Productivity

David Iscoe newsletter, Weekly Update #8

On Wednesday this week, I played almost four hours of the computer game Civilization IV. I played some on Thursday and a little bit today, too. On Tuesday I played some speed chess online and I played the cell phone game Flappy Dunk a few times throughout the week. It felt okay at worst or fun at best while I was doing these things, but I wasn’t left with much when I finished and I had a lot of other things to do, and I would rather have gotten those things done than wasted time on the games.

But shit happens.

Acknowledging that shit happens, and moving on, is pretty important to me because I feel guilty all the time about things I’m not doing, and I feel shame a lot when I look back and realize I’ve wasted time, and these feelings can be easy to dwell on if I’m not careful, and that generally makes things worse. All I can really do is figure out what decision I would have liked to make, and make a better decision at the next point (which is usually the present). If I can deal with reality (“oh, I just wasted some time, but here I am and here is what I have to do”) then I’m less likely to feel the need to distract myself (although I also try to make better decisions even if I feel that need - “oh look, I feel the need to distract myself, but I know that won’t help, here’s what I’ll do instead with that feeling”).

That’s all stuff I’ll deal with. I did less to distract myself each succeeding day, still managed to get a decent amount of shit done all told, and it’s understandable that I’m a little burned out after working hard for a few weeks, then spending three weekends in a row out of town in different places, seeing various people I cared about. I’m not in a bad way, really, I just had a bit of an off-week and not a terrible one.

But what’s interesting to me, and part of a longer discussion that I won’t really finish here, is why that “productivity” guilt is so intense, and I think it links to a lot of societal values we have that aren’t really healthy. Yes, you want to take care of your obligations and pitch in and do your share, but people still have legitimacy in their general personhood, goals, dreams, claims, and desires even if they aren’t spending all their time working. The notion that worth only comes from productivity is what they call the “Protestant work ethic,” but I think it’s more characteristic of capitalism in general than of any religion these days.

I’ve got plenty to say about it–how unevenly it’s applied (people of low status are punished extremely for small deviations from “productivity” while people of very high status can do no work at all), how mismatched it is to actual value (it is definitely more valuable to society to sit in a parking lot drinking beer and smashing bottles all day than to win a case that allows a company to dodge pollution laws, for example), how I apply and accept harsh self-judgments that I’d immediately reject as unjust if applied to other people (and vice versa)–but I’m realizing now it would take forever and I’ll just say for now I’m trying to sort that shit out.

Tomorrow will be a long day catching up on temp work, Sunday I’m going out to Long Island to knock doors (if you’re in the area and want to join, lemme know), Monday is the start to a new week which is pretty exciting.


A MODEST PROPOSAL

“Earn” is a very stupid term for how much money someone gets paid, but I see why people say it, because it’s the default word we have for that thing and because in a just world, sure, pay would be equal to desert and because it’s nice, especially if you’re well-rewarded, to believe you live in a just world. But come on, we’re not children here. I’ve been replacing “earn” with various other words over the years, and I think “get” is what I’ve landed on as most accurate. Sean Spicer got $179,000 a year as press secretary, but all he earned was a kick in the pants. A very strong kick in the pants, to say the least!


SHOWS WATCHED

I did see that Simple Show at Caveat, and it was good, but watching standup always wants to make me do standup instead of watching. That’s another reason to buy more time for myself.


SNIPPETS: PROPAGANDA TO THE YOUTH

I got to substitute teach for a US History regents study group today, and the main goal was to keep kids engaged so I got to talk about Reconstruction historiography, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Eric Foner. That was enjoyable. I do not want to be a full time teacher because I want to do lots of other things, but I always like the chance to talk about things I’m interested in and propagate my values.


A NOTE

I like doing straight-up comedy a lot. I will try to do more. I also like writing things that make sense and are real products. There will be more of that later. Have fun until we meet again.

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