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KJ ([personal profile] owlmoose) wrote2018-06-05 10:48 am
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Creativity and "Productivity": A Panel Report and Meditiation

One of the most thought-provoking panels I attended at this year's WisCon was entitled "Geekiness and 'Productivity'." Here's the description:

Capitalism tells us that we are only worthwhile when we produce or when we consume. As a result, many of us end up justifying everything we do, whether for work or pleasure, in terms of "productivity": "I'm useful to society because I make widgets." "My crafting/stargazing/gaming/reading/writing make me work better and consume more." "That person is a better geek than me because they spend more money on their hobbies." These kinds of framing buy into and reinforce capitalism. Are there ways of framing geeky pursuits that don't buy into a capitalist framework? Are there ways of justifying our geeky pursuits that don't commodify them? Are there ways to avoid needing to justify our geeky sides at all?


This is the only panel where I took any sort of notes. I didn't start right away, and my notes are a bit sketchy, certainly not any kind of exact transcript. So this will not be a thorough write-up, and not every thought will be attributed. If I ever find a more detailed post, I'll link it here. (And if you're aware of one, please let me know!) My post will be more a summation of the ideas the panelists shared, and the ideas that they sparked in me while I was listening. For panelist names and links to their bios, see the WisCon website. I also recommend checking out the Twitter hashtag, which does have some more detailed quotes, some attributed.

One of the most interesting things to happen was also one of the first: as the panelists were introducing themselves, the moderator, Rachel Kronick, wondered out loud why, in these situations, we introduce ourselves with our resumes. Whether she'd planned to say it or was struck by inspiration in the moment, it was the perfect thing to get me thinking about how much we in fandom tend to define ourselves by our work, by our accomplishments. An immediate mindset shift, in the moment. I only had one panel after this one, and although I still gave the "resume" introduction, it was definitely in my mind.

One of the first topics for the panelists was the source of productivity as a measure of worth. Capitalism came in for a lot of the blame, of course, but the panelists also brought up Puritanism: if something is fun, it can't be valuable. It's the work ethic baked into American society (which I've most often heard called the "Protestant work ethic": a tenant of Calvinism claiming you can tell who will be "saved" by their dedication to hard work and frugal living). When we measure our value by how much we produce, and how much we are paid for that production (whether that be in money, goodwill, or fandom attention), it's really easy to think of any time not spent "producing" as "wasted." This is absolutely a trap that I fall into, and although I fight it, I know I don't succeed very well.

On the flip side, we have fandom as a capitalist activity: measuring your dedication as a fan by how much money you spend on Stuff. Books, movie tickets, video and other media, branded merch, costumes, going to cons... fannishness can get really expensive, and too much gatekeeping goes on around activities that cost money and time. Although this didn't come up at the panel, as I type up these thoughts now I see a tension between the work ethic that values austerity on one hand, and a culture that demands voracious consumption on the other. This double bind isn't unique to fandom, of course, but I've never really thought to apply it in this context before.

The panel also brought up the ways in which the value of creative work is gendered. Too often, according to critics and others, women are "just emoting" while men are "making art." One of the panelists brought up the critical reaction to Beyonce's Lemonade, dismissed by some as a reaction to troubles in her marriage, as if that makes it any less an artistic masterpiece. Another mentioned Little Women, because it was partially autobiographical, and Louisa May Alcott was just “writing down what happened”, not truly "creating". (As if writing down what happened can't also be creative. Here I am, right now, writing down something that happened. Does it follow that I am not also doing something creative? Making choices about what to include and how to frame it, what to emphasize, what language will emphasize the ideas I want to share. As far as I'm concerned, that's still creative.) Confessional stories and/or fictionalized autobiographies by men are often considered works of creative genius, so why not those by women as well?

The moderator asked about tools the panelists use to reframe the issue of productivity for themselves. Catherine Krahe cited her ability to look at fandom and productivity through different lenses: working with disabled adults in her career, serving as a volunteer editor for the webzine Strange Horizons, and being fan. Having a variety of perspectives has enabled her to take a broader view. Another panelist mentioned taking pleasure in creating with the tools you have, rather than feeling inadequate because you don't have access to everything that might make your creative work more perfect. Prioritizing fun was another suggestion, followed by enjoying other people's enjoyment. See other fans' happiness as a pleasure, not as a threat. Accept that sometimes you aren't going to be the most motivated or dedicated fan, and that's okay. As one panelist put it, we're all striving to be Olympic level fans when we could be playing at the intramural level and still enjoying ourselves perfectly well.

