By Briahna McTigue
How do I stop feeling like I’m wasting my youth during this quarantine?
A Fellow Quaranteen
I suppose that my first piece of advice to you would be to determine your definition of ‘wasting’ and where it comes from. It is no secret that we live in an environment fuelled by productivity and consumption — a reality that younger demographics are never spared from. We are bred to meet the expectations of those that come before us, always being encouraged to create and work towards the possibility of what could be. And frankly, what has this virus done if not eradicate our sense of ever being able to predict what could be? As a global community, we are being taught that time beyond the present is never a certainty. And so for that, I will reiterate my question.
What does it mean to “waste”?
Does it mean lacking in productivity? Does it mean taking time for yourself? Does it mean prioritizing family, friends and breathing?
And perhaps this answer feels wishy-washy. I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that. After growing up alongside you in this climate, how could I? I am not fully free from this conditioning, and there are definitely pockets of doubt written in between these lines. We are so heavily taxed by our rates of production, that without its weight, we begin to feel aimless and untethered — as though we are merely floating around without purpose.
Even as we try to grasp at this purpose by creating at home, we are still left with the thought that our work lacks value if it is simply for ourselves. Before Covid-19, our efficiency was measured by our ability to compete with those around us and produce material for other institutions… Being taught that to invest in ourselves was a luxury reserved for those that have already finished their work… As though investing in oneself isn’t an immeasurable amount of work. We have been raised in a space where “self-care” is an afterthought, always placing last in the race of what is worth our attention. And by “self-care” I don’t just mean facemasks and bath bombs. I’m talking about something that ranges from personal projects, to solely thinking for ourselves. In its place, however, we are taught to share and inspire, always aiming to extend the corners of our little world. How ironic it is then, to be confined to the walls of our homes and bedrooms.
While I have nothing against growth and expansion, I do have an issue with the other message that it fosters. We all know the old saying “If a tree falls in a forest, and no one’s around to hear it, does it even make a sound?” And while this may seem like an arbitrary example, I can assure you that it’s not. After all, what are we if not one tree in a forest surrounded by countless others?
Aren’t we all desperate for sound? For recognition? The majority of us have grown to think that if we have nothing to show for our thoughts and experiences, they might as well not exist. And while we humans spend time arguing about this philosophy of the tree… Somewhere, another tree falls... And it doesn’t care if we hear it. It didn’t fall for us.
I believe that we all have inherent value, and thus nothing we do can ever be a waste. Whether we are heard or not, our projections do not create us or our value. But if you find yourself disagreeing, I understand. It is no wonder that many of us are struggling to find our value when our ability to express it has become limited. Rather than being encouraged to expand and ‘get out there’, we are being urged to stay home and go inwards… A pretty radical act considering what we’re used to. This time in quarantine is forcing us to slow down and do things for ourselves. This time — while extremely painful for many — is a time of reinvention and deconditioning, and so for that I say ‘rinse, lather, repeat!’ (and not just because you should be washing your hands a lot). I’m saying this because if anything, let this be a time for you to determine who you want to be and who you already are. Is there anything you want to change? Is there anything you’re longing to feel?
So I suppose my final answer to your question, dear Quaranteen, would be to use this time to determine what it is that you’re wasting… and then waste some more.
And lastly, breathe… Take the time to really breathe, both for yourself and for those who no longer can.