Like many people, Laurie Penny grew up with the concept that success is achieved through hard work. As she writes for Wired, this attitude — combined with the body’s physiological inclination to respond to threats with agitated alertness — has made productiveness the metric of choice for coping with the “clusterfuck of the Corona Crisis.” However, productivity does not provide a solution to this plight. This isn’t happening because you didn’t work hard enough, and it won’t be fixed by optimizing your morning routines and adopting a can-do attitude. In fact, this is a crisis that could overturn the whole social order. So, even though most of us are desperate to feel normal, we should give ourselves a break and stop trying to self-optimize to the background noise of roommates, kids, and our inner critics.
Right through the white-knuckle ride of my twenties and beyond, I clung to work as a way of protecting myself when I was scared, when I was hurt, when the future seemed to collapse on itself like a stack of marked cards. No matter how many marches I go to, there is some part of me that believes that if I can only self-optimize a bit harder then the world will right itself, no one I love will suffer, and death will have no dominion. So when the coronavirus crisis began, I started writing myself ambitious to-do lists on giant sticky notes—because when every cultural certainty starts collapsing in my hands like wet cake, writing ambitious to-do lists is how I calm down.
I would exercise in the mornings and write in the evenings. I would cook. I would sort out my finances. By week three, I would finally finish my book. I would organize my time so I had no time to feel any emotion other than manageable, everyday anxiety about my workload, with occasional breaks for feeling appropriately grateful that I still have a job I can do from home. Unfortunately, somewhere between writing those to-do lists and watching overpromoted incompetents invite their voters to kindly die to keep the economy going in the manner to which it has become accustomed, the entire concept of linear time seemed to disintegrate, which really played havoc with my calendar.