Quality Time

"His account of fiction-reading as “quality time” builds on the feminist ethnographer Janice Radway’s counterintuitive 1984 thesis that clawing back time from housework to read romances asserted women’s right to an inner life. No matter how patriarchal the content of their pulp paperbacks, Midwestern housewives made the act of sitting down with a book revolutionary."

            -Leah Price, NYT Book Review, 10/19/21, re. 'Everything and Less' by Mark McGurl


This made me pause, and eased something in me.  I have been thinking a lot - a LOT - these past two years (two years!! more, actually) of how we value our time and ourselves.  The pandemic pulled the rug out from under us and left us in limbo, blah blah, collective trauma blah blah. I'm not AT ALL diminishing the pain of this experience but I am so tired of this still being true and trite and yet there it is.  I want a different damn story.

(Gotta redirect before I head down the Twilight Zone path noting 1,000,000 deaths in the USA while folks around me blithely take their masks off, oh wait, they never wore them)

Here's the point.  I stopped working when the schools shut down in March 2020.  And by "working" I mean at a paying job, because hey, I was still working to take care of my kids and myself and my house and so forth.  But that's not "work" in any validated way.  So that was ok for a while, we could manage financially, I got unemployment, my days were relatively full, it was new enough that a time out still seemed temporary.  But.  But.  You know what happened, right, it wasn't actually temporary, it's STILL going on! 

So.  The kids went back to school, and I did not go back to work.  I didn't need to go out and get a cashier gig or some such, and we had (have?) plans to travel, to build a house, to do things with life that made it impractical to get a meaningful job.  And there's the rub:  how to find meaning?  Why are we here, what is life all about, sing it Eric Idle.  Let me dust off my philosophy degree (or we could just watch The Good Life?).

If I sit around for an hour and read the newspaper or a literary book, that's a good use of time.  If I practice music or exercise, that's a good use of time.  Go for a hike, good. Clean the house,  good.  If I watch TV or read schlocky fiction, that feels like a waste of time, almost shameful, right up there with day drinking (...it's 5:00 somewhere...).  But why??

What is the value of one hour of my life?  Or all the hours?  Why is it better to do something productive or practical - wouldn't I rather hang out in a hammock for an hour than scrub the bathroom?  So why does that feel wrong?  I can read Thoreau and the Idler and all the stuff about slowing down and self-care and meditation and agree but it still *feels* wrong.

Actually, the productive and practical stuff makes a little more sense.  The newspaper v. TV is harder for me to parse.  Or even playing music - because there is no end goal or benefit in a practical sense, I'm not going to be a professional, so why is that a better way to spend time than just lazing about listening to a podcast?  This is not a new or profound question, and I'm sure there are some very thoughtful answers out there about high/low culture and of course it all comes back in some way to the damn Christo-fascist white supremacist patriarchy, that's the new roads leading to Rome thing, but I'm just trying to find my own internal guideposts.

Basically I'm looking at myself and my place on this planet and in this society and feeling pretty nihilistic.  But also optimistic?  

I had somewhere I wanted to go with this, and there is a lot swirling around in my mind, but these days I have trouble focusing and articulating my thoughts. There's a whole midlife crisis peri-menopausal meaningful work/identity abyss piece that ties in. Finding the thread, or weaving together the various threads, seems out of reach.  Maybe I'll come back to it, and over time, will be able to tease it out more effectively.  To get back to the original quote:  thank you, Janice Radway, via this book review.  Asserting my right to an inner life is the validation I didn't know I needed.  

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