Against Performative Productivism

Last Saturday, it was the weekend, ostensibly the time I get to rest from the trials of the week also known as the time of wage labor when I am unable to fully own myself. It becomes 5pm on Friday and I once again own myself. All the time that stretches out before me until 8am on Monday is my time.

Predictably I had already filled that time with things I need to do like grocery shopping and house cleaning and meal preparation. Things I do not dislike doing, when it comes down to it. Things that are “bread labor” and sustain my life and the life of my family.  But also in those few hours where I own myself I want to do some other things too. Things that feed my soul, offer a time of stillness or creativity or even pleasure. And there is not time for that.

I have started taking some time on the first of every month to sketch out what I intend to accomplish in the month that follows. There are some good points about this practice because I often struggle with goal setting/task prioritizing out of a desire to remain in a daily routine. Routines are very comforting. Without routines I forget to do important things like eat, bathe, move and I will focus on whatever is directly in front of me until I find that I am too hungry to think and too stiff from remaining in the same position. And then I do not have the mental reserve to decide what to do next at all.

So I need daily routines, but also, they lock me out of patterns that need to emerge over a slightly longer timescale. This is why I have instituted this monthly routine: First of the month, write down the things I want to do in the month. This allows me to be more integrated in the seasonal cycle of important things like ordering seeds, starting plants, paying taxes, scheduling doctor’s appointments, planning vacations, replacing pieces of my wardrobe, etc. I can feel less reactive and more proactive about the shape of my life over time.

However, I am not exceptional at estimating the time a task I have not done before will take or how many tasks I can realistically do in a month of weekends. I say a month of weekends because I do not currently have the stamina to do additional things during the week. Wage labor makes me tired. I am lucky that my body can work five consecutive 8 hour days because it is required for self-sustenance, but there is nothing else that is going to happen on those days. Last week I spent some time on a Tuesday evening trying to load my tax information into my CPA’s portal and it was so stressful, and such a deviation from a normal Tuesday, I had to go to bed early [nothing about this process was at all difficult, I do it every year]. Therefore, these extra goals can only happen on weekends.

My goals for this past weekend set me up to fail.

I want/need to make some changes to the chicken enclosure. This is mostly necessitated by the presence of the new dog. As a responsible dog and chicken owner, I cannot allow our dog to be tempted to injure our chickens. She is a puppy and committed to doing puppy things which could include accidentally hurting or killing one of our birds. I also cannot in good conscience confine our chickens to their small run during the day. They are mature birds who I wish to provide a good life of scratching in dirt, taking luxurious dust baths in the sun, and otherwise foraging as nature intended. At present, the chickens do not have space to do this without being free roam in the entire yard which is entirely incompatible with the needs of the dog. Therefore, I must use my superior human planning abilities and thumbs, to expand the chicken enclosure to the metal benefit of bird and dog.

I have never built a dog-proof chicken enclosure of roughly 500 square feet, but somehow I think I am going to pull this off in a weekend so that come Monday I can let the dog out in the yard during my meetings and be assured that the chickens are protected from the accidental predations of said dog. Should I get to sundown on Sunday evening and the enclosure is not done I know I will feel like a failure. In bed at 7:15am on Saturday I was already fretting about this.

My better half, who is for himself not any better at estimating how long a new task will take or setting realistic goals, is unique among all humans in being able to [almost] tell me what is a reasonable expectation for myself. He reframed my goal for the weekend by saying, “even if we only get the materials for this project and do nothing else this weekend that will be good enough.” He is, of course, correct. Then he calmly listened to me go on about the rest of my plans for the month, including taking a week off at the end of March so that I can build about 250 square feet of raised garden bed leaving April to fill the beds and begin to plant them with things like spinach, kale and beets.

We both understand that I have built an impossible intention for ourselves.

I also did not finish most of my February goals. My knitted sweater is still on sleeve island, seven inches in stockinette and 1×1 rib from blocking. I have not completed the book I set out to read for a blog post I began mentally constructing in October [it will be great, when I finish it]. I have not mended the pants and the socks. I have not made the built-in for my office or completed the age appropriate chore chart for the children. I have not read the book about raising goats. I have not updated my resume to assist with easier job hunting, which means I am not actively seeking a new job.

Yes, I ordered the seeds and the bare root plants on time. I did get all the documents into the tax portal. I did make the birthday cakes and order the birthday presents. I did make all the doctor/dentist/orthodontist/optometrist appointments. I did have the meetings with the ADA coordinator and read all the documentation. I did secure the dog for us and buy the dog things. 

Unlike most women I know with children who work full time, I have one of those partners who does things of their own volition. This is critically important. My partner, who is not the biological father of the children, is not a “helper.” Oftentimes, even actual biological fathers get to coast in the “helper” role. This is interesting because it means that two parents [with the same start date for the job of parenting] somehow get sorted into executive parent and assistant parent for incredibility stupid reasons and the assistant parent gets the executive perks like extra time off.

When you’re the assistant parent you can do some things like change a diaper or make a sandwich, but no one expects you to improvise or use judgment like an executive. Helper parents do not know their child’s pediatrician or which vaccinations they are due for. Helper parents do not cut the vegetables the right way so the toddler will not thrown them. Helper parents do not know that the extra-special-sequin-cardigan cannot go in the drier. Helper parents do not know how to fold the guest towels so that their mother-in-law does not make the pinchy face.

My partner is not a helper parent. He is a co-executive parent. He folds the towels right [we fold them how he wants them folded because his method is superior and also Marie Kondo]. He cuts the snacks so the kid with braces can eat them. He meal plans and cooks almost all the meals and does almost all the dishes. He knows when we are running low on toothpaste and laundry detergent. He walks the dog and scoops the kitty litter. I am making the age appropriate chore list for the kids so that he can do fewer things.

I have this partner and I am still drowning. If you are drowning and you do not have this partner, or you have no partner, you are not the reason that you are drowning.

When I look at my goals for myself and can only see what I did not do it is because my workload is not congruent with reality or my expectations. Thus far I have not figured out how to pencil into my monthly routine “recalibrate expectations.” It is a lifetime of unlearning.

I did not finish the chicken enclosure this past weekend.

The chickens are in still in their smaller enclosure and I have guilt. Yes, I did the hard part which was removing the cross beams and stapling up the poultry wire and fixing the gate. Now we are fully able to keep the dog in the backyard. A great thing because she is temporarily still small enough to get through the gaps in the front cattle panels. We got all the materials. We moved the railroad ties that will frame the enclosure and started to drive the stakes in for the rest of the fence.

A partially completed chicken enclosure
The eventual location of the rest of the chicken enclosure [I know those are not plumb]

But it isn’t DONE. I cannot cross it off the list and post it on Instagram and show everyone how I am having it all: family, job, urban homestead, leisure. Fighting the constructs that are killing us [wage labor, productivism, the industrial food supply, the hetero-patriarchy, the climate crisis, etc.] is very very messy. Sometimes we are our own enemies.

I’m going to cheer myself for not completing something that I set out to do because I had unrealistic expectations. Look at me: I didn’t do it and yet I lived. It was even a pretty good weekend.

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