I’m confused. Is it Saturday? Is it Sunday? I don’t know anymore. It was Christmas yesterday…or was that the day before? I mean, does it even matter? I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. It’s been forty-four days of “lockdown light”, during which time I only went to work and came home every day, followed by thirteen days of full lockdown, and (at least) another thirteen to go. In this moment, time is irrelevant to me. The only reason I even know those numbers is because I document every day of quarantine on my social media. So, if you want to know how much free time I have, I can actually take the time to go online and Facebook stalk myself.
To be fair, it took that first week and a half of solitude just to de-stress. Pandemic teaching has taken its toll on me the last few months, and when the new lockdown was announced, I was beyond burned out. I was just a big ol’ stress bomb, and the slightest spark would make me explode. To be completely honest, I was relieved that the schools would be closing three days early. By that point, my patience, energy, and focus were all running on fumes. I would get amped up on multiple cups of coffee every morning and drink myself to sleep every night. That first day of not leaving the house felt like a burden had been lifted. There was no telling kids to wash their hands or reminding them to maintain social distance. There was no crying, tattling, or whining. There was just peace and quiet, and it was beautiful. I didn’t have to worry about crowded trains or commuters who couldn’t be bothered to wear their masks properly. I just had my apartment, my cozy little cocoon, where I could bundle up in my onesie and not worry about anything, and that’s exactly what I did. I was free. I was finally free.
So, what have I been doing with my newfound freedom? Well, I spend a lot of time watching Netflix. That’s not exactly true. I spend a lot of time doing other things while Netflix is on. I play Words with Friends, I play solitaire, I scroll through social media, and Netflix is my backdrop. I’ve seen an entire season of The Gloaming, but I couldn’t explain the plot if I tried. I’ve seen several movies this week, but at the moment, all of their names escape me. Oh well. I experiment with my hair. In the last two weeks, I have done finger twists and attempted a twist out. I have also learned that I am nobody’s hairstylist. But I like it, and it passes the time, so I keep trying (and quite often butchering) new styles. I’ve also been cooking. A lot. Since I wasn’t able to travel this year and sample exotic dishes in different countries, I decided I would make my own holiday. It’s called Fatboy Christmas, and I celebrate it by cooking all my favorite comfort foods. This experience has also shown me that I am nobody’s chef. But even my imperfect dishes have been tasty, and I have enjoyed stuffing my face the last couple of weeks. So, I keep cooking. And eating. Why not? What else is there to do?
Actually, there are plenty of things I could (should) be doing. I could (should) clean my room. It looks like somebody blew up the All-Knowing-Trashheap from Fraggle Rock in the middle of my bedroom. I could (should) be writing. Even as I opened my computer to write this, I had to dodge the judgmental looks that the gang of unfinished articles on my desktop were throwing my way. One in particular has been giving me side eye for the better part of two months. I could (should) be studying German. It’s been so long since I have had an actual conversation in German, I have been reduced to Tarzan-speak whenever I do have to interact with someone. Trust me, my trips to the grocery store are comedy gold. “Me pay with card. Me collect points.” The irony of this situation is that thanks to my frequent viewing of German television, my comprehension skills have actually improved, so I know EXACTLY how stupid people think I am when I mangle their language. I could (should) be working out. Before the light lockdown, I had started doing hot yoga again, and I was loving it. When they first shut down the studio, I would take the classes through Zoom, but it was hard. I had lost a lot of flexibility in the last two years of not practicing, and not having the heat made it even worse. It was even more frustrating to get corrections for postures that I literally couldn’t do and not be able to explain the problem, because the teacher had muted all the students’ microphones. In the course of a month and a half, I went from practicing five days a week to not practicing at all. At this point, I don’t remember the last time I worked out.
Given the laundry list of things I could (should) be doing, why am I not making better use of my time? Meh. Why bother? I mean, it doesn’t matter. Hell, right now it feels like nothing matters. I think that’s one of the side effects of having nowhere to be. Along with all that stress, I’ve lost my sense of urgency, my sense of purpose. Any goals I set can easily be put off for another day. Plans can be postponed without consequence. It’s all just so…easy. Comfortable. “Why fuss with that project right now? I’ll do it tomorrow.” Sleep ’til two or three, lay in bed, watching Netflix and playing solitaire, cook, eat, sleep, repeat. The days go by so fast. The fact that it’s December intensifies this feeling of blurriness. Berlin in winter has a gray quality to it, so that even at midday, it seems much later than it actually is. Add to that the fact that the sun sets before 4pm, and it’s easy to see how one day blends into the next, which blends into the next, until life becomes a pleasant kind of Limbo, where I just float back and forth between the bedroom and the kitchen all day. This pattern is only broken by the occasional bathroom break. Suddenly, it’s a week later, and the aforementioned “tomorrow” still has not arrived.
