An Argument for Unproductivity

As the pandemic as drawn on, I have come across some version of the following statement a number of times:

“Due to the pandemic, I have been able to…”

This is usually followed by some super cool thing that they were able to do because they had the time to do it. This has been true for many creatives as well. Writers, musicians, and artists have in some cases had more time to focus on their work, coming up with remarkable results. To me, this is wonderful, that they had the time to create, and during that time they were inspired. I am certainly happy for all of them.

Photo by Sander on

However, the ability to be creative during the pandemic is in itself a privilege that relies on several very important things:

  1. The artist actually had the time. Many people still had to work, especially people in ‘essential’ jobs. Many of these jobs, such as retail clerks, are pretty low-paying. Many people lost their jobs, forcing them into work that pays less.
  2. The artist and their family were healthy. For many people, the pandemic was nothing more than an inconvenience, but for many more it involved life and death struggles with the illness. Looking at the numbers of deaths and cases provide clues to just how many people have had to deal with this.
  3. The artist had the mental space. Let’s face it; we have had a rough year. In our own ways, we have all faced and dealt with trauma and fear. These things clutter the mind. For some it inspires action, but for others it causes us to shut down.

If you have been productive, congratulations. You should be proud of your accomplishments.

However, if you did not have the time and mental space to take on projects and be creative, that is okay. It really is. Do not compare yourself to what those around you accomplished. And don’t let anyone bully you into believing otherwise. You did exactly what you needed to do.

In the words of the old prayer, “Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and stars.”