I don’t know how to write about feeling blah. Not dramatically terrible, not triumphantly fantastic, just a tad on the negative side of neutral. The last couple Smorgasbord events had been fine, but nothing to write home about – which is a bummer when you’re trying to turn them into a writing project. A dance that I left early because I was way too sleepy after New Year’s Eve, a smut slam (yes) where all the stories were confidential, a perfectly ordinary yoga class…
(Then in addition to the specific activities, there are general patterns and takeaways. But I’m so not into writing a takeaway post, one pontificating about what I’ve learned and (implicitly) how awesome I am…)
So what about feeeeelings? Emotionally, Smorgasbord January has gone from borderline-manic excitement, a sweeping sense of possibility, of the world being a great big place with unknown treasures around the corner, of randomness and mistakes leading to unpredicted adventures and gifts – to tiredness, overwhelm, struggling to combine doing all these things with work, to a sense of duty, of acting out of duty instead of enthusiasm, of nothing new under the sun, new things just turning out to be old (whereas before that same phenomenon had felt like a happy reconnection with my childhood self).
This framing is so dramatic, so exaggerated. Really, it’s just that the initial excitement has worn off a bit.
Too much head stuff. And I don’t want this to be a “what’s the problem?” kind of analyzing, I just mostly want to reconnect with myself, with my sense of why I’m doing this project. (I hate the word “project,” a ribbon wrapped around a hunk of life hacked off as a sacrifice to capitalism.) Part of the initial sense of excitement was the idea of a study in non-commitment, doing things lightly and transiently because that’s how the world is. Playing soccer once and maybe never again and still enjoying it, not immediately making it into a second, third, twentieth job. (The inner conflict around having this whole thing be a challenge, a stretch, and still taken lightly – of course that’s my inner conflict about work, about life. Right, the happy framing of the challenge had been: default to yes. If you’re unsure whether to go somewhere, to an event or something, do it. If you’re unsure whether you’re too tired to go climbing the day after playing soccer, go climbing. But this also means go back home if you do end up feeling too tired, guilt-free.)
A lot of my blahness is coming from work. I started Smorgasbord January at the end of December, back when I was on vacation, when everyone at work had taken a week off. And the great enthusiasm of those first few days was in part a release from the obligations of work. I hadn’t really taken time off since I started by job in July, and my life had started to resemble this comic by Matt Shirley:
I could feel my world shrinking, everything transformed into obligation, a sense of just treading water, struggling to stay afloat, and nothing new to be found. It didn’t start that way: the first month of working as a programmer was a constant “How can work be this fun? And they’re paying me how much to solve fun puzzles?” After a month, the puzzles got old, while my allergy to anything corporate and regimented flared up.
There’s a pattern here: new things – work, going to meetups – briefly thrill me, then I get bored. The whole point of Smorgasbord January was to tap into that, to love the boredom and let it guide me towards ever new things – but doing new things all the time itself is becoming an old thing…
Again, I’m swinging into drama. I’m going to a skiing meetup next, and I’m deeply excited. I’ll keep finding newness, then losing it. Lightly and transiently.
It’s not just about newness either. Capitalism is eating my sense of freedom. The sense that there’s nothing new under the sun, the way my enthusiasm is being transformed to duty (not “I want to go to a board game night” but “I should go to the board game night”), then to jadedness, that’s partly coming from being locked in a cage from 9-5. Since my company is a pretty enlightened place, it’s a funny sort of cage. I’m allowed to chat with colleagues, get nothing done on any given day because I can’t focus, nap if I’m feeling unwell, call a family member going through a crisis. What’s harder to justify is having the same exact chats with friends who don’t work at my company, getting nothing done on any given day because I’m writing an exciting blog post, napping because I feel like it, calling a family member because I miss them. I certainly can’t take a break just because I want to, to have fun, or for the inscrutable reasons of my heart. In other words, there’s space in my workday for personal life if it comes in the shape of a fire to put out, but not if it’s shaped like flourishing.
From 9-5, my company owns my brain and half my heart and soul. This is why it’s so hard to shift gears at the end of the workday: brains and hearts can’t just switch allegiances at will. If fun is banished as a reason all day, if everything I do has to be justified, if not by outcomes and KPIs, then at least in plain English, how can I return to trusting the inarticulate grunts with which my subconscious tells me “I can has soccerz?”
(Counterpoint: some of my best workdays have been ones where I disregarded those inarticulate grunts, pushed through despite not wanting to work, and ended up solving a hard problem I’d been procrastinating on. These days are deeply worthwhile by the human measure of fun, flow, learning, helping, contributing to a group effort – not just by the corporate measure of productivity. So it’s not that I should do whatever I want all the time, only…? Maybe it’s more that I want to trust chance, of a form which doesn’t usually fit in a regimented workday.)
On Tuesday, I left work early because I needed a nap. By the café outside the subway station, my drowsiness disappeared, transformed into a desire to write a blog post, and I spent a glorious afternoon in a dreamy blur of words. Of course. If only fires are allowed, flourishing will dress like fire. My subconscious had built a Trojan horse out of sleepiness and stuffed it with joy. Part of my project, my prayer, is this: I won’t apologize for joy.