I did nothing useful today. Productivity. Well, nothing at all. I lay down for a bit. Ate a few biscuits. I tidied up the kitchen. As I was tidying up, I started to think: “There are probably thousands of UK users bent over their computers working for the good life at the moment, and all I can do is rummage around on the shelves, wondering whether I should throw away that dry breakfast already or take the risk of sending it to the stomach.” I shrugged my shoulders and continued quietly with my useless, unprofitable occupation.
In the spring I quit my office job. I went “nowhere” because I felt that I would soon be on holiday not in Tenerife but in Summer Street; there was no sun, only white coats. With that day, all my ailments miraculously disappeared: panic attacks, severe anxiety and an eye tic. Now, at midday on Tuesday, I am sitting in my warm home with a biscuit in my hand, thinking that it was the best decision of my life.
We are prepared for this productive drudgery, which is often equated with self-fulfilment, from childhood. “What will you be when you grow up? What is your dream job?” – these are the questions that greet us at our aunts’ parties. For a real, ‘serious’ job is one that provides a lot of money, totally overpriced vehicles (which are meant to compensate for the torturous feeling of inferiority) and a house that may be miserable to live in, but which is comfortable to show off in front of people we really don’t like at all.
Productivity years later
Then, some fifteen years later, the same aunties (if they are not prematurely attacked by a guillotine) are already shaking their heads with joy: “Lawyer / advertising / multinational company – great, great, you’re living well.” And in fact, it’s not fine at all. But it’s not clear how to tell them – you made your choice supposedly of your own free will. How do you tell them now that you are actually dreaming of being someone else while eating your daily lunch. What do you say to people who value you just for your productivity?
In the office
In the office cubes, day follows day – the same day, with only the daily lunch offerings differing. Then the year breeds the year. Then we look questioningly at the bathroom mirror and wonder where the time has gone. There is a quiet laughter from under the bath. The trouble is that being ordinary or just normal is not an option. Capitalism creates the illusion that we can all be what we want to be, that we all have an equal chance of getting rich, of achieving the career of our dreams and so on. The system creates the illusion of an abundance of opportunities, which offers hope, but never solutions.
It is this illusion that will make your relatives or friends say to you, when you are tired, “If you wanted to do it, you could do it”, or “You just have to try, make a plan and you will succeed”. The truth is, it’s not that simple. Why can’t everyone succeed? Because someone has to eat that cold lunch at Luminore. These people are wandering around in glass buildings like fish in a big aquarium, banging their sides against the glass because they believe for a moment that they can break through it. That there is another, better world behind the glass, but time passes, and that supposed wealth, fame and fortune never comes. Then they go on spinning their wheels, trying again. And so on to the finish line in productivity.
The truth is that we don’t have to be special, rich or the best, but the system tries to prove otherwise. And we believe it. When meeting new people at parties, the conversation usually starts with the question, “What do you do for a living?” Our work defines our value. How high we have climbed up this hollow mountain determines how we will be spoken to. Those who refuse to climb are seen as lazy, idle, dependent, unproductive. The system cannot tolerate a person who wants to live without any claim to a ‘good’ life. It spits them out or they leave on their own – then we, somehow still clinging to our delusions in our aquariums, put pennies in their palms at the Gate of Dawn and our sins are forgiven – thus we share our “wealth”.
For several years, I ate cold lunches and tried to be polite in the office kitchenette when a colleague put pictures of her raisin-like newborn under my nose every day. I wanted to break through the glass of the aquarium, not thinking it was possible to crawl under the plastic coral and live there in peace with the seaweed and the coloured pebbles. That they are so much more special than the big fish.
It’s midday on Tuesday and I’m sitting on the sofa in my warm home, eating a biscuit and it’s crumbling on my bathrobe. Through the window I watch my neighbour Ramutė raking the leaves with Buddhist calmness so that we don’t slip on them. I know that the leaves will laugh at her, that tomorrow they will fall again, and Ramutė will take the rake with the same calmness and try to control the autumn. Somewhere near the Maxima, a group of broken men are wriggling, laughing, because the taller one has taken the white hat of the shorter one and is now waving it like a flag, as if he had surrendered. The cats give them an indifferent look – you can’t surprise them with anything, they are busy with their own feline affairs, and least of all thinking about the productivity of their feline days.
Someone is frying fish on the second floor. Someone has fed the sparrows some grain – that’s their lunch for the day. Mum calls and tells me that she has made herself a dress and is going to enrol in a Japanese language course – just for fun. The days pass one by one with us – those who have retired from the race or who never took part in it. And we are quietly going about our own business like fish – unproductive, not very special, but fishily happy.