why do you want to be unproductive

This week he passed away Juan Antonio Porto, screenwriter of ‘The crime of Cuenca’, ‘Beltenebros’ or ‘The forge of a rebel’, and at the time, my old screenplay teacher. Porto revealed to me the phrase with which I was going to start this article, even before learning of his death: “Chess develops intelligence, yes, but just to play chess”. It was not his, but Miguel Unamuno, which also said that chess was “too much for play, and too little for study”. Whenever I saw a hacked board I remembered him and the pragmatism of the scriptwriters, hidden plumbers of the narratives.

I have often used that phrase, with a certain arrogance, to explain why I was not interested in chess. Unlike history, philosophy, literature or even football, he told me, What is the use of something that is only used for that? In recent months I have found that thanks to the pandemic – let’s not underestimate ‘Queen’s Gambit’ and the fascination that grandmasters arouse – chess was beginning to interest me. Now I am learned his art, thanks to the generosity of the companion Álvaro van den Brule.

We have been reduced to being ultra-productive beings, in circles of work and rest

It’s one more of all those apparently inconsequential things that interest me so much since confinement. My biggest claim is be useless as much as you can. I’m not the only one; others have also confessed that secret ambition to me. That of looking for new hobbies and customs that distance us from ourselves, that help us imagine for a few moments that we are other people. The product of the fatigue of being ourselves for so long, with the only reflection of the ‘webcam’. how they sang Cracker, “I’m tired of being myself, let me be someone else.” We all want to be children or the elderly, the only ones who have the privilege of being unproductive elements of society without anyone reproaching them.

One of the most pressing sensations in this minute and second of the pandemic is that of having been reduced to being ultra-productive beings: we have turned our homes into offices and our schedules into a quantum race against the clock. There are two things that are heard a lot, one after the other: one, that one has the feeling that his life is reduced to work, shop, rest and start again; another, that new hobbies are sought, each one more unpredictable. The boring and confined winter, which reduces the possibility of leaving home, has sharpened that feeling.

Herzog, conqueror of the useless. (EFE/EPA/Clemens Bilan)

The pandemic, after all, is still a crisis of utility, as occurs after a great tragedy or a small drama. We pursue the effective and the useful when the world has a meaning in which we can clearly see the causes and effects: work hard and you will be rewarded, take care of your loved ones and they will live long, love and you will be loved. Crises call into question that ability to act on the world and we realize that all that was actually useful may not be useful at all. At some point during the pandemic, the one who realized the most or the least that working more hours only makes you have to work even more hours.

This crisis of the useful derives either in nihilism or in liberation. If what is useful is a mirage, if there is no longer a watchful god or careers with exits, why pretend that they do exist? Our hobbies begin to be oriented towards all that is so frowned upon in today’s society: art, literature, game, wander. Social taboos that today acquire a new charm as gifts for oneself. The chocolate palm tree at six in the evening, the 10 more minutes in bed. The only way out of the work-housework-rest cycle is by conquering the useless, like the title of the book of Werner Herzog. The success of the videos where people appear doing nothing, or simply studying, is part of that tendency to ‘dolce far niente’, even if it is someone else’s.

A ‘hobby’ is a commitment to oneself, the child we were or the old man we will be

Herbert Marcuse wrote that a concert or a play were discontinuities in our daily lives that transcend everyday experience, “designed to create and invoke another dimension of reality”. The problem behind our boredom is that our life is even more one-dimensional. We cannot even enjoy the discontinuity that social life generated, with its banal conversations, unexpected encounters, affinities and confrontations, which contributed to distance us from ourselves. In life in the pandemic there is no chance of a fortuitous encounter, so we force it by doing things that we would never have thought of doing.

The new hobbies

One of the most affordable diversions to abandon pandemic normality are ‘hobbies’, understood in its purest sense, as something out of that time when magazines were called ‘Hobby Consoles’. Something lonely, useless and incomprehensible to others. An indecipherable, asocial and epic effort: building model railways, painting Warhammer figurines without playing Warhammer, or collecting stamps without pretending to speculate.

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Let’s clarify: a ‘hobby’ is not stretching out on the sofa to scroll on your mobile phone until you find the least bad movie, cooking bread to photograph it is not a ‘hobby’, doing ‘bungee jumping’ to tell your friends is not a ‘hobby’. The ‘hobby’ requires a commitment to oneself and to one’s ‘hobby’. how to be a priest. But the ‘hobby’ also requires a love for oneself, a love for the child we were or the old man we will be. And a heroic act: managing to steal from life the time it has taken from us. The ‘hobby’ is form without content. As much as chess players remember their psychological or moral usefulness, they know perfectly well that what they like about chess is chess.

In recent months I have seen how people who used their free time to train, or continue working (for example, writing more books or more articles) began to abandon their pretensions. It is not about making better use of that surplus of time that some have acquired by teleworking and getting rid of the commitments made, but about resignifying that time. When they are going to die, people want to do those useless things that they loved when they were young or that they never had time to do, because it is precisely the useless, the is not conditioned by the opinions of othersWhat makes us who we are.

We recover that alternative self that we reserve until vacations or retirement

There are plenty of opinion columns that have dealt with this topic and it’s funny that they refer to the same topics: chess, yoga, dogs and reading. They are common places that are repeated as an alternative to screens. But deep down it doesn’t stop being a recovery of intimate and private time, of chosen solitude, of that alternative self that we always keep in a closet until vacation or retirement. Then there are those who want to make money with their ‘hobbies’, but those are hopeless and will burn in hell, improving their level of English forever and ever.

A recent article in the Psychology section of the BBC encouraged “microparties” with relative frequency. That is, small celebrations that serve to improve our mental health by allowing us to dream of a pleasant event in the near future. That we have cooked sourdough and it has turned out well? Micro party. That we have finished an article? Microparty What is Saturday? Micro party. It is part of the same self-indulgent mentality, somewhat self-centered and selfish like any healing process, which we experience in the long postponement of the return to normality.

Everyday life is no longer a succession of happy and sad songs, but an indistinguishable buzz like an ‘ambient’ record by Brian Eno, so losing in the most humiliating way with a shepherd’s check in an ‘online’ game it is one of the few routes that we have left to feel alive.