The vortex of anything
I like projects. At any given moment, I’ve got a work project, a personal project, a volunteer project, or a house project in the works. Some are small, like labeling the spice jars. Some are large, like encouraging all martial artists everywhere to stand up for black lives. And I enjoy them all. I like being productive and creating things. I like being busy.
Even though it’s fun and fulfilling, if left un-checked all that projecting can become a vortex that leaves no space for anything else. At several points in my life, I have taken on too many projects at once and it hasn’t ended well. Particularly when too many of those projects were other people’s priorities. I don’t like to disappoint, so that meant I got it all done at the expense of my own mental or physical well-being.
I’m sure many people can relate to the vortex of saying yes to too many things. It’s easy to fall into with so many great and worthy causes in the world needing time and attention. It’s also quickly reinforced by American society's general idealization of the workaholic lifestyle. Being busy is a status symbol that comes with a certain amount of prestige.
I certainly bought in to the narrative: I am doing important things in the world, therefore I am important. It is one of the very subtle ways I have embodied supremacy. I saw my state of being busy with important things as something that separated me from all those other people wasting their time on unworthy pursuits. It was also incredibly hard for me to identify because it was tangled up with my fight against being constantly devalued as a fem-presenting human. I had to gently tease apart where recognizing my own intrinsic value stopped and where comparatively devaluing others began.
Similarly, part of my martial arts training morphed from helpful skill-building into unhelpful vortex at one point. I spent a lot of time practicing being comfortable in a really crappy position, which is an excellent skill to develop. Being calm when things are at their worst facilitates seeing more creative opportunities for resolving that situation and making better choices between the options available.
Unfortunately for me, I got so comfortable in the worst possible place that I would wait to start solving the problem until my partner got me fully into a crappy place, or I would put myself there and then start working things out. That is not a smart self-defense choice. That is also not a smart sport-fighting choice. But it had become a vortex and sucked me in for a while.
One giant vortex that has sucked us all in is Covid. It’s unavoidable, which makes it prime vortex territory. It’s also ever-present, which makes its effects difficult to identify. One of the ways this has presented for me is a new relationship with planning and time. At the beginning of the year, I had many plans for 2020. Over the last six months all of those plans have been cancelled or have drastically changed their nature. Flights were cancelled, conferences went virtual, and I stopped looking forward to things.
Early on, I participated in a lot of virtual social time. Unfortunately, I also work at a computer all day, so that essentially doubled my daily screen time. Every night my brain was buzzy and my face felt fried. I wanted to maintain some semblance of my regular social life and it was exhausting.
I fell into a pattern of essentially just working. This was especially easy since by the time Covid struck, tax season was in full swing. Then it… just. kept. going. The filing season extended all the way through July (instead of ending in April) and the workload was immense. With my Covid-safe home office accessible at all hours and no other outside activities happening, I could work and work and work without even the usual pangs of filing season fomo.
Recently I made plans to spend in-bubble time with an out-bubble friend. The logistics were immense. We had multiple conversations about everybody’s risk tolerance and exposure levels. We all had to isolate in a similar fashion for two weeks and make hard choices to temporarily treat some in-bubble folks out-bubble.
I followed all the protocols we agreed to and the days passed leading up to our week-long visit with the dear friend we haven’t been within six feet of for half a year. I did not get excited about the visit until the night before. It was as if the plan didn’t become real until it was actually happening. As if I am so out of practice at looking forward to future plans that I just couldn’t do it.
There are vortex opportunities all around us. Just like every time you pick up your cell phone to check the weather and fifteen minutes later you’re reading emails and wondering why you picked up your phone in the first place since you were about to make lunch.
Anything can become a vortex. It’s so easy to get lost in the doing of things. It’s important to come up for air from time to time, and check-in with why we are doing things. No matter what we’re working on, it’s important to maintain that perspective. Otherwise we lose sight of everything else, including ourselves.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.