DRMacIver's Notebook

What does one do on bad days?

What does one do on bad days?

Today is not a particularly good day for me. I guess it would be a stretch to call it a bad day, but I'm tired and out of sorts, struggling to focus as a result, and generally not at my finest. Not particularly depressed or anything, just a bit meh.

I'm writing this piece anyway, because I wanted to write something every day and I think it's good for me to stick to that - both in the sense that I'm able to do it and I committed to doing it, so I should, and also in the sense that I want to do it and I think it's helpful for me to do so.

But at the same time, I have some actually involved writing projects I want to do. I'm still figuring out a (paid) newsletter issue on taste that I have to finish, am planning to write up a lot of my old notebook posts on emotions into a more coherent form, and am still reading "Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life". None of that really appeals today, nor does the slightly more sophisticated notebook post I was going to write instead of this one.

And honestly it's reasonable that they don't appeal today. I could do them if I had to, it's not that I'm literally incapable of them, but possibly I'm impaired enough that I shouldn't: the benefit is reduced from me at my peak performance, and the cost increased. They're things that are definitely worth doing on a good day, but maybe they're not today.

This is something of a recurring pattern for me. I couldn't really tell you how often it happens (I probably should be able to, but I'm not sure what counts as "it". Also I hate data entry. Please don't give me advice on this, I don't want your advice, and I will shout at you in my No Backseating voice), but certainly it's not an unusual occurrence. I'd guess I have a day at least this bad most weeks, sometimes more often than that.

And this often leaves me thinking about the question of what to do with those days. Or, I guess, more specifically how to avoid losing them to dissociative activities. It's very easy to get to the end of a bad day and go "Wait, what did I do today?" and discover that the answer is that you spent all of it on Twitter, or playing games, or watching youtube videos, or something else of that ilk. This seems bad.

If I had a real job of course (and sometimes even when I've not had a real job and it was purely self inflicted) what I would do with such days (if they fell on a weekday) is to sacrifice them on the altar of the god of presenteeism. Can't do anything useful today? Tough luck. We'll punish you for taking the day off, but turning up and being miserable and not getting any work done is fine, so...

It's relatively far down on the list of complaints I have about society, but definitely one of the failings is that we treat human beings as more reliable than they are, and then make it their problem when they fail to live up to that impossible ideal.

Setting that aside... In an ideal world, what would we like such days to be like?

I've suggested to coaching clients that it's good to build up a sort of library of things they can do for breaks, or when feeling bad. Going for a walk is one, doing some meditation or lying semisupine another, but these feel more like pause activities than fulfilling. Also I often don't want to do these things.

Maybe I'm just being melodramatic due to my low mood, but it feels like this question is butting up against foundational questions like "What is life for?". Having a day where one is feeling tired and low motivation feels like one is butting up against the "We've got both kinds of sources of meaning, production and consumption" that it feels too easy to settle into. You end up stripped of access to meaning, mostly by laying bare how limited your access to it was in the first place, and are forced to ask what's left. It's no wonder it's easy to lose these days in activities that are designed to help you fast forward life.

Reading that paragraph back to myself does rather feel like I was lying when I said I wasn't having a particularly depressed day, doesn't it? Oh well. I'm going to go for a walk and pretend to be thinking deep thoughts while I do.