Illustration by Andrea Nebhut
A mere few days into encouraged nationwide quarantine, Twitter user Rosanne Cash prompted discussion over productivity during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic. “Just a reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague, he wrote King Lear,” Cash wrote. User Robin Beth Schaer replied, “Were Shakespeare’s three kids under the age of 12 all out of school & at home while he wrote King Lear?”
Undoubtedly this tweet made other Twitter users feel they had to be productive, and as a writer myself, it made me reconsider whether I was being wise with my time. Then I stopped myself. We are in the middle of a global pandemic, a period that requires rest, community and putting our health first — even if that means that in 200 years my descendants will “tsk” as they retweet, “Just a reminder that when our ancestor Kayla was in quarantine she was playing Grand Theft Auto on Xbox. What a shame.”
The fetishization of productivity, even during a public health crisis, is what continues to fuel the broken system of capitalism and has resulted in the United States’ disaster of a reaction to COVID-19. So what do we do then, if not write a play with the magnitude and social impact of “King Lear”? As I’m writing this, I’m sitting on my bed, video game on pause. The Shakespeare tweet has been on my mind, and I just can’t ignore it anymore. It presents an illusion of grandeur and imposes an expectation on people who need this time to rest and recover, check up on their immuno-compromised loved ones and take care of their own sanity.
The world is in distress, and perhaps instead of placing extra pressure on ourselves to complete a major project, we should check up on our friends who have lost their jobs or have been evicted. We should stay quarantined for our own health and for the health of others. To impose such expectations on people is not only irresponsible but neglecting the seriousness of the situations we are in too.
So what if all I do is play Grand Theft Auto while in quarantine? Are the capitalism police going to come into my room, confiscate my Xbox and fine me for taking a break? Do whatever alleviates your anxiety, whether that includes creative projects or not. It’s time we eradicated the notion that we must be good at our hobbies in order for them to be valuable. Journal your messiest emotions, paint portraits even if you suck at it. Write because you need to, not because Twitter user Rosanne Cash said Shakespeare wrote a whole play during his isolation period.
None of us have to write “King Lear” when our brains are fried from being overworked or when we have to deal with the stresses of COVID-19 anxiety. We don’t have to write “King Lear” when we are concerned about the health of our loved ones. We don’t have to be great under stress nor outperform other people. This isn’t a competition, and there is no prize. Right now, we need to be part of the community for the sake of keeping each other alive and healthy.