SMITH: You don’t have to be productive right now
“If you don’t come out of this quarantine with a new skill or … more knowledge … you didn’t ever lack the time, you lacked the discipline.”
If I see one more post about how Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” while in a plague quarantine, I am going to scream.
Nothing better illustrates America’s incessant hustle culture like a shameful reminder that if we aren’t studying a new language, Marie Kondo-ing our closet, dieting and exercising our bodies into submission or learning how to make the perfect cake, we are wasting our quarantine.
We’ve been taught that every second of our lives should be commodified, an endless race towards profit and productivity.
Even a global pandemic can’t slow our roll.
But there is a time to sustain and a time to grow. We’re in a season to sustain, yet everywhere we look we are being pushed towards more output.
We’re barely surviving, and then made to feel guilty for not thriving.
I’m not saying we should be idle. I know people who have found quarantine to be liberating, and are using their time to reflect and create. These are the angels bringing us art to ponder, thoughtful posts to read and interesting videos to watch.
I also have friends who have lost track of the date and the last time they shampooed their hair.
Both are equally valid coping skills right now.
What I’m railing against is the never-ending Zoom meetings to keep businesses chugging away (really, couldn’t that have been a memo?), the ridiculous amount of e-learning homework many of our children have been assigned, and the “business as usual” self-improvement rallying cry.
If I seem to be ranting more than usual, you can blame Brad.
I have a yoga student who is a single parent and works full-time. She is the only female in her division at work. She received a “helpful” email from Brad in human resources about “professionalism” on video calls.
Evidently, he thought it was inappropriate that she was conferencing from her kitchen table, where the other staff members could see her ragtag fridge and cereal boxes. He suggested she use her desk to conference.
When she explained that she didn’t have a desk in her tiny apartment, he suggested she find a more professional backdrop, like possibly the headboard of her bed.
It in no way occurred to Brad that she didn’t want to give her seven male colleges a view of her private bedroom.
They finally settled on her cleaning up the kitchen, because, you know, working full-time while sheltering at home with a toddler just wasn’t enough.
We’re all doing the best we can. That box of Cheerios isn’t going to make or break your profit margin Brad.
Let’s all just give each other — and ourselves — a break.
Are you the manager scheduling those unnecessary Zoom meetings in an attempt to fill an eight-hour work day? The educator assigning heaps of homework to confused and exhausted children? The one berating yourself for eating ice cream for dinner instead of taking that 30-day online yoga challenge?
Just. Stop. It.
We’ve got bigger spiritual fish to fry than being productive.
Going to the grocery for milk is a straight-up traumatic experience these days, and since there is no precedent or ending timeline for our experience, we stay locked in a state of heightened anxiousness. It’s like the smoke alarm in our mind is jammed in the on position and we cannot toggle it off.
Since our brains are really busy processing the fear, anxiety and uncertainty, we don’t have enough concentration left over for things like another Slack call, memorizing multiplication tables, or getting those reports to Karen absolutely no later than 5 p.m. today.
On top of having quarantine brain fog, we’re also collectively grieving our old way of being. Grieving what should have been, like the graduation ceremonies and the weddings and the much-anticipated trips to the beach.
How about we replace the guilt to be productive with some self-compassion? How about we set some realistic — and by this I mean low — expectations for our time in quarantine?
My family decided we would set quarantine goals for ourselves, the only rules being that they feel reasonable and there be no more than two.
1. Don’t get COVID-19.
2. Try every ice cream that Kroger sells.
1. Take the dog on a walk every day.
2. Swing daily, either on the swing set or in the hammock.
1. See the sunrise and sunset every time the weather permits.
2. Take 10 deep breaths every time I wash my hands.
Let’s shelf the productivity guilt and set some realistic and attainable goals.
My favorite reasonable quarantine goal comes in the form of a question from Sandra Newman in a Tweet: “What if ugly-crying into a burrito is your King Lear?”
We see you Sandra.
Keep in mind that Shakespeare had reliable child care. While he was writing “King Lear,” I’m betting his poor wife, Anne, was crying into her burrito too while trying not to throttle her kids.
Hope your next burrito is free of guilt and tears.
Erin Smith is the owner of the OM place in Winchester, the author of “Sensible Wellness” and the online host of the OM channel.