The Surprising Bliss of the Non-Consumer
One of the best things I’ve done lately is to set up a weekly conversation with an accountability buddy. I talked about doing this for years but just started during shutdown—partly because video calls make it easy, and partly because other things disappeared off my calendar.
My accountability buddy is not part of my household. This turns out to be key. I don’t sit across the breakfast table wondering whether she did what she said she would. Or, worse yet, whether she’ll ask whether I did what I said I would do. I actually sit across the breakfast table from my life partner with the daily update on my obsessive reading about coronavirus research.
Just once a week my accountability buddy and I sit in front of our screens and talk about how it’s going. Sure, we talk goals. I’m a binge writer who gets more writing done in the 48 hours before our meeting than in the whole rest of the week, and I’m okay with that. My buddy is an artist who has now taken up writing on top of her art, and she is writing up a storm. But we also compare notes on our shifting perspectives as the months of lockdown slide by.
Both of us benefit from privilege. We are both white, both examples of that endangered species, the American middle class. And we are both in our sixties, which conveys its own strange privilege now: Nobody expects us to go out, because we are in the high-risk group. We work limited schedules from home. We are not raising children, and we are young enough that nobody needs to take care of us. They can talk all they want about throwing Granny under the bus, but if Granny shelters in place and has groceries delivered, Granny does just fine. And Granny is grateful.
Being part of this young/old demographic provides the luxury of reflection. And I don’t just mean time to write and make art. We talk about social justice, we talk about political life, and we hold each other accountable for our involvement. I wrote about my own slow awakening in my last blog and will write more about activism. And we reflect on other types of awakening as well.
Rage Against the Machine
My buddy first brought up her rage at her former career in one of our sessions. She is very articulate when she describes it. At first I could not identify. This phrase—to rage at one’s own career—brought me up short. My decades in biotechnology met some of my needs. Working in that field allowed me to support my family and save for retirement. For the most part I felt I was doing good for people. It was my job to interact with FDA, so I spent much of each day writing lengthy submissions for medical product approvals. I love to write. I wasn’t writing what I felt like writing, but I was putting one word in front of another. But looking back, I realize how much rage I suppressed, at demeaning bosses, at the expectation to answer 4 AM emails on the dot, at the special times I missed with my children because I was working ten to twelve hours a day. Those Back-To-School Nights are gone, and they won’t be back.
During much of my career I worked for a subsidiary of a European company. I will never forget the first July I worked there: Our department received its August To-Do list of all the things we were expected to accomplish whilst our European colleagues took the entire month off as vacation. It happened every year, like clockwork. “Wait a minute!” I used to think. “I thought the USA was a first world country!” But I wondered then, and I still wonder, how we could become one.
I’m mostly retired and can afford to cop to all of this now. And I hope the many Americans who have experienced months on furlough are awakening to just how entitled American employers can be. May the workers remember their rage when they go back to work. It does not have to be like this.
The Surprising Bliss of Non-Consumption
When I was younger I took a silly quiz that was supposed to tell you which goddess you were channelling. I was all Athena and Venus, intellect and sensuality, with zero Hera, the goddess of hearth and home. I am sure that my Hera quotient has risen considerably since March. My accountability buddy and I often remark on how little money we are spending during shutdown. We both realize that we already have what we need. Cooking has come to seem creative; neither of us wants to go back to eating in restaurants. We have plenty of clothes and shelves of unread books. My partner and I cut each other’s hair now. We tend our own land. We have started growing some of our food.
I used to go shopping as a form of recreation. Now that seems absurd. I’ve been collecting earrings all my life and every time I lose or break one, instead of replacing it I get to wear a pair I hadn’t thought about in years. It has dawned on me that I need never buy earrings again.
Instead of spending money, I relish time with friends. I’ve had many deep conversations in these last few months, on Zoom or masked across a patio. My white friends and I are finally talking about systemic racism. I take my time now when I listen to music. Mid-afternoon lovemaking with my partner inspires my erotic writing. It turns out the best things in life really are free.
Valuing Ourselves and Each Other
If Americans learn to spend less and work less, if we focus more on connection and creativity, if we reawaken to the life of the senses, how will we change, as individuals and as a society? If we learn from this pandemic to value ourselves and our time, won’t employers be changed as well? How can we retain what we have learned, even when the economy reopens?
Questions like these open up in conversation with an accountability buddy. In this moment, while we pause for the pandemic, think about establishing this kind of connection in your own life. Take time to consider your creative goals, both short and long term, and share them with another person. Talk and write more broadly about what this new way of living means for you, both good and bad.
So get an accountability buddy. Give it a try—what do you have to lose? Having a buddy is free.