.

A word cousin to busy is "business," which from about 950-1400 was used to express feelings of uneasiness, despair, and anxiety. Over time, the Puritans and others got hold of the word and turned both business and busyness into a virtue. Maybe it was a matter of the "common" folk turning the gentry's view on its ear in the same way that some women have flipped the meaning of "bitch" to mean a woman of power.

In any case, the Puritans started a trend that is entrenched in today's Western society. Check out these common expressions used in various times and places:
  • "Keeping busy?" -- a common greeting that implies you're happy and valuable if you are
  • busy as a bee -- used since before Chaucer wrote "For aye as busy as bees been they" in Canterbury Tales (1367)
  • busy as a bee in a treacle-pot -- used since 1923
  • busy as a one-armed paperhanger -- from a 1908 story by O. Henry: "Busy as a one-armed man with a nettle rash pasting on wall-paper."
  • busy -- a detective or policeman, from 1934
  • get busy -- in use since 1905
So, there you go. For a couple of weeks, I was as busy as a one-armed paperhanger with a nettle rash. It wasn't all stressful because I like my work, and I was helping plan my mother's 90th birthday party and then travelled to get to it.

But I have at times allowed my business and busyness to feel like a virtue, despite my not being any Puritan. At those times, I've often paid for my foolishness by getting sick, acting like a grouch, or doing a poor job...or all of the above.

I plan to keep this post in mind in the future whenever I feel like poking my nose into someone else's business OR being so busy I don't make time for renewing pursuits. There's no future in being a busy old fool like Donne's sun.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Living the Good Life

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


What does it mean to you to live a good life? Does it mean having health, family? Friends and a job? What about fun and challenges, or time to relax and reflect? Freedom to choose, freedom to live in safety and well-being? Many people might say "yes" to some or all of these aspects of a good life, plus many more experiences and feelings that could be added to the list.

However, for some, such freedoms are a distant, even impossible dream, due to the confining, confounding nature of addiction. Addiction takes many, many forms and is not blocked by wealth, power, education, or physical aptitude.

In recognition of addiction's hold on millions of people, the National Aboriginal Addictions Awareness Week (NAAAW) campaign will run this year from November 14-20.

From the NAAAW website:
NAAAW wishes to "promote an addictions free lifestyle for communities, families and individuals by enabling communities to develop activities which increase knowledge and awareness of addictions and how addictions can be addressed.
We envision a NAAAW celebration every year that is grounded in the empowerment and capacity building of First Nation, M├ętis and Inuit individuals, families and organizations that will contribute to the creation of positive, safe healthy environments."
Canada's national campaign, National Addictions Awareness Week, runs from November 16-22. From the Minister of Health's message:

"The Government of Canada is pleased to recognize National Addictions Awareness Week. This is a chance for Canadians to enhance their understanding of substance abuse, and raise awareness for individuals suffering from addictions.
'Living the Good Life' is the theme of this year’s campaign, which highlights the importance of building and renewing positive relationships within our families, our communities, and our natural environment to promote good health and a life free of addiction.
What are you doing to learn about addictions? Do you understand? Support? Condemn? It's probable that most or all of us know someone who has an addiction to alcohol, other drugs, sex, food, work, gambling or something else.

I encourage you to think about what you can do next week, and in the weeks and months to come, to learn about and do something helpful to relieve addiction. Somehow, somewhere...it can be done.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Today is my mother's 90th birthday. She was born when the Roaring Twenties were born, and she grew as the Great Depression grew. The youngest of four children, my mother, Jayne, was a lively, adventurous child.

Jayne was -- and still is -- a gifted artist. Her paintings hang on various family member's walls. We enjoy her family portraits, still lifes, and scenes from family trips. We cuddle under the afghans she's knitted and laugh at old photos of us in the outfits she has sewn for us over the years.

She's real and normal. She wasn't always patient and didn't always give us what we wanted or needed. I definitely didn't always like her. But my mother did her best, and she has always stuck by us. She cooked and cleaned and led our scout packs. She sewed our costumes for Halloween and baked her delicious coffee cake every Christmas morning. Mom has always believed in her family, and that is a gift for which I will always be grateful.

Here's a poem she wrote to every family member in 1988, when she was only 78:
When I look at the future,
and a year soon to end,
I tried hard to think of
what message to send.

Each one of you runs through my
life like a song,
like music and words
as the years move along.

We have all laughed together,
we've ben happy and glad.
We've had shoulders to cry on
when things were so sad.

I've been grandmother, mother,
friend, sister and wife,
daughter, cousin and aunt, and
each day of my life...
Has been wrapped up with you,
and I'm happy to say
that we all have each other
every step of the way.
Happy Birthday, Mom! You run through my life like a song. I'm glad we've both lived long enough to sing together.