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Diarist B37 Day 22

Day Diary  

May 12, 2023 

I’m off from work this week, a bit of down time between the end of spring semester and summer session teaching. I work as a college professor. 

Today was kind of a lost day. I just couldn’t find focus anywhere, instead chasing random impulses and interests and frittering away the day. I can’t decide if that’s good or a waste. I’ve been reading Jenny Odell’s book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy and found it very helpful and good. We are simpatico and the book gets at this bigger issue of productivity. I suppose today was a reflective day on that issue. I could list most of what I did today but it wouldn’t be very interesting, just alternating between drawing, playing guitar, surfing the internet, being chill. Maybe that’s what this project wants. But I think it matters what we diary participants are thinking and feeling, perhaps more than the mundane time stamps of this or that activity. 

So, on that note, and thinking about everyday life, I think I’m in a headspace of pondering what a good use of time is. Some days, it feels like a waste because I don’t produce anything. I make drawings but don’t usually “do” anything with them (show them, sell them, etc.). I make music but don’t record or share it. It happens and then it’s gone. But I keep doing those things over and over again because they are meaningful to me and I enjoy them. I know that the productivity trap is just that – a trap. I’ve never been caught up in it, but yet it still works on me negatively from time to time. I’ve never been ambitious, never been interested in climbing any ladders, winning awards, recognition, etc. It’s just not interesting. And, at age 56, I’m at the point where I don’t really have to care about that anymore. By societal standards, I’m past my prime and I’m ok with that. I feel like I’m in my creative prime right now and that’s what matters. I’ve been fortunate to have avoided a number of things that have happened to many people in the United States. I don’t spend hours in the car each week commuting. I have a job I love with lots of creative freedom and no one breathing down my neck. No suit and tie, no name tag. It’s a job that’s not valued by society really (teaching humanities and art), and that gets to me at times (today probably), but I’m rich in time. I have a LOT of free time to pursue my creative interests, be with my children and wife, and to do what I want. It’s a kind of paradise. Some days, like today, it feels like I’m wasting my life, but I know that’s society’s training working on me and not what I really feel. Those two feelings, though, can co-exist in the same mind at the same time, I’ve found.  

All of this reminds me of a story in Chuang-Tzu’s writing (from ~2500 years ago) about a large, twisted, ugly tree. It wasn’t good for lumber, it didn’t produce fruit or nuts desired by humans, so it was largely ignored for many years. It grew strong and tall and got to be itself, as itself. It wasn’t useful in any way, and so it got to live on its own terms. But it was so large 1000 oxen could find shade under its canopy, so it was helpful and good just by being itself and doing its thing. Maybe I’m like that tree in some way. Maybe feeling this tension between what I am and how I am, and the cultural norms of capitalist productivity is what I’m feeling today. This is my experience of everyday life on this 12th of May, 2023.