Battling Productivity in Quarantine

by Billie Walker

"Capitalism is a multifaceted logic-defying ever-morphing monster that has managed to turn a global tragedy into a fatphobic opportunity for your betterment"

Firstly, I realise the irony of even writing this piece. Perhaps if I was really succeeding in a battle against production, I would not be putting pen to paper.


There does however need to be a differentiation here between creativity for creativity’s sake or because you feel naturally driven to do so, and the guilt-driven production line inside all our minds.


From the moment this pandemic took hold of us, the internet began spouting its usual productivity mantra with an isolation twist. If you’re not writing the next Costa Award winning novel or doing home workout videos you’ve really failed quarantine. Capitalism is a multifaceted logic-defying ever-morphing monster that has managed to turn a global tragedy into a fatphobic opportunity for your betterment.

Whether you have pre-existing mental health conditions or not, being in the middle of a worldwide health crisis is anxiety inducing. I’ve woken up in the middle of the night, coughed, and immediately checked my temperature, before rationalising that sitting in my garden all day has caused the heat coming from my forehead, not early signs of COVID-19.


I’m constantly worrying about my grandma who has no one in the house and is only visited by us standing at the end of her doorway shouting greetings to her. I have been obsessively washing my hands to the point they resemble chickens’ feet more than anything vaguely humanoid.


On top of all of this I could do without the pressure to get stacked instead of snacked or feel like I’m not sufficiently utilising all of my free time. I walk down empty roads at night and turn my head, hearing the ghosts of cars past. Society has done an excellent job of putting up mental roadblocks that we still adhere to even when the whole world’s routine has been shifted.

Related: "We need a new food system"

No matter how bougie your box is, no animal should be confined to a box. I really hope at the end of all this more people will become pro-prison abolition, because if you can’t hack your terraced house for weeks (or are we talking months now?) fuck you for thinking someone should be locked up in a cell. A specific fuck you to Ellen Degeneres who compared ISO in her $27m home to ‘being in jail’.

If you’re managing to sleep in and watch TV to pass hours of the day and succeeding at doing nothing, well done. I sincerely applaud your anti-capitalist unproductive efforts and this next part will be likely unrelatable to you. Feel free to return to the comfort of your sofa.


This next part is for the people who have the hyperactivity levels of a sugar dosed child when they’re tired. My government prescribed walk barely scratches the surface of my energy levels, especially seeing as I’m currently living with my aunt and uncle and can’t use my normal tactic of inducing sluggishness with mounds of pasta for lunch each day.


I want to fuck. I want to fight. I want to dance horrible jerky moves to the highest bpm in a dirty buckfast aroma’d tent. Its only week three and I really, really want to fuck. I’ve taken to flirting with any essential worker I can, even if the boys at the COOP are a bit too young for me. If this is me at week three, by week seven I’ll be bucking against my bedroom walls. By the time we are let out I don’t think I’m the only one who will be a like a cat in heat. As soon as someone touches my lower back, I’ll be purring with my tail pointedly thrusting the air.


It seems I am now faced with a dilemma: how to burn this excess energy whilst still fighting the production-pressuring burrowing into my skull like the uninvited insidious worm that it is.


The solution I’ve found so far is cooking. With Mondays feeling like Fridays and time all jumbled around (for those of us not still working), the only marker of time I have been keeping is the one attuned to my stomach: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Making food feels like one of the best ways to keep creating without some tied in economical purpose.


The joy of cooking is one that a lot of people are turning to in this time, either by baking bread and cakes, experimenting with foraged wild garlic, pickling things or elaborating on your own favourite meals. I can now spend hours prepping for our evening meal, marinating tofu overnight rather than just quickly cooking it in the juices, or creating courgette and carrot ribbons instead of chopping them because I have the time. Dishes can be experimented with and perfected.


There is an element to this that feels luxurious, but a luxury of time previously spoken for. Why buy sourdough when I can bake it? Why buy hummus when I can make some? Adding in roasted garlic cloves or various other extras scavenged from the edges of the fridge. Food no longer has to be a source of instant gratification, instead it becomes a labour of love.


This cooking, making and eating doesn’t feel like it’s part of the production line. Its short shelf life requires it to be enjoyed in the moment. Unless you turn your current baked goods into future career goals, it has no other purpose than to satiate your nourishment needs. The creation of food is necessary for our bodies, and marking the day with toast and sandwiches made from your own loaves and dinner that’s been lovingly worked on is a way of showing love and gratitude to those you are stuck in this with.


This form of care does not solely centre around the household you are isolated with. It takes many forms. I’ve heard of neighbours delivering lemon drizzle to each other’s doors, those making baked goods for essential workers, or doing the shopping for their nans. Domestic care is a form so often brushed off as women’s labour, its importance continually downplayed.


Capitalism does an excellent job of distracting us from ourselves. It makes us whip up pasta for dinner again because we don’t have time for our bodies, or to create. It makes us view any type of creative endeavour as a potential side hustle, when actually some of us would just like to knit pointless squares that aren’t going to be posted on an etsy page. We are in the middle of a collective trauma, and if you want to spend all day playing animal crossings, or binging Ozark I really hope you can disassociate your actions from the nagging guilt of productivity. No one should look back on this time and kick themselves for not reading the classics or polishing up their CV. We are all living in justified fear of something we cannot see; if Sally Rooney novels get you through this then so be it.


The images used in this piece belong to artists in jail. The Justice Arts Coalition work with innmates to bring their work to a wider audience.

Billie Walker is a London-based writer. Check out her work here


The Radical Art Review is a non-profit cooperative platform fuelled purely by people power for those who think art holds the potential for social transformation. We publish the thoughts, philosophies, and stories of all who dare to dissent. We seek to inform, to empower, and to dream collectively of a better tomorrow.

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  © The Radical Art Review 2020