Friday, July 10, 2009

Who needs it?

"Hi, yer young and you got yer health.  What you want with a job?"

--Evelle, to H.I. McDunnough, in Raising Arizona

"Productivity" is one of the cherished virtues of amorphous American culture.  How often do we hear people say something to the effect of, "I got up at a decent hour today and had a very productive day."  Or, "Well, at least I was productive."  Or, "I could never retire because I have to be productive."  

Personally, I think productivity is the most overrated of our cultural values.  What IS "productivity" anyway?  Does that mean I should have some kind of finished product at the end of the day, whether it be clean dishes, a paycheck, or an oil painting?  I never understood what "productivity" is supposed to produce.  I suspect that, at the end of the day, productivity simply eases existential anxiety.  

I often like to joke that I'm not one of those people who needs to be "productive."  Like a great many jokes, this one is embedded in dead serious earnestness.  I don't need to feel like I accomplished something every day.  (By the way, this is a variation of the oft-repeated sentiments I quoted above:  "I got a lot accomplished today.")  In fact, I'd really like to see a revolution.  Instead of touting the productivity of our days, I'd like to hear something akin to, "I contemplated a lot today."  What would that revolution mean?  

Well, think about this.  A famous actress once said, "Tell me what you do, and I'll tell you who you are."  Really?  I mean, really?  It seems to me that if we stopped DOING, we might have to actually think about who we ARE.  Can it really be that who we are is what we do?  For better or worse, we seem to believe this, or else we wouldn't be on such a fervent quest for productivity.  

I propose a new holiday--wu wei day.  Wu wei, or, the Art of Doing Nothing.  There would be no point in creating greeting cards for this, because if we spent a lot of time sending out cards for this holiday, we would be doing something, wouldn't we?  No, we need a holiday to celebrate nothingness, by . . . . doing . . . . nothing.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Window Seat

The window seat was not to be mine on this fine day of air travel.  

It's a strange thing, boarding a plane.  What I find strange about it is the interminable time standing idly in the packed aisle facing the back of the plane while already-seated, smug passengers stare at the front of the plane.  Perhaps it's my self-consciousness, but it reminds me of an old Far Side cartoon where one schmuck faces the back of the elevator while everyone else faces forward.  (Caption:  "How to Make Everyone Really Uncomfortable in an Elevator.")  Inevitably, eye contact is made with some of the seated passengers and an awkward tennis match of staring and looking away ensues.  Dammit, can't those people ahead of me put their stuff in the overhead bin any faster?  

Finally, I arrive at my seat--9A.  Those of us who cherish window seats know that seats "A" and "F" are always window seats, by the way.  Anyhow, the entire row is occupied by a smarmy blond woman with two small children.  I look and look again.  Yep, she is in row 9.  I very timidly point this out to her, and she asks me if I might switch to the other side since she and her brood are already situated.  This is not an outlandish request; what is outlandish is her feigned ignorance of her mistake.  I should mention at this point that I am nine days off of cigarettes.  This is not a good day to switch airplane seats.  I want to stick my finger in her face and say, "Man, don't you lie to me!  You planned this!  You window-seat-stealing bitch!"  I have to concede, though, that her kids are, well, kids . . . . with the requisite cuteness.  

So I spent the entire flight in a middle seat with my chin bobbing in my chest, trying to sleep.  It didn't help that the woman behind me talked incessantly about "the Lord."  Apparently, she needed an upgrade on her iTunes and "the Lord" helped her get it.  She told the hapless passenger next to her that "the Lord" would help her get an upgrade as well.  I hoped that "the Lord" would shut her up, but, as Garth Brooks sings, maybe some of God's greatest gifts are indeed unanswered prayers.

Anyhow, while I'm in the process of quitting smoking, especially those initial agonizing weeks, I suspect this is going to be more of a "rant" than a "blog."  Bear with me.