On Not Being Productive

This summer I’m hoping to not be productive. I don’t want to become involved in any big, all-consuming projects. And I don’t want to do Work. What does that exactly mean? Right now I’m resisting the urge to “unpack” my claims. That sounds like work to me. But, I will archive some recent sources that are currently influencing me.

Beside/s: Remembering and Forgetting

Last week I, along with my husband and two kids, took a road trip to Utah. Starting in Minnesota, we drove through Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado to get there. It was a lot of driving. To endure it, especially Nebraska and eastern Colorado, we loaded up an iPod with a lot of Radiolab podcasts. We included a few This American Life’s too.

I’m so glad that we listened to the podcasts. Not only did they make the drives go by faster, but they got me thinking about memory, longing, nostalgia and the tensions between when we need to remember and when we should really forget. I’m hoping to write a much longer essay about these podcasts and how they connected to and enhanced various experiences on the trip, but for now, I just wanted to make sure that I archive the ideas/sources.

In addition to putting these sources beside each other, I also want to put them next to my reflections on and practices of visiting Utah to relive and recreate past vacation experiences. Last year, I attempted to express this through my video, Double Vision:

For Further Reflection

Here are a few passages that I’d like to return to or just remember:

From The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison.

Empathy is always perched precariously between gift and invasion (5).

Empathy is a kind of care but it’s not the only kind of care, and it’s not always enough (17).

From True Summer:

You could call summers like this a colossal waste of time. But that’s what feels immortal about them—wasting time, colossally, as the gods must do. And as energizing and healthy as it can be to participate in society and be a good citizen, I’m greedy for time with the soul, or at least with my brain, the neurons firing fiercely even when I’m sluggish—all those mysterious goings-on, so easy to ignore in the productive life.

And there’s something essential and delicious about getting off the social map of work and school, no one knowing what you’re doing or even really thinking about you. You begin to lose the boundaries of yourself. Part of society’s function is to say clearly: this is your job and these are your accomplishments, this is your family and your social circle, this is what you look like and your general identifiable personality. It’s comforting and necessary to be so defined. And we are social animals, and all of that, and there’s definitely good reason to engage, engage, engage with the world—by which is largely meant, other people. But I’ve always been more drawn to the nonhuman world, to the fringes of knowability—space and prehistory, the first attempts at civilizations, the alien nature of reptiles and creatures of the deep sea. I think most of us are this way, sometimes, secretly, and it’s difficult to engage with such things while on a lunch break at the office, gossiping about the boss. Somehow it’s easier at home, wearing a sloppy shirt. And even easier on a walk in the dead heat of summer of your college town, just you and the senior citizens out there, having a few stray thoughts. The self free of the fetters and comforts of occupation and so taking up as much space as it cares to, so much space that it might seem a bit scary. Roaming and thinking or not even thinking. Nothing glamorous or romantic about it at all, but somehow, sometimes, closer to the unknowable and the elusive. One minute you’re eating a tomato and red onion sandwich off your belly while loading up Netflix, and the next you’re pouring a glass of water and feeling somehow closer to God.