You are unsure of where the guilt comes from. Do they hand it to you mid-conversation? Do you conjure it inside of yourself like smoke? Do you find it on the street like a discarded soda bottle or Sunday coupons, sullied and stepped-on and yet you still pick it up, still claim it as yours?
It is the small things. It is the big things. It is your decision to work seasonal jobs. It is your nightly eight-hour rest. You gather guilt crumbs the way strands of hair gather in clumps on your hardwood floor: unnoticeable, unnoticeable, until the spool is overwhelming and you wonder where it all came from.
You spend a lot of time defending your choices, mostly to yourself.
Because you could be safer. You could be more comfortable. You could be wealthier and more secure. But you chose not to. Not now. Not yet. And people make you doubt your choices.
I wrote the above stuff a couple of winters ago in the downswing of seasonal work. Guilt has clung to me loosely over the past few years. It’s my suburban middle-class upbringing, my friends who are investors and doctors, people I know who don’t leave their Manhattan offices until the city is already nighttime vibrant. It’s this residue of guilt that I could be doing more. That I could be someone more.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot during this pandemic: productivity, doing more. The ongoing internet dialogue swells with thoughts: I’m not doing as much as I thought I’d be. My productivity is nonexistent. Man, I can’t even concentrate long enough to read a book.
I feel that. I too imagined that I’d accomplish more than I have. A lot of my days involve just existing—taking long aimless walks, sitting on the beach wrapped in a blanket as sand eats my face, curling up in a chair with my earbuds in and listening to the same songs over and over.
I like it this way. I am just being. That’s good. For me, right now, that’s how it should be.
Seasonal life freckles me with guilt because in some ways it’s luxurious. I am constantly outside and moving around. I don’t have a commute. I don’t pay rent.
And it astounds me that these things are considered luxurious, that people envy me these very basic freedoms. As Americans, we’ve romanticized productivity and work-culture. Being tired and busy, worshiping business ethos, they’ve become badges of honor (remember in college when people would brag about pulling all-nighters, or existing on caffeine and Adderall like that was cool? Wild.). You must be doingdoingdoing and makingmakingmaking and havinghavinghaving because that’s the American Dream, and what does your life mean if you don’t conform, if you don’t participate? Who are you if you don’t believe in bootstrap wealth?
Productivity has flat-lined for a lot of people right now. A lot of things have come crashing down. Our health care system, our access to goods and services, our monetary and job security, our economy. When things fail, it shows us what we’ve taken for granted.
And the thing I’ve been thinking about most is how it doesn’t have to be this way. None of this. People talk about reopening, about going back to “normal,” but is that really what we want? What normal? Whom is that benefiting? Because people envy me my time outside and I envy them their dental insurance, and it doesn’t have to be one or the other. We can change things. We can have it all.
But radical change takes radical thinking followed by radical action. Change doesn’t happen unless we push for it.
So where do we go from here? What are you going to do? You. Yes, you. What changes for you after all of this? What are you going to make from this wreckage?
Imagine if we created a society that allowed you to exist in different forms, allowed you to choose the life you wanted instead of feeling trapped by essential needs. Imagine.
Now, what are you going to do?
what are we going to do with all this future?
One Reply to “from the ashes”
Rhetorical questions? After a decade of being yuppies in DC, my wife and I moved to a small town. I started working in non-profits with huge work/life balance. I teeter back and forth between guilt and a belief we did it right. Next year, my daughter goes to college. My DC friends are having no financial trouble putting their kids through school. For us, parents AND kids, it’s going to be painful. But I also have a wealth of memories with my kids because I was home at 5:00 every evening. What will I do with the future? Nothing. Being locked down doesn’t seem any different from my normal life except I find more people in the woods these days when I run and ride and hike.,