The above meme featuring Henry Rollins has been making the rounds lately, and I happen to like it (and Rollins) a lot. So I posted it on facebook.
Reactions ranged from “hell yeah!” to “nope” for a variety of reasons. Valid criticism came in the form of people arguing that down time is also recuperation/recovery time, and as well that people with disabilities or chronic illnesses need to not be going full force all the time as a health issue. Taken at face value, the quote comes across as shaming people who are not 100% busy 110% of the time.
I won’t speak for Rollins, who can defend/explain himself just fuckin’ fine (oh he’s so fine). What I want to do, is expand the meaning of what it means to “go”. My friend CarlaM left a comment that I thought captured what I saw in the meme: “It doesn’t mean you gotta GO GO GO all the time. It means be mindful, be aware, CHOOSE when to be on and when to turn off.”
Which comes back around to defining what “go” means. In our society, over-achievement is a valid lifestyle choice. People who drive themselves into the ground are revered as “hard workers”, “good employees”, “entrepreneurial role models.” Taking down time is seen as a weakness; using free time to goof off as a folly or worse, irresponsible. “Go go go!” is a motivational cheer for people to get their boots on the ground and get marching.
But I like CarlaM’s take on it, which resonated with me a lot. When I talk about spare time or free time, I mean, really, wasted time. A nap is not wasted time, it can be a necessary part of a stressful day, a method of recharging our batteries. Blearily scrolling through pinterest or tumblr in the wee hours, or checking out using drugs such as alcohol, or focusing all of our energy on solving other people’s problems — that’s wasted time. We can call it resting or having fun but it never is. The difference between recuperation/resting and wasting energy is how you feel afterwards: refreshed? Energized? Clear headed? Positive and motivated? Or exhausted, drained, and angry?
Those nights I spent in a depressed mental haze, staying up trolling the ‘net for distractions until I literally fell asleep in my chair….that wasn’t free time. That wasn’t anything that resembled compassion for myself. That wasn’t me being mindful. That was me disrespecting myself because the act of self-care (going to sleep, getting medical assistance, reaching out to friends for help) felt shameful to me. Yes, I did need to “go” but not to work; I needed to go to a safe place in my life and recover.
“Go”, here, is the sense of doing things purposefully for the sake of your LIFE. It means working hard at your job and/or your passion, and committing to your goals; it also means taking a nap, taking your meds, taking time to spend with friends, taking in a movie or taking a day at the beach. We understand that someone who is ill or injured in the hospital might need 20 hours of sleep a day just to get better, but we don’t apply the same principle to other situations where self-care is critical, such as chronic pain/illness, new parenthood, mental illness, or depression.
You could argue that this is all just semantics — down time or free time or wasting time, whatevs! But I disagree, because you cannot change the concept of productivity if your language is constantly denigrating aspects of self-care that include rest, recovery, and recharging. Fortunately, our language already supports a broader use of the term:
“Go” to sleep.
“Go” take a vacation.
“Go” out with friends.
Of course our culture is also very judgmental. People gage productivity their their own filter of what success means, and not your version of self-care. That’s why this kind of discussion is important. We need to value self-care as a productive activity, in and of itself. The idea of “don’t waste your life!” isn’t ultimately about the job you have or how many hours you work, but how present you are in it as you live it. Somedays that might mean working furiously on an art project, or working overtime at your job in order to make money or get a promotion, or taking a personal day to spend in bed with hot tea and your blankie.
We don’t have down time or free time, we have LIFE time, and no one gets to judge what is important to us but ourselves. Throwing it away randomly, wasting time doing things that wear you down because you are scared or insecure or feel unworthy, that’s wasted time.
Don’t waste yourself. Go for a break, go to a friend’s house for dinner, go write fanfic, go doodle up a dragon, go take a nap, go write that masterpiece, go practice your music, go meditate, go get help.
All you got is LIFE time. Go.