#5 It's hard to go easy on yourself.

Hello, hi.

It’s been a while. I’ve been putting off writing this newsletter for months now because I have so much to say and so little of it seems useful. Being bombarded with news of suffering and indifference and cruelty has not helped, either. This pandemic (and lockdown) feels like an awful time to think about yourself, your life, to make meaning of anything, to do anything at all. Writing feels like a bit of a luxury, too, and we’re only allowing essentials.

It’s not like I wasn’t expecting a national lockdown. Yet, when it was announced (with about four hours’ notice), it was disorienting. To cope, I launched into doing All The Things. This lasted a week, I think. (or less? what is time, anyway?)

A confession

I’ve always been a bit of a productivity junkie. I call this a confession because, in hindsight, productivity seems like a meaningless (if not actively harmful) thing to fixate upon (and I regret it! sort of). I like doing things, many things. It helps me feel useful. I like feeling useful. I’ve been obsessed with being useful for as long as I can remember. Now, as the world falls apart in very unsubtle ways, I’ve been left questioning my relationship with it, and my usefulness. What am I useful for? Who am I useful to? What does it even meeeeean to be useful?

When This Whole Thing began, I thought of all the things I could do with this forced downtime. I somehow landed at the conclusion that because everything was shut, it’d translate into a life of no distraction, and just pure, unadulterated focus. I believed I would finally do all the things I wanted to: sleep early, wake early, get a fitness routine in place, execute all the ideas listed across journals, make my portfolio, start large “useful” projects, etc.

Lolz.

Instead, I found myself doing only the bare minimum, sleeping very, very late, and scrolling through relentless bad news. It was not fun.

After a couple of weeks of living like this, feeling miserable about it, and whining to everyone who would listen (props to all my friends for being very patient and honest!), I remembered this little thing from my past writing: un-goaling!

First of all, why didn’t I think of this before? Second of all, whew.

A change of plans

Somehow, at some point in time (don’t ask, I can’t explain!), I figured I should be doing less. So, I’ve massively cut down on what I expect from myself each day. It may sound loser-ish ( it does still, to me at least), but it feels pretty not-bad (great, even!). I’m just recalibrating expectations for what is decidedly not a normal time. Of course, this means I struggle with feelings of guilt and shame around not doing enough and/or not being useful enough. But this is a necessary discomfort.

The hardest bit(s) about this un-goaling is how I relate to myself in the absence of (what I deem adequate) usefulness. It’s so, so hard to accept that I can’t fix most of the problems this crisis has laid bare in the world and closer home. Harder still to sit with the knowledge that I can’t show up in all the ways I want to. That both time and energy are finite, and often less available than I’d like. That all the hacks in the world will not work on some (many) days, and that the world we’ve built is broken in more ways than we’d known. It’s hard to make space for the reality that you’re doing the best you can, and that it’s probably not going to be enough to make a tangible difference in the things you care about.

BUT. Life has gone on, as it does, despite these hard feelings. It has felt like the end of days for months now. I’m told the world has ended several times and begun again. Good to know. I would like to believe this. I would love to believe that all the work we’re putting into our lives right now - of pausing, of sitting with the despair and discomfort and perceived usefulness or lack thereof, of connecting, of care, of maintenance - will also show up outside of it, slowing re-imagining and rebuilding everything that has fallen apart.

Here’s a quick list of other things that have helped my un-goaling:

  • Putting only 1 “big” thing on my list.

  • Putting “rest” on my list and checking it off ^_^ hashtag life hack hashtag mind hack hashtag gamification

  • Sleeping when I’m sleepy, eating when I’m hungry, resting when I’m tired

  • Saying “ah well, it’s okay, boo” when I can’t sleep or wake early enough

  • Seeing chores as the essential maintenance work they are

  • Not being a meanie about watching trash TV, wasting time, and doing less

  • Forgiving myself for not meeting deadlines and/or keeping promises

  • BUT keeping one small promise to myself each day

  • Spending a lot of time talking to my loved ones

  • Checking the news only twice a day; deleting Twitter from my phone

  • Gently inquiring “who am I when I’m not useful?”

I leave you with this passage from Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing, a book that has been a real balm in these days.

“Gathering all this together, what I’m suggesting is that we take a protective stance toward ourselves, each other, and whatever is left of what makes us human — including the alliances that sustain and surprise us. I’m suggesting that we protect our spaces and our time for non-instrumental, noncommercial activity and thought, for maintenance, for care, for conviviality. And I’m suggesting that we fiercely protect our human animality against all technologies that actively ignore and disdain the body, the bodies of other beings, and the body of the landscape that we inhabit.”

Wishing you easier days and lots of kindness,

Malathi

P.S: To folks who sent messages sweetly asking/reminding me about the newsletter, this edition is made possible by you. Thank you <3

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