Keeping Stuff Separate (Normal People Edition)

Sometimes I am shocked and fascinated by how cleanly compartmentalized many people’s lives seem to be:

You go to work, which is something you do for money and not fun. You are paid based on what you can do and how good you are at it, which is unrelated to who you are and how good of a person you are.

And work hours are for working hard and shouldn’t be squandered on chatting or joking or mindwandering or checking social media. Work is payed precisely because there are other things you’d rather be doing.

But there is no reason to check your work email or plan out your latest project after hours. Don’t squander your free time–you’re not being paid.

Of course you are a fun person with recreational interests, which are enjoyable and relaxing. There is no reason for these interests to be a source of intense effort or stress, because they are not your job.

And of course you care about being good, so you siphon off some money (and maybe even some time) from the regular part of your budget to donate to charity. You get reminders for this kind of stuff once or twice a year, so its no big deal if you forget the rest of the time.

And obviously you have a personal life too: you should expect to fall in love by going on dates in which you meet for the purpose of mutually evaluating each other as sexual and romantic prospects. These people should ideally have no other significance in your life outside this context, though the goal is that they become your most significant other

And though they should be ideally be people with whom you share similar values and enjoy being around, they should never be compared to “friends,” a category of people who belong in a completely discrete zone.

And don’t bring up politics on a date, because that’s not part of polite conversation. What’s politics got to do with love?

And certainly don’t bring up your love life in a pollitical context, because that’s vulgar and inappropriate. What’s love got to do with politics?

And obviously, don’t talk about love or politics at work. These things are of no professional relevance.

You should care about serious issues like violence and discrimination, of course. It is important to make time each evening to stay updated on such issues, so that when the occasion calls for it, you can voice your concerns in such somber, sober conversations. There are no jokes and no smiling in these talks. How insensitive could you be to discuss big, serious issues as if they were everyday problems?

And the rest of the time, don’t be a downer who brings up race or bombs in fun, casual conversations. Such big, serious issues have no place in everyday life. You shouldn’t have to think about those things when you’re not trying to think about them.

Your body is relevant insofar as it is a sexual object or a subject of medical interest. You dedicate maybe an hour each day to intentionally rigorous physical exertion for those reasons. The rest of the time you can mostly disregard your material existence. (If it gives you aggressive signals to pay attention to it, there are ways to drown that out.)

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I assume that this all makes perfect sense to plenty of people. Personally, compartmentalization has never been my strength.

Lately I’ve been questioning the implications of pursuing artistic careers in which the lines between professional, personal, and pollitical are pretty nonexistent. On one hand, it seems much more natural to me to be living life as an interconnected whole. And I’m really lucky to have the opportunity to do that (or at least try).

On the other hand, when you get your professional ambitions, artistic passion, pollitical expression, personal relationships, physical and emotional health, and income all hopelessly tied up in one another, it seems terrifyingly easy to let one of them pull the others out of whack.

There are advantages to keeping stuff separate, I guess.