Actually, this is a terrible time to learn a new language

Faced with a deadly disease that has disrupted every aspect of our lives, Americans are busy keeping busy. 

Anyone fortunate enough to still have a job is trying to work as though nothing has changed. Capitalism demands that we keep producing, and the expectation takes root in our psyches. Even in our off-hours, we face pressure to do something, to somehow make this time count.  

Don’t believe the hype. The COVID-19 crisis isn’t an opportunity for self-improvement. A global pandemic is a terrible time to learn a language, write a memoir or lose 10 pounds. Watching TV is the only thing to which this situation is truly conducive.

The cult of productivity is its own pandemic and few of us are immune. It’s high time we demand a cure. 

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Here’s my prescription. Roll your eyes at anyone telling you to work hard right now. Blow your deadlines. Teach your cat to play fetch. Vogue the house down in your bathrobe. Snack like nobody’s watching. Treat this as a corona-vacay, the ultimate staycation.

I’m a recovering workaholic who loves deadlines, so I understand the impulse to fill up this time with tasks. I also know that too many people are out of work and that plenty of others have their hands full cooking, cleaning, caretaking and doing the many other tasks that don’t stop even for a deadly disease. I’m not arguing against meaningful or necessary work, nor am I dismissing the privilege of being employed. I’m simply suggesting that productivity is not a moral virtue. 

In fact, work for work’s sake distracts us from the one task that urgently demands our efforts: caring for the people who are suffering most. 

If you want to do something productive, buy groceries for someone unemployed or donate to a bond fund working to get prisoners released. Call your mom or someone who lives alone. Check in on your disabled friends. If you’re still feeling chatty after that, call your senators and tell them what changes you want to see as soon as this is over. It may not make a difference, but it might make you feel better. 

Making social change often feels like wasting time, and our devotion to productivity makes us skeptical of the utility of activism. The COVID-19 pandemic is a chance to embrace futility, which is a part of all social movements, especially the queer ones. Political organizing necessarily involves experimentation and thus, failure. The best activists find a way to enjoy the process even when it seems ineffectual. You can call that practice hope, but if that's too hard, a cheerful nihilism will do. 

As for me, I’m going to take a nap.