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For most of my life, I have worn a basic analog watch. A few years ago, our health insurance changed to a plan with a high deductible and an HSA (Health Savings Account). It also offered a health incentive program that would add money to your HSA based on your activity during each day. Just a few dollars a day, but if you are active (and I am), it was free money. The catch was you had to wear this little step tracker device. The giveaway model is cheap and ugly, but it did have a watch function, and health care is not cheap, so I traded my watch for the tracker.
Over the years, my relationship with the program has waffled between indifference, mild satisfaction, and outright rage. When they made it harder to sync by requiring an app, I was frustrated but complied. Now that the free model has gotten increasingly unreliable, it’s mostly rage. Anyone who knows anything about planned obsolescence knows where this is going. They would like me to upgrade. And among the many upgrade options is, of course, the Apple Watch.
I do not want an Apple Watch. Blessings upon all y’all that love it. I do not want it. Or any other smart watch. But if the little ugly thing I’d been using wasn’t going to work, what other option would I have? In that moment of in-between, I came to a realization: I could just stop participating. I could opt out, recognizing that even at my most active, the amount of money that device is adding to our account is paltry. It would barely send a shiver through any real medical expense. I realized that for a few hundred dollars a year, I had ceded an awful lot of minor moments in my life.
Over the years, I’ve observed the ways these things can change us. Most of the members of our community have adopted certain techniques to cheat the system. Or you will see neighbors and colleagues talking on the sidewalk, one pumping his arm to mimic the walk motion, hoping to trick the device into thinking he’s still walking. Or worse, not stopping to listen to a friend because, “I’m trying to get my Intensity. Sorry!” Maybe, for some, it motivated them to get moving in ways that have made them more physically healthy. I hope so. For the folks I know, it has only attached a dollar value to their health, attached their attention to an app, and increased their willingness to cheat.
No, thank you. I’m all done. As the inimitable Maxine Waters so aptly put it: I’m reclaiming my time.
This ugly piece of black plastic is an apt representation of so many of the things we allow to control us. From push notifications to streaming services to the ways we look at work and health and care and neighbors, we have allowed a false narrative of “productivity” to govern us. And we can opt out.
I’ll likely be going back to my old watch soon. Just not today. For now, I’m going to see how it feels to pay less attention to the time itself and more attention to how I spend it.
So I’ve been working on this playlist.
For a little background, you can click here, or just read on. I’ve been making an annual playlist for friends and family for years, usually a gift connected with our big Halloween party. Last year, we stopped having the party, but I continued the tradition. This year, I *thought* I would push the playlist off to accompany my annual New Year’s Letter, but my bones and spirit would not allow it. This is a fall activity, and it is now fall, and the playlist must be finished. And now it is.
If you’d like to give it a listen, it’s on Spotify: This is 2020.
Thank you to all who shared a song (or a recipe - you are delightful humans!) - you may find something you recognize here! It’s equal parts family yearbook and universal retrospective, so I hope there will be moments that resonate with you. And perhaps even a bit of humor?
And now for a few things I found interesting this week:
——"when someone is reading aloud to you, you feel a bit like you’re given a gift of their time, of their attention, of their voice”
So true, and but one of the many benefits of bringing back the practice of reading aloud from this BBC piece.
——Anne Helen Petersen consistently produces thoughtful work and raises good questions. One recent newsletter focuses on her next project which considers both the potential good and harm in a Work From Home revolution and starts with the assertion: “You’re Still Not Working From Home.” One of the most important points is this on decentering the importance of work:
it can liberate us, in meaningful and lasting ways, from work. We don’t work from home because work is what matters most. We work from home to free ourselves to focus on what actually does.
——Austin Kleon got me thinking about mending with this post. He quotes Alison Gopnik who wrote, “We don’t care for our children because we love them; we love them because we care for them,” and then he goes on to say:
I’m not even sure if the sentence is true, but I want it to be, and if it isn’t true, it is a useful fiction, because it encourages us to do the verb first
——I can’t remember who/what linked me to this old piece about the great disappointment of our lives, but it has made me laugh a little and made me think a great deal, so that’s something.
Unexpected Joy Department (BONUS edition):
This one was utterly unexpected and offered more joy than I could have imagined. Just trust me when I say you have to read this from Angela Hansberger.
And then watch this from the Dance Theatre of Harlem. So much joy.
Nothing this week on the publishing front, but I did change my website, and I am . . . unconvinced. Previously, I had a lovely landing page with a clean layout and very little text. The idea was new users would go from there to whatever area (reviews, interviews, etc…) they were most interested in. But it had started to feel like the content was obscured, so I changed the homepage dramatically. It’s not as visually appealing to me, but I might like the idea of having some immediate contact? I don’t know, really. Go check it out, and report back. I welcome your feedback.
Thanks as always for reading and thinking with me. Have comments, suggestions, or questions? Reply to this email, and I promise a response.