I should probably stop optimizing my life... ?

Humdrum 58

Have you seen this book before — the one with the pink and white flower bed

I’ve picked up Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy in bookstores, drawn to that cover but have always put it down. “Resisting the attention economy” made me think of some hippy dippy self help book for millennials about meditation and mindfulness and other commercialized buzzwords.

But I listened to her interview on Longform Podcast, and now I’m intrigued. She talked about letting things happen instead of doing everything with an accomplishment on the other side of it. Try going on aimless walks, bird watching. 

Odell talked about birds a lot, how you can plant yourself down for hours in hopes of seeing a particular kind of bird and that bird might not show up. Her point was, being OK with not seeing the bird. That the experience of being outside, of sitting in a field with binoculars and looking at the world around you, is the goal/not-goal so-to-speak. 

I mean I get it. So much of modern life (especially if you are a millennial, especially if you work in an office) is about doing. How can you build more efficient tools, processes, routines, optimize, to squeeze more into what is actually a finite amount of time. How can you constantly be productive?

I am very much guilty of this mindset and it seeps into my non-work life. A Friday night idling at home can feel like such a waste. I could have been knitting or reading or doing this thing on my To Do list (on a Friday night!) instead of lolling on the couch. The guilt for not making sure every waking moment counts is real. 

And then I read about how to be a creative person with a job (h/t Rosamund Lanin’s newsletter) and was horrified. Though I was full on-board with showing that creative people can and do have jobs, its emphasis on maximizing time had me throwing on my armor to fight for the empty hours in the week I manage to snag. My weeks are already constructed to allow me to squeeze in writing time and exercise and my paying work and the obnoxious things you need to do to live (dentist, grocery shopping, checking the bank account, etc) what more could I possibly do?!

After I calmed down I realized this article might not have been for me, since I already have a routine for creative work. A few weeks ago, I might have been inspired to try to cram in more ways to multi-task my life. But since listening to Odell, I’m questioning that approach.

I don’t think she is arguing against a routine and goals. More like, we’ve gone to an extreme in our modern approach to work and life.

But I recognize that I hate feeling like I’ve wasted my time. That any unstructured, aimless, mind-wandering time needs to be scheduled. Maybe jotting in planner, “unstructured time; 2-4pm” seems lame, pathetic. But doesn’t there have to be a balance between working toward goals and moments where you can just be without an explicit purpose?

Have you read Jenny Odell’s book? I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

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Storytelling Events

The Story Studio’s Writes Festival on October 5-6 at Columbia College in Chicago looks dope. I’m planning on attending. Anyone else going, lemme know!

Lily Be’s The Stoop, is easily one of the most energetic storytelling shows in Chicago. It’s off-book and raucous and a real good time. Last Thursday of the month, the next show is September 26.

Reading | Watching | Listening

Longform Podcast. (The episode with New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino was excellent). The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. Three Women by Lisa Taddeo. Creative Nonfiction, my favorite lit mag. An economist goes to Burning Man. This Pitchfork review got me listening Lana Del Rey’s new album, Norman Fucking Rockwell! all the time. How to build a life without kids. Derry Girls, about teenagers growing up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, is hilarious and has an outstanding soundtrack.

About this newsletter

Humdrum is written by Christina Brandon, planner extraordinaire. Purchase her memoir Failing Better anywhere you want, including Amazon. Connect with her by replying to this email or jumping on Twitter or Instagram. And tell friends to subscribe!