One member of the audience asked about balancing self care against quitting every time things get hard. One panelist suggested goals as a way to set limits -- which is exactly the opposite of why I set goals, and I want to think on this more deeply. I give myself goals as a target to strive towards, not to keep from pushing myself too hard. Is this a mistake? Or could I be balancing these two things better? Something to ponder. Anyway. One panelist brought up neurodiversity -- what's healthy for one person might be unhealthy for another. They recommended knowing your own process. and building in self care. Another, really important point raised was that sometimes, it's okay to quit. How does the thought of quitting make you feel? Is the pressure external or internal? Remember that it’s okay to suck. Learn from failure if the lesson is worthwhile to you, learn to move on if not. Learn the difference between "dunwanna" and can't -- and that line will be different for everyone. Someone brought up the Puritans again and to remember that suffering is not an indication of value Am I getting to my goal? What is my ultimate goal? It’s okay to prioritize a goal that only serves yourself.

We ended with some takeaways. Among them: Trust yourself. Be as kind to yourself as you are to your friends. When you spend time on creative pursuits, ask yourself "Does this bring me joy?" During introductions, allison morris talked about reframing their writing in terms of fulfillment rather than productivity as a way to deal with burnout. Rather than asking themselves what they accomplished, they would ask if they were fulfilled. They reiterated this point as their takeaway: try swapping "fulfilled" for "productive" and see what happens.

Although not easy advice to take, I think I'm going to try it and see how it feels. In particular, I want to find a way to incorporate this attitude into my goal-setting practices -- for writing and for reading. I'm in fandom because it's fun, and because it's fulfilling, and maybe the quest for productivity is a trap that's sapping both fun and fulfillment from my life. I don't know exactly how this is going to look, but it feels like a future worth pursuing.
jenett: Big and Little Dipper constellations on a blue watercolor background (Default)

[personal profile] jenett 2018-06-05 06:33 pm (UTC)(link)
On using goals to set limits: I use a pedometer app on my phone so that if I go over my usual amount of activity I know and can be aware (so I can take it easy for a day or two, be aware I need to have an OTC painkiller handy, be more careful about sleep, etc.)

For writing, I have a goal of writing every day (which I've managed other than the day I was so miserably sick I didn't spend more than 20 minutes upright), and a stretch goal of 1000 words a day - but I also just set up a way to see maximum and average counts per month, to give me a better sense of where my outer limits are.

In other words, if I expect myself to write more than 3K words regularly, that is not a good expectation, but I do it rarely.

(I track these and more in a totally ridiculous spreadsheet - blog post explaining the setup at the start of the year here, though I've made some minor adjustments since.)
oracne: turtle (Default)

[personal profile] oracne 2018-06-05 07:43 pm (UTC)(link)
This is really interesting and I think it will be more and more valuable to me as the ideas sink in.
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[personal profile] lassarina 2018-06-06 03:35 am (UTC)(link)
As one panelist put it, we're all striving to be Olympic level fans when we could be playing at the intramural level and still enjoying ourselves perfectly well.

holy shit this one is blowing my mind

I mean, I use fandom in part as practice/learning space for original work, and I'm aware of the "stagnation = death" thing from a pro perspective, but I've been negging on myself a lot lately wrt fandom and "you're not doing anything new and clever you'll just be writing the five hundredth Locke/Celes Hard Conversation fic"

but you know, I have read at least thirty of the same Fenris/Hawke fic and loved them, so like

maybe I could be kind to myself about that

mind blown. >.>;
lassarina: I'm not coming out until the stupid people have gone away.  ....I can wait all day. (Default)

[personal profile] lassarina 2018-06-10 06:19 pm (UTC)(link)
now if I can only figure out how to apply that concept to my actual life....
alias_sqbr: She's getting existential again. It's ok I have a super soaker. (existentialism)

[personal profile] alias_sqbr 2018-06-07 05:28 am (UTC)(link)
This was really interesting and is making me think, thanks!

[identity profile] https://users.livejournal.com/-standback-/ 2018-07-15 07:44 am (UTC)(link)
An interesting read. I'm a non-American fan, and I've often found the comparison between American conventions vs. the Israeli ones I know to be intriguing.

Since the Israeli market is sooooo miniscule, consumerism and merchandise were never much of a part of our scene. (There are other factors as well -- like, the country is tiny, and people can come from effectively everywhere without too much trouble; the bulk of our conventions tend to skew very young and often without significant income.)

Over the years, the way people "know" about other fans is primarily by how active they are in the Israeli community and events. Fans are respected for volunteering, lecturing, writing, etc. etc. Which is a whole 'nother kettle of fish -- being an active, visible volunteer, especially over time, is definitely not an option for every person (nor at every stage of life). But it's interesting to compare against the feeling you're portraying here -- it feels like we measure "geekiness" more by investment of time/effort, than by investment of money. (I guess that kind of happens everywhere? Investment of time is *usually* respected. But I feel like the fact that our events are very local and accessible, very easy to participate in, maybe offers an easier inroad than in the U.S.'s big conventions.)