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The best essay I read this week. Posted on 09/29/2002.

Is "Bumping into Mr. Ravioli" in the Sep 30 issue of The New Yorker. (Unfortunately, it's not available online). Now, I'm not typically a fan of Gopnik's--his writing usually rubs me the wrong way, too... precious, or too self-effacing, or... it's hard to describe, but it often doesn't do it for me.
But this one proved rather ingenious. It begins with Gopnik's concern for his daughter's imaginary playmate--not that she has one (that's perfectly normal), but that the playmate, Mr. Charles Ravioli, is always too busy to play with her. It seems a distinctly New York child affliction, and leads to Gopnik launching into the "busy-ness" of our modern metropolitans. Something that we've all seen.
And that I've never really appreciated. People seem to busy themselves for the sake of being busy. If they don't have every increment scheduled, their not maximizing their enjoyment/productivity/whatever. And while people often lament their busy-ness, I've never known anyone who didn't simply bring that state upon them. At Epinions, people would work from 9a to 9p, for reasons I could never really fathom (I was more a 9 to 6 guy). They'd use the explanation of "working at a startup" as an excuse, as if it was out of their control, but I always suspected that they just needed to feel, well, busy.
Personally, I lament this need for incessant 'busy-ness.' Clocks and communications have allowed us this extremely precise and thorough scheduling of our lives, but at what seems like a human cost of calmness, peacefulness, spontaneity. And I don't want to suggest that I don't do this myself--I often feel overwhelmed with "busyness". But at those times, I find it helpful to step back, reconsider, and ask myself, "Is all of this really that important?"

8 comments so far. Add a comment.

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This is a curious little piece. I don't know how to take it. I am immediately suspicious of the social perceptiveness of a child, "just turned three." Olivia seems to have created her imaginary friend by constructing him through a pretty sophicated awareness of the nuances of some pretty complex adult behavior.

Which leads me to my next puzzlement. Olivia's difficult imaginary friend's name is Charlie Ravioli. Ravioli--that's an anagram of Olivia plus a leading R.

What I am wondering is--has Gopnik invented an imaginary daughter for himself?
Posted by BJMe @ 09/29/2002 04:57 PM PST [link to this comment]

Yes, a great and very original essay. I thought it would be great if This American Life could have done a bit on this with audio of the child doing her schtik.
Posted by Will Johnston @ 09/29/2002 05:44 PM PST [link to this comment]

I agree. I've seen this many times: working late every day, being busy *all* the time... Stop it! It's not like you get better work done that way. Or like you'll enjoy life more. I for one have definitely planned to work only 9-6 unless it really can't be avoided.
Posted by PeterV @ 09/30/2002 03:17 AM PST [link to this comment]

there's been a Taylorization of everyday life... a cultural value to be "productive" at all times, using tools like day planners to squeeze activities into every waking moment. There is a huge industry: Franklin planning, the Covey cult, feeding people's desire to get things done. The schedule gurus tell you to schedule time in your daybook to "stop and smell the flowers." But it's not the same.
Posted by Adina Levin @ 10/01/2002 07:13 AM PST [link to this comment]

I liked the story, whether Mr. Gopnik has made up a daughter, who knows, that's kind of weird and could be substantiated one would guess. The being too busy all the time, so many reasons could come into play, all hinging on various technological developments regarding transport/communication. Overall though, I think people just never feel they have enough time to do all that they feel they have/want to do, get to those they want to get to, without disrespecting they're lack of time they have for them because they have to get to others, or themselves. It's a tough one, but one that has to be at the top of the list of things to get over and
Posted by Richard Altman @ 10/02/2002 01:48 AM PST [link to this comment]

Made up a daughter? I doubt it. But I do not doubt that he made up his "just turned three" daughter's imaginary friend with his in-depth array of contemporary urban peculiarities.

And if you don't doubt this extraordinary literary device, why don't you? Even if it were true, the profound prodigiouness of Olivia, and the convenience of her expression of it to her essayist father would definitely require a close examination of his claim by any analytical mind.

If Gopnik's report is essentially true, then it is Olivia that I want to hear from directly, because her father has added nothing to her perceptions other than to make those of us who have time for casual magazine reading and Internet surfing feel good about our life styles.
Posted by BJMe @ 10/02/2002 01:50 PM PST [link to this comment]

I have not read the piece, but plan to. Gopnick could have, either entirely or in part, made up the imaginary friend (and his daughter).

That being said, as a father of two young, intelligent (and often precocious) little girls, I would not rule out the possibility that a 3 year old could "create" such a friend. It's happened before.
Posted by Jeff @ 10/03/2002 08:54 AM PST [link to this comment]

I read this article too (I was looking for an online copy when I came across this page). I really enjoyed it and my wife and I have been discussing it frequently since.

I have been extremely busy lately (busier than I've ever been) and this article really hit home with me. I don't consider myself a particularly busyness obsessed person; I leave work pretty much at 5:30 everyday. I think my current predicament is a result of many opportunities presenting themselves at more or less the same time and my inability to say no.

Anyway, another part of the article that I found fascinating was Gopnik's observation of the amount of unfinished communications that exist in the world today. He was referring to e-mails that end with "call to discuss." It seems that 85% of my time is occupied with ongoing correspondence of one sort or another. Be they e-mails, voice mails, faxes, whatever. Don't get me wrong, e-mail can be extremely efficient. But I like the idea presented by Gopnik of trying to present a complete thought more often. It seems that we can get pretty lazy when we know that this is just one in an endless series of exchanges. If we force ourselves to finish something with more of an idea of permanence, we could probably save ourselves more time in the long run (and create better work).

Or something like that. I wish I had time to flesh this idea out a little better, but I gotta run...
Posted by Brian @ 10/04/2002 12:04 PM PST [link to this comment]

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