On Doing and Being · By Aileen Quinn
There is a lot to be afraid of at the moment. Sickness, loss, financial crises, isolation. Strangely, though, when I examine myself, my immediate fear is none of these things. The thing that makes my stomach lurch is the thought that I won’t achieve anything, that I won’t be productive, that I’m doing this all wrong.
It's perverse, really, that in this time which is actively inviting us to do less, my biggest worry is that doing less is... not okay. I don’t suppose social media helps. There are more pics than ever of people out walking, jogging, cycling. Of arts and crafts, zoom meetings, future plans. I even read one post that said “first screenplay in isolation written, onto the next.” I mean, just fuck the fuck off, okay?
So, I’ve started thinking, what if I ‘achieve' nothing? What if there is no product of my time in lockdown. I say none, there will of course be things that I simply won’t count. My home will still be there, cleanish and tidyish. My son will emerge having had a great time, lots of attention, plenty of strops, but healthy, happy, alert. I will have made and maintained connections with plenty of humans. And I myself, will still be here, perhaps with a softer body and a deeper gratitude. As someone with chronic depression and anxiety, emerging from all this with some mental equilibrium will be an achievement in itself – but I will struggle to let myself ‘count' any of these things as ‘achievements'.
What would count? Paid work, certainly, but that’s thin on the ground and in great demand. Writing a play, for sure, isn’t this the perfect time to ‘get writing’s?? No, I’m not sure it is. Maybe if I planted vegetables or learned a language... yes, those things would count.
But my whole being, my body in particular, is calling for me to retreat. It is hungry for me to use this time to curl up into myself. To simply pay myself attention. To notice all these things I’m driven to do, and to resist doing them. It is asking me “what if you produced nothing?” and the radical answer is that that would be okay. The world would turn and I would live. All the people I love would love me still, and I might love myself a bit more, a bit deeper.
What if, for a short while, there were no goals or achievements? What if you have nothing to ‘show’ for this time? That sounds terrifying in a society whose whole mode of being is driven my growth, where we are taught that anything less than more year on year is failure.
And of course there are many people who are doing things that are incredibly important – saving lives, stocking shelves, driving trucks. We should cherish and celebrate these people. For many of us, though, the most important, most urgent call is simply to stay home.
And I think the most revolutionary thing we could do in this time of lockdown is resist those urges to do, go, produce. We have been told all of our lives that our value is found in what we do, what we produce. Of course this a nonsense. Our value is and has always been found in who we are, and how we love, even from a distance.
So, while I may do things, the invitation I am receiving is not to do any of them because I should. It is to be mindful of my motives in all my doings. Is this it for me, or to show and tell on instagram? Am I being driven, head-on into activity because it is better than sitting still and meeting myself? Do I really associate my worth with the state of my garden or the number of books I’ve read, cakes I’ve baked, miles I’ve run?
Or can I connect with the inalienable truth that I will still be, still exist; be undiminished and still perfectly myself without any of those things? What a radical question that is.