The heat in America (as well as an unusually intense burst of physical activity) has me reflecting on our relationship to exhaustion. I'm not sure who (aside from myself) is in that 'our relationship'. Maybe 'readers'? There's nothing quite as exhausting as exercise in the heat, for us readers. I know the sweat isn't a good indicator of the amount of exercise – I'm not doing nearly as much work as it might imply – but actually experiencing heat on a prolonged basis is unusual enough for me (and most people in the developed world, perhaps) that I can't help but have my instincts say it's related.
As I write this, I'm enjoying a pleasant breeze, and a window curtain just lazily draped itself over my laptop's screen. I have the time to wait for it to return to the window. The breeze is worth it.
But writing at all, when you're as exhausted as a day of manual labor in the sun gets you, can be a challenge. A challenge not quite like the other challenges modernity provides. Perhaps the closest parallel is doing an all-nighter at work or in college – except those are destructive behaviors. I think end-of-your-rope creativity is anything but.
Ah shucks, the curtain again.
I suppose I can use these moments to address you personally. How are you? Have you found a nice breeze for yourself? If you're reading this in the chill of winter, are you wrapped up in a nice blanket? Or do you prefer more formal attire, often stifling outside briskly cold temperatures? Or are you just in a normal coat, reading and walking down the street? Take care to enjoy your surroundings – snow and ice can be more beautiful than anything, if you can take the time to appreciate them.
To return to what I was saying: it's probably good to just keep asking more of yourself, if you are only exhausted. Manual labor takes a lot out of you, but if we can do maybe 35 hours of useful intellectual labor a week, there's no point in not at least attempting something.
I'm writing these words late at night. It's a strange place, where even in relatively rural settings you'll still see some people out and about, if you're looking. Every once in a while someone's true need will impose itself on your neatly crafted isolation, and even the tiniest town's life will be betrayed by someone's desire for home and rest. It's not abandoned, it's just that decent people are asleep at this hour, and what are you even doing this late?
You might stop under a streetlamp, realizing you can't quite use your phone as a flashlight for that purpose unless you can tie shoes with one hand. A useful enough skill, you suppose, but you'll forget you were curious about it before you return from your walk. You take your phone out again, perhaps starting music or a podcast, perhaps just to check the time. You have to be practical too, no matter how much fun it is to play at not having to, for a short while, and wandering at night at a terribly dark hour.
Or perhaps you're at your desk, and out the window you see the return of some commuter with a job even more inflexible and demanding than your own, at least today. The flash of orange or yellow light pulls you away from your task. This late, you're surprised you can focus enough to not be taken with just the colorless view into the darkness, or the small rustlings of your space.
Perhaps you're in bed, staring at a screen. In this state, perhaps all hope of getting something done is lost, and you've succumbed to the chaos of impulse, and begun the process you use to go to sleep. Check for messages, maybe listen to something.
But if you can, if you can remember, it might be best to spend just a few minutes on something you can keep.
By the time you're asleep, it won't matter how slippery your thoughts get. Dreams thrive on minds emptied of their own will.
I wouldn't cut too deeply into sleep, though. It will destroy your ability to do almost everything. True sleepiness is a destructive force that (somehow) hides itself from the person it destroys. I don't understand how people can have conversations where they can't focus, where they confuse people to the point where they've lost takeaways, and still reject the idea they are dangerously over-tired.
So I guess we need to find other things to remove.
Television is the obvious first thing. Maybe you only need to subtract enough to make room for things you like. But you probably ought to subtract at least some. There are plenty of people saying similar things – from Four Arguments For the Elimination of Television, a book I probably ought to re-read now that I am a more critical reader, to Amusing Ourselves To Death, which could very well be a complaint about mid-roll advertising and its impact on the content built to deliver them – but that wouldn't specifically reject things like Netflix.
Don't get me wrong, I don't like the idea that recreation is always the first thing to cut. It's sometimes reasonable, and TV is pretty low quality. But if you can cut your commute, obviously, do that first. You still ought to relax.
And maybe move to one meal a day, to cut down time cooking and eating? There are plenty of little pockets like that, where the time can come from somewhere you won't really miss it.
We ought to be making more things with others. I don't know why, when we goof around with others, we avoid creative activities. They take effort, but when you are with people like you, effort should be expected of you. Write silly jokes. Record a podcast – the structure can make routine and delightful conversations a lot easier, and so few people have friends they see every single week.
But sleep, if you need to cut it, is a terrible price. Perhaps it's necessary. If you can't keep anything from week to week, I hope your work is so lucrative that you can at least keep that. But while you can't take money with you when you go, things you make can still be useful. The trade might not be a good one – money instead of artifacts – but it's understandable.
Cue the criticism about Millennials not wanting aggressive career advancement. It's not like I've ever seen someone actually care a single wit about that after they've gotten that brass ring. But even at the margin, I think young Americans still value stable career paths too much, considering what they're getting out of them.
The wind has died down, here at my seat by the window. I wish it'd return, despite me not being overly hot. I just want nature itself to push me in the face.
I'm not sure the best work is done in static and sterile environments free from any distractions. So I wait for the wind to push itself across my desk.
Living a good life isn't maximally risk averse – wisdom I'm sure we've all heard. But what elements of that chaos I want to invite into my work are good? Trusting others, even when I'm concerned about being let down. Dedicating myself to things I care about. Going out on a limb for friends. Making things even if they're bad. Devoting resources to our fragile hopes for the future.
There are tons of enriching things that people recommend. Learn a language, travel. Learn new skills. Get married, and care for someone else more than you care for yourself. Get fit. Volunteer.
But here's my pitch for making things: they can help many other enriching ventures. It can help you learn new skills. If you give away what you make, that is a form of volunteerism (assuming you listen to what people want and need). If you make your strange art, you can find someone who will appreciate the version of you that might not be easy to share. The things we enjoy bind us to people that make them, and not in a necessarily para-social way.
It doesn't help you get fit. It doesn't help you learn a language, I don't think. But it might help you make friends, and that's not a small thing in this strange modern America. And no task should achieve all of your goals – it would just make you more one-dimensional. Making things for fun is just a slice of what your life ought to be, and luckily, that's pretty easy to remember.
I think, if you've run out of room for anything else in your life, sit down and do an inventory of all those things you might cut. Are you actually busy, in a true and persistent way? Or was there a recent, transient interruption? Are there things you can subtract? What would it take to manage that?
Maybe the answer is that you can't. You're running on empty as it is.
But in that case, take just a few minute every day, and use the momentum you have to push forward on something meaningful to you.