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Out with the Old, in with the New

A year of a global pandemic

When the COVID-19 virus started spreading in America, and we went into quarantine, it was really important to me to use my time effectively. I figured we’d have a month or two of excess time on our hands and I wanted to do everything and anything productive to set myself up for success later. I did what I’ve always been taught: “work hard, plan ahead, and give 110% with all you do.” A year later, and what feels like a million tasks and goals accomplished, yet I’ve walked away with something so much more important: the affirmation that I value community, leisure, and human relationships over everything else. I don’t believe I’m alone in these realizations either.

With so many of us detached from work, our identities have been able to breathe and adapt. A mass amount of us have tapped into a truer, and more meaningful, version of what it means to be human. Are we really meant to be overworked, constantly busy, over-planning, competitive, self-interestedcogs? Or is leisure, quality family time, and generosity a more organic part of our existence? According to anthropologist James Suzman, who spent 30 years studying the Ju/’hoansi“Bushmen,” a tribe who lived without the influence of modern- day civilization until the late 20th century, we see this theory at play. In his book Work: A History of How We Spend Our Time, Suzman describes them as a perfectly happy and cheerful community, very content to work as little as possible. They spent a total of 37 hours a week finding food and doing chores, with the rest of their daylight for leisure activities and sleep. Compared to the average, full-time employee in the U.S. who spends about 44 hours on work a week, not including domestic and child care. Suzman writes, “In that downtime, the Ju/’hoansiremained strikingly free, over centuries, from the urge to cram it with activities that we would classify as “productive”.” He goes on to say, “Small hunter-gatherer groups in tropical climates rarely stored food for more than a few days, trusting in the abundance of their environment. The Ju/’hoansi worked to meet their absolute needs, and then stopped to rest, rather than planning ahead.”

​This sense of trust and slower paced way of life is incredibly foreign to Americans. We’ve internalized a fear-based and scarcity mindset. We also are unsurprisingly among the most stressed out people in the world, according to a New York Times survey. We hoard toilet paper from others to protect ourselves. We crave work and busy schedules to feel valued. We are activists when it’s convenient as opposed to our driving force. We hustle for more money, more money, more money because we’re scared we won’t have enough some day. We max out our energy bandwidths and overprepare because we’re scared of failing. The pandemic showed us that we’re sick.

Being consumed by busy-ness, getting ahead, and self-interest is a disease of our present-day culture. It’s even bled into the artistic world: a world that doesn’t naturally allow for binaries, results, or objectivity. A world that has historically been more closely connected to what I believe to be a Universal truth: human connection and service over self-interest. We’ve somehow made even that subjective part of our culture into a money hungry, White man’s profit. From a personal experience, I’ve noticed how myself and my peers have internalized capitalism and become egotistical participants in the business that is art.

As we enter back into a faster paced life, it’ll be easy to be tempted by these distractions that we used to be consumed by, and taught, to value. So, how do we transition back into a society that doesn’t value our collective takeaways? A society that rewards perfectionism, competition, results, and ego over intrinsic connectedness? Of course there’s no easy answer. Unlearning and rejecting our capitalistic tendencies will be a constant practice for us all. Here’s my own reflection, and some examples of what I’ll be in the practice of.

1. Cultivate trust in the abundance of our environment andUniverse. I want to be aware of getting stuck in ‘planning mode’. I acknowledge that this is fear based and doesn’t allow for possibility. We cannot control or predict anything, and that’s the beauty of life. I can be intentional about my life and ALSO allow for what will be without controlling it.

2. Community is my driving force. I want to work to meet my basic needs with the intention to give back to others, rather than get lost in the never-ending cycle of creating security for myself. But what does this even ‘look like’ in our modern world? My Dad had some helpful insights around this. He reminded me of my grandfather, Sheldon Mayer, who was one of the first members of DC comics in New York City. He found early success and made a lot of money in his early days; enough money that he chose to retire at 30 years old. Was he filthy rich? Nope. He was comfortable. Could he have made a lot more money? Oh yeah. But he hated the business of it all. He made enough money to set he and his family up for the coming years, and then retired and continued drawing and making comic books because he loved it. He was a generous man whosevalues were always towards humanity over his ego. He made sure those around him were taken care of instead of buying lavish accessories. My Dad then shared with me, “Marissa, “There’s nothing wrong with working to create stability for yourself and earning money for work provided. Like flight attendants tell us, ‘put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.’ However, the question you need to ask yourself is, ‘do I still feel secure when those beneath me are not?’” He’s talking about profiting past what we really need.

3. I won’t over achieve or max out my energy. This is the one I feel incredibly resistant towards, and will most likely forever be practicing. I did have some success with this this week though! I’m taking a bi-monthly acting/dance class right now and we have an assignment we get feedback on, every class, giving me two weeks to prepare. The Capitalistic narrative in my head goes like this: “I should work on this any moment I can during these two weeks to ‘perfect’ the assignment. I won’t relax until I’ve given it 110%, and rehearsed it over and over and over again.” Instead, I decided to work on it until I finished and felt ready for class, which happened to be collectively ONE HOUR, during those two weeks. That’s it. That’s all I spent on choreographing, practicing, and researching. Today I shared the assignment and Marguerite Derricks said, “This was the closest I’ve seen in class today.” I trusted myself and my quality of work I put in. Now, some weeks an assignment may take longer. But the point is, if it doesn’t, I don’t want to feel pressure to maximize my time and energy levels. It’s counterproductive.

None of these ideals make sense with what we’ve been taught, but I believe we can live wildly happier lives if we can bring these values into our reality. The Ju/’hoansi people trusted their present moment, did the base level of work to live, and lived for each other… and they were happy. They didn’t worry about utilizing every second of their time for utility, to plan/prepare for their futures, or to overachieve and boost their social status. We have the capacity to adopt these principles, my friends. We really do. We have a responsibility to each other.

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1 comentario

marla reid
marla reid
30 mar 2021

I Love this. Great message Marissa. I c relate to maximizing my energy. Using every second of the day working, thinking, planning. The Quarantine actually was the Best wake up experience for Me. I learned soo many things about myself. Cooking & Resting is definitely a huge Life Force again in my life. It had been pushed down, suppressed for awhile. Thanks for sharing Marissa.

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