MEMO TO SELF
What’s been publicized around the world during this epidemic is so many of us thought we’d use this “down-time” to be productive.
Recently, a friend described herself as “Queen of the Sloths”. Another shared how much she was ‘putting herself under pressure to be productive, but it hadn’t amounted to much’. In April I wrote, “When we come out of this, I would hate myself for not using my time better.” It has become clear to me that we have been intent on putting ourselves under too much pressure.
This is understandable what with Twitter taunting us: “When he was in quarantine from the plague, William Shakespeare wrote King Lear". Or, articles touting “Fascinating Ways to Increase Your Employees’ Productivity during the Pandemic”, or “Five ways to improve productivity on ZOOM calls”.
And it’s not just us. Even British actor, rapper and activist, Riz Ahmed, in an interview with the New Yorker, eloquently described the difficulties he’s facing in this locked-down time:
‘Some days are good, some days are bad. I guess the consistent thing is that inner voice that’s telling me that I should be more productive, that I should be doing more,…I’m really starting to investigate where that voice comes from, who it really serves, what it defines as productive.’
But it’s the satiric news site The Onion who’s expressed it best in their sublimely funny, spot-on commentary on the very strange pressure to be more effective during the “free time” of quarantining. The headline says it all:
Man Not Sure Why He Thought Most Psychologically Taxing Situation Of His Life Would Be The Thing To Make Him Productive
What follows is an excerpt from the ‘interview’ with “local man” Michael Ayers:
“For some reason I took a look at an economic catastrophe that may soon rival the Great Depression and said, ‘Oh great, now I’ll have the energy and the space I need to focus on my creative side.’ But I guess living with ever-present, crushing uncertainty and the knowledge that people all around me are dying wasn’t the stimulus I needed after all.” At press time, Ayers had reportedly decided that, going forward, he would instead focus all his time and attention on feeling guilty about his lack of productivity.”
Global pandemic. Great stress. Worldwide malaise. This is the time to be our most productive??!?!?! Whatever were we thinking?
All humour aside, it’s time we stopped listening to “that voice” and give ourselves a break. Memo to self: start being kinder… to ourselves. This is a pandemic not a productivity contest. Never underestimate the power of doing absolutely nothing if the mood strikes you.
All of “this” brought to mind a weekend getaway Dennis and I took many, many years ago. Remember those long-running advertisements on Toronto’s classical music radio station – “The Art of Doing Nothing….beautifully.”
That was the motto of the Domain of Killien – a resort that sat on 5,000 acres of un-spoilt Canadian wilderness in the Haliburton Highlands, where the serenity was tangible and inspiring – probably why the great cellist Rostropovich went there to practice from time to time.
Not your typical Canadian resort, there were no facilities for children, no spa for grown-ups, no televisions or radios – no noise at all really beyond “birdsong in the morning and the crackle of logs in the fire after dark”. One had no choice but to sit with one’s own thoughts. And savor the fine French cuisine.
Sadly, the Domain of Killien is no longer, but I recently came across something that I think comes close to having the same results: a woman who started “tree sitting.”
“Make a picnic and spend half a day sitting at base of a tree, knitting or reading, anything that does not rely on my phone,” she wrote. “I find tree sitting more than an hour removes all the tension or any pain in my body.”
Knowing others are going through the pandemic blues and struggling with being effective strangely comforts me, especially when they are the brilliant Lin –Manuel, the creator of the biggest musical of all time, the Broadway smash Hamilton.
In an interview, I heard the best advice yet to deal with the consequences of living through a pandemic. He isn’t finding himself “writing King Lear or sonnets”. More days than not, he wakes up with stomach aches worried about the world ….
“I worry about what's going on -- I worry about my city (NYC) reopening too soon and having a second spike. I worry about the protesters and hoping they're OK. And I worry about all the things everyone is worried about. And I find that because I'm home, it is harder to -- distance myself from those thoughts. And I think that's OK."
So my remedy (at the moment) for whenever I find myself flailing and uninspired I draw on the great advice from an artist at the height of his craft: Give yourself a break. It’s okay to not be okay.
And never forget what one of the wisest sages of all time, Winnie The Pooh, had to say,“Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.”