I am constantly besieged with the need for productivity. I become anxious if I have time that is not being spent in a way that is somehow productive. I keep telling myself that I should take time to relax, but when I try to just sit and watch television or read, I feel as though I have to be doing something else at the same time. I’ve tried to set aside time each day to be quiet time, when I can just sit. Usually this time is spent either making lists in my head of what I need to do once this time is up, or sleeping.
It’s just that I feel guilt and shame about wasted time. I think of television watching as being wasted time; video game time is wasted time; even driving is wasted time. At least on the bus I can take notes, make lists, think about things, listen to things, research things… even knit if nothing else. When I wake up in the morning, I look back at the last five or six hours and I think to myself, what could I have accomplished with that time if I didn’t have to sleep?
This is one of the things I really like about being in a relationship… supporting a relationship and a partner is a project! So I can spend time with the person that I’m in a relationship, and it lets the pressure off a little bit. Unfortunately I don’t have a great temperament for relationships. I’ve had two of them, and wasn’t really enjoying either of them all that much. I clung to them because they gave me a feeling of relief from my brain.
I also feel obligated to try to pay attention to my friends when I’m hanging out with them, so social time is an absolute must for me. It also gives me a break. I had a moment a few years ago when I realized that I really needed to spend effort on maintaining my friendships, if for no other reason than that I would need that connection someday. I love my friends and they deserve my time and energy anyway, but it’s difficult to make new connections, so from a purely practical standpoint, maintaining these existing connections is really important.
It’s not all bad. There’s a feeling of exhilaration that you feel when you accomplish something worthwhile with my brain. It’s wonderful, a feeling of wonder and internal quiet that is worth every sleepless night and every hour of frustration. But there are also times when I work fiercely and doggedly at pointless things, for no other reason than that I am stalled on my current projects but I can’t just… sit and do nothing. I feel galled by those hours that have effort poured into them and produce nothing of value.
I was listening to an interview on the Nerdist with Joss Whedon, and I’m not a fan of everything that he does, for sure. In fact with the exception of some of Buffy and all of Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog, I’m hard-pressed to think of things he’s done that I do like. But in response to a question as to whether being a workaholic is related to running from something in one’s personal life, he said the following:
“Um, yeah, I’m definitely running from something, I’m sort of a horrible person and I don’t like to dwell on that… uh, I don’t really like stuff and then I’m going to die, so uh there’s a lot of stuff I could just not get into, so maybe I’ll work.”
This is a concise and wonderfully plainspoken way to describe this situation, and though I’m not strictly speaking a fan of his work, the things he has to say in interviews could definitely make me a fan of him.
I think and feel terrible things. I don’t think they’re any worse than the sorts of things other people think and feel, but our very highly aspirational culture doesn’t really provide us with a way to deal with these things other than guilt and shame. I know the horror is normal. It’s just difficult to make sense of it in the context of modern western society.
When I am creating something, I am adding value to the world, I am counter-balancing all of my bile and hate and savagery by tempering it into something beautiful. Some of us just have a bit more bile and hate and savagery than other people do. So we have to work more. And all that hate and bile and savagery actually gives us a heightened ability to touch the human soul. So we do.