Overwhelmed, and Then Some

The UK cover

After Brigid Schulte published an article in The Washington Post Magazine about her run-in with a time-use expert who told her that in the life she experienced as overwhelmingly hectic, she actually had 30 hours of leisure time a week, I urged her to write a book-length exploration on the subject. We agreed to meet to discuss the idea at an authentic French bistro in downtown DC. It was a lovely summer day and I took my time walking from the Metro stop — both because I wanted to enjoy the warm breeze blowing down G street and because I knew from experience that Brigid, balancing hyper-involvement in the life of her two kids and fanatical devotion to her newspaper reporting, was pretty much always late. Sure enough, I arrived at the restaurant 10 minutes past the appointed hour to find only an empty table. I sat, ate all the bread in the bread basket, waited another 15 minutes, then called her. She was running late she said, just leaving an interview way across town, but she would get to the restaurant as fast as she could.

Fifteen minutes later she called again.

“My car just got totalled,” she said in that hollow voice people get when they are still somewhat in shock. A big van had swerved across several lanes right into her beloved Volvo. She assured me she was physically fine, just shaken up.

We rescheduled, I had the Nicoise salad, a leisurely glass of wine, and left.

That was the inauspicious beginning of what would become a multi-year project into which Brigid plunged so deeply I sometimes wondered if she would ever make it out. Her research took her from Scandinavia to North Dakota and back. Our phone editing sessions were almost always some form of multi-tasking for Brigid. She took my calls on buses, trains, airport jetways and even once in a public bathroom in a Mexican restaurant where she sought refuge from the ambient racket and scribbled notes on a wad of paper towels. All that frenetic labor produced such a massive volume of findings they threatened to overwhelm the engaging narrative of Brigid’s own struggle with the cultural sinks that pulled our lives into chaotic rabbit holes. That would have been a shame, since still trying to manage her family life, her career and writing the book simultaneously, Brigid  was literally living her subject matter. As the Red Queen told Alice:  “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

She had to do more than run. She had to scale a mountain of evidence. But her passion never flagged, and in the end, she managed to put it all together. As Publisher’s Weekly said in a starred review, “her research is thorough and her conclusions fascinating, her personal narrative is charmingly honest, and the stakes are high: the “good life” pays off in ‘sustainable living, healthy populations, happy families, good business, [and] sound economies.'”

It was a pleasure and a privilege working with Brigid and helping the book that comes out next week (March 11) take shape. I never predict books are going to get a tremendous amount of attention, because they almost never do. But I’m making an exception here.



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