This Limbo also affects how I relate with the outside world (on the rare occasions that I actually do). My universe has become incredibly small of late, and the smaller it becomes, the more unreal everything on the outside of my bubble seems. Outside the pandemic rages, but my cozy cocoon is safe and warm. Even though I am in Berlin, I could just as easily be in New York, Nashville, or Peoria and not know the difference. These four walls are my only reality, what lies beyond them is left to my imagination. You could tell me that the zombie apocalypse had happened, and I wouldn’t be able to say with certainty that it hadn’t. The internet is my only connection with the outside world, and it’s a tenuous one, at that. I read a news article about the bombing in Tennessee on Christmas Day, and it feels like it’s a world away. I read about the shooting in Kreuzberg Saturday, and to me it seems just as far removed, even though it’s just a forty-five minute subway ride away. Right now, everything feels distant.
I even feel distant from myself. Who am I right now? I certainly don’t recognize myself in the person that spends his days puttering around the house, doing nothing in particular. I’m a person with fire and drive. I have goals. I have ambitions. I have things to accomplish. But what becomes of plans when the future is so unpredictable? How can you prepare for tomorrow when it’s very possible that tomorrow will be cancelled?
I recently read a meme that said, “Is the apocalypse happening or not? I need to know if I should go to the gym.” I totally felt that. I feel like the last ten months has been a constant scramble in search of contingency plans. After ten months of steadily weighing options and evaluating potential courses of action, I am worn the fuck out. Preparing for the future is exhausting right now. Even thinking about the future feels like way too much work. Then why can’t I stop? Why can’t I just embrace the now instead of shoulding all over myself?
The simple answer: Societal programming. We have been socialized to be productive at all times, no matter what. The gig economy has taught us that every moment should be devoted to the hustle. We’re constantly bombarded with ads by companies like Fiverr that remind us that doers never rest and silently judge you if you, being the mere mortal and non-doer that you are, actually do need to rest. If you work all day for an employer, but don’t devote your free time to developing a side hustle or starting your own business, you’re seen as a failure. If you haven’t found a way to monetize your hobbies, you lack vision and initiative. If you haven’t used your time in quarantine to build your economic empire, consider it time wasted. After all, Shakespeare wrote King Lear during quarantine. What have you done, you lazy bastard? This hustle mentality makes no allowances for weakness. It makes no allowances for human frailty. It’s also toxic as fuck.
On top of that, I also have white supremacy to contend with. Growing up as a child of respectability politics, I had it drilled into me at an early age that I had to be twice as good to get half as far, that I would have to prove myself time and time again, that I would have to constantly work harder to overcome the lazy negro stereotype. It was my job to represent the race, to be a role model. Lemme tell ya, being a role model is absolutely fucking exhausting and no fun at all. After being told that I was an inspiration one time too many, I said, “Fuck that shit,” and decided to rebel. I made the decision to become a cautionary tale instead. Don’t get me wrong, I still worked hard and strove to be the best, but I also made a point of having a lot of debauched fun along the way, and that is exactly what I did. Whew chile, the stories I could tell…but I digress…Fast forward to now, as we are ten months deep in a pandemic, all the debauchery has been declared off limits, and I’m stuck in quarantine with nothing but my overachiever tendencies for company, and those bitches are bad company indeed. They set unrealistic goals for what I should achieve during my days of isolation and judge me harshly as I fail time after time.
So here I am, a prisoner of my own mind, unable to stop setting lofty goals for myself and simultaneously incapable of achieving those goals. My inability to achieve invariably leads to feeling guilty for not living up to my standards for myself, which in turn make it even more likely that I’m not going to accomplish the next day’s to-do list, and so on and so forth. Until now. They say the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one, and that is what I am doing. My name is Aaron, and I suffer from toxic productivity. Now that I have admitted it, this is where the real work begins, and ironically, it’s being okay with NOT working. What can I say, other than I’ll work on it (see what I did there?) Besides, I have all the time in the world. What else is there to do?