Every philosophical discussion with my father includes the following tenet: the subject at hand is really on a pendulum, with each generation destined to rebel and choose the opposite of their parents. Any hope of progressiveness, therefore, is nothing more than rebellion rationalized.
This is not about that tenet or my issues with it. I will, however, borrow it for a moment.
Creation and consumption delimit a similar pendulum—albeit one that swings a bit faster. On one hand, productivity and sharing one's voice. On the other, information and connecting to others'. On the whole, binge-and-bust cycles throw this pendulum back and forth as creators burn out and consumers burn with regret. As with most such pendulums, I can't help but feel like balance must exist somewhere in the middle.
Both creation and consumption are tempting forces easy to rationalize: both "productivity" and "knowledge" (not to mention those seen as "productive" or "knowledgeable") have become worshipped as Gods of the Secular World. Listicles abound of the best ways and places to accomplish or learn more, from the shiniest new tools to the sexiest new podcast. If we just keep adding more weight to the pendulum, surely our cycles of regret, jealousy, and fatigue will be assuaged.
For how many of us is that true? How many of us have found peace and balance by adding more, whether to our to-do list or our inbox?
If we prune away those forms of creation and consumption that are not edifying, not life-giving, we give more space to those that remain to flourish. Each book not read gives the next book more room to grow in our mind. Each project not started leaves the next project more time to be nourished and to nourish us. With enough intention and attention, this pruning will alleviate enough pressure from the pendulum that, though it may swing from time to time, the violence of the swinging will be eased, and the nausea of our hearts likewise.
If we cannot see the sources of creation and consumption in our life, how do we know where to prune? Though it may seem strange at first, we need to take stock of these hidden (or neglected) drains on our time and energy.
This is a far-from-comprehensive list:
Friendship — Friendships take time and energy. When each individual provides that time and energy, friendships are inimitable gifts. For how many of your relationships are you always the instigator, or always the follower? Though it may be hard to admit, what does that say about your relationship? Do you actually care about this person? Do they actually care about you?
Chores — We all have to eat and dirty clothes do not, with today's technology, clean themselves. It is tempting, however, to so strongly desire food and to loathe laundry that we spend time and energy improving these chores: their process or their product. Do you enjoy trying to shave seconds off of a daily chore routine? Will you still be this excited about kombucha a year from now?
Fashion — Fashion is a source of both creation and consumption in our lives, tempting us with dual heads and salacious messages of false beauty and false connection. Feeling confident in your own skin (or second skin) is important, but felling self-important about what brand your wearing (that someone else owns) or how "in" your clothes are (by someone else's definition) is toxic. Would you rather toe the Fifth Avenue line, or build your own persona around a single piece of clothing? Should your "image" change every week, or never?
Children — Children take a unique place on this list, in that they shift around on this scale. Newborns make poor conversationalists, requiring you to provide both sides of any discussion you intend to have with them. As kids grow older, however (whether they're yours or not), they transition from sinks of time and energy to well-springs of curiosity.
Children (and mentees, and younger peers, and …) are also unique among this list in that you may not practically have a choice in whether they require you to invest your time or energy. What would you prune away to enjoy the time you spend with your kids? Would you stop out-delivering your co-workers if it meant you could compassionately mentor those that need it?
Meditation — Whether you think of it as your subconscious, the Holy Spirit, or an amorphous, anonymous power pervading the Universe, meditation (or prayer) is an often-deprived form of intense and intentional consumption. Intuition and introspection are powerful, quiet forces the abusers in our lives (ourselves often included) work to drown out. Would you stop reading poetry if it meant better connecting to your own sense of self? Would you start reading poetry if it meant discovering yourself anew?
Little imagination is required to continue this list ad nauseum: video games, substances, open source software, home renovations, email, music recommendations, adult kickball leagues, and so forth.
There are no right answers to these questions, but we wrong ourselves by never asking them in the first place. What would you create if you consumed less? What would you learn if you built less? What would you experience if you did less?
P.S. A note about social media
I know it's "hip" to be dropping Twitter these days, (for Mastodon, I guess?) but I will miss Twitter while I'm away. I may still post (a superficial form of creation), but I won't be following my normal routine of reading.
What hurts most about this scenario is knowing that I'm effectively leaving behind a group of people I only see through this form of consumption. Whether I've "met" them or not (for anyone's definition), I've become fond of people like Rami Ismail, Tim Keller, and Gary Bernhardt to whom Twitter is my primary connection. Though it may be a superficial connection, similar have led to my meeting, helping, and bringing into community others before.
Maybe, just maybe, by the time I come back it won't be so thoroughly filled with dangerously inept politicians and eggs.