On Giving Up

2020 has become the year where I gave things up. It started back in March, with COVID and giving up on normalcy. In quick succession I gave up gigs, my music career, spending time with friends. It carried on with giving up special occasions: friends birthdays, overseas travel, eating out, my June school holidays.

Over time it became more ascetic: I gave up meat for six months. I gave up booze for June and July. I gave up on days, Friday/Saturday/Sunday/Monday disappearing mysteriously into a muddled block of nothing. Without gigs and pubs and friends, the days that framed my work week became less ‘days with hours’ and more ‘formless vacuous space’.

I gave up a series of concepts from lack of energy: I gave up exercise. I gave up daily routines. I gave up leaving the house and gave up playing music and gave up reading books. I gave up writing my daily diary. I gave up writing new music.

There was a list of things I gave up without knowing. I gave up international travel, almost indefinitely. I gave up on touring. I gave up long car drives and stopping at the country bakery for a meat pie and a coffee. I gave up the vague smell of dog piss at the local park and the stench of petrol at the local service station. I gave up wearing pants, then I gave up on changing my shirts, wearing one shapeless jumper for a couple of weeks time. In the process I gave up on washing clothes, why wash clothes when you’re not changing them? And in the non-washing of clothes I gave up on wasting water, saving the environment one non-wash-week at a time.

I gave up productivity, and I gave up purpose. Not in totality, some small glimmer of me keeps grasping on to the ‘somethingness’ of doing, and though I’ve lost hours and days and weeks to giving up, I keep finding myself ‘achieving’ where achieving is looking back at yesterday and realising that I did in fact accomplish something, even if the intention wasn’t there.

The last fourteen years of life has been a constant ‘addition phase’, where each year I add something on to what I’ve done the previous year. I’ve actually made it a point of pride, something to look back on in my daily diaries and yearly spreadsheets. 2012 the year I completed my Bachelor degree, 2013 my Honours year, 2016 my Masters. Each year adding a new band or a new number of gigs, new accomplishments to stack up against the old stuff so that I can look back and say “I’m progressing”.

I actually searched back through my diaries for the word ‘progress’ and here’s what came up:

(3/6/2017) Could this be the pinnacle of our lives? And by this I mean today, the here and now. As a closet optimist I have a rosy view of the future. The future spurs me on, excites me, and keeps me progressing. Without the future we fail to better ourselves. What’s the point of anything if you have nothing to look forward to?

(5/6/2020) Have I accomplished all the things I set out to do in my five year plan? Have I toured the world, have I played music for a living, have I deposited myself happy into a long-term relationship, am I fit and healthy and accomplished? Yes yes yes to all these things. So whats next? Is it enough that I just keep doing this thing for another forty years? Does there need to be progression?

So this obsession with progression is obviously a thing I’ve thought about for a while, something I’ve actively measured my worth against. Now in a post-progression world I need to re-evaluate my priorities. A small positive of this year might be the ability to reset my baseline: what aspects of my life are unhealthy? What have I given up that can stay happily gone from my life? And what can come back, but needs to be moderated?

Final note: Strange how the dopamine hit of the 24 hour news cycle is the one thing I’ve found impossible to give up. All the positive dopamine hits (laughing with friends, a good run, wine and a book) quickly fell to the wayside, but the addictive time-thief of the internet is our overarching digital demagogue.

Episode 2 of Fridays with Friends with my dear friend Peny Bohan. She’s an amazing singer, percussionist and brass player. If you haven’t seen it, click on!

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