Photo: Corbin Chase

A Lesson In Lightening Up With Mary Beth Barone

PUBLISHED December 30, 2020

Ever since the pandemic started, the internet has become home to countless articles about how to use this time productively to achieve betterment, self-improvement, inner peace, etc. These prescriptive lists and essays are often sandwiched between news about the political climate, the global health crisis, and the collapse of society as we know it. Yes, right after I read about COVID cases reaching an all time high, the sitting President’s refusal to accept election results, and the ticking clock we have on our planet’s survival, I’ll scroll down to an article about how to achieve nirvana by organizing my closet between Zoom meetings. 

There have certainly been benefits of this unexpected downtime–I’ve read more books, spent time with my parents, learned to cook (kidding). However, without as much inherent structure to our days, there’s an immense pressure to make every waking moment a productive one. This has worsened a great imbalance, one that existed well before the pandemic started. A generation that was already overworked and underpaid is now locked inside with ever growing expectations of knowledge and civic participation. We are expected to know everything about everything that is going on and have a clear, concise point of view on it. 

As Jhené Aiko profoundly sang, “I’m sleepy.”

Where does shutting my brain off fit into our new culture of relentless access to information? When was the last time you, the reader, did something with no intended goal or aim for productivity. What are we left with in terms of joy when vacations are a health risk and even seeing “friends” on a video chat can feel like a chore? What about just… having fun? 

Things (yes, things, you know what I mean) have gotten very serious–and rightfully so. I can’t even really write about the concept of “having fun” without addressing all the other shit that’s going on. Even so, it is important to remind people that it is okay to pursue activities that bring us pleasure simply because we want to.

Lance Morrow of the Wall Street Journal seems to have a pretty bleak outlook on the state of things (see). In a recent article, he wrote “Besides the other afflictions of 2020, the country is suffering from a comic deficiency that has weakened the social immune system… Americans have sailed into an almost perfect storm of humorlessness.” Umm… ew! I mean it can definitely feel this way sometimes but I have to say it, if that is true it is very bad news for me (a comedian) and you (presumably someone who enjoys laughter). We must combat this way of thinking.

Addressing this pleasure famine, unfortunately, requires action. The answer lies in trying new things for yourself and only yourself. I don’t need to remind you that we live in a capitalistic society (I will, but I don’t need to). We live in a capitalistic society. No matter what we feel in our little liberal hearts is the best economic system, our brains are still wired to look at every task through a capitalistic lens.

What am I going to gain from this? How can I make money from this? How does this tie into other people’s perception of me; my social “stock” so to speak.

We are so obsessed with commodifying our interests. Good at graphic design? After your 9-5, you should start taking on some freelance projects. Just adopted a new puppy? You better start an Instagram account for it! You have a nice camera because you love taking pictures? You could probably turn that into a weekend side hustle!!!

Now, I will bravely ask the question you probably haven’t considered: what if you didn’t? What if you designed things for fun, hung out with your dog, and took pictures of things you like because you like them. This way, we can maintain the distinction between a hobby and a job. Of course, there are situations where you need to make money and the choice between having a pure hobby and paying rent by making it into a job is a clear one. When it doesn’t have to be a means of income, don’t pressure yourself to make it so. 

Yes, this time in quarantine is a great opportunity to better yourself. It’s also a great opportunity to spend time with yourself, doing things to love and loving yourself more for it.

Find things that you enjoy doing and then do them. It’s about identifying the dials you can turn up and down and having the agency and commitment to yourself to actually do so.

Sometimes enjoying myself means not going on Twitter for a week. Sometimes it means checking Twitter compulsively every hour, on the hour. On Monday, it’ll be calling six friends back to back on FaceTime, on Tuesday it’ll be declining everyone’s call because I have nothing new to say. No matter what my day looks like, I still have plenty of time to worry about my career, the planet, and the future of the country.

You are not a brand. You are a person. And you deserve to feel joy. Kim Cattrall once said, “I don’t want to be in a situation for even an hour where I’m not enjoying myself.” What if we took some time to internalize that?

Get even more Mary Beth at @marybethbarone

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