I think one of the problems is that we get all twisted and tangled up around marking which things are productive, which are fun, which are both, and which are neither. I think that as a culture we are complete crap at actually being honest with ourselves about this stuff. And having recently been to a convention, I can point at alllll sorts of ways in which writers as a subculture are terrible. Take conventions, for example. If you are a writer, and you go to a convention like World Fantasy that's got serious industry focus, are you a) having a good time with your friends; b) talking with people who have common interests about intellectually stimulating subjects related to the said interests (yes, I know, that's fun for me too--but for some people they're not completely overlapping sets); c) making and/or maintaining personal contacts with people who are in the same business as you; d) conversing on specific business-related topics; e) none of the above? It can be any combination of those answers for any writer, depending on the con or the day they're having.
And I think that being honest with ourselves about it is really important, because if you're going to a con to have fun with your friends, that is totally fine. There is nothing wrong with having fun with your friends and a great deal right with it. Things start to get complicated if you either tell yourself that you are Doing Business Dammit when in fact you are having fun with your friends--or else tell yourself that this ought to be fun, and why why WHY aren't you having more FUN--when in fact you are an introvert and this is NOT your fun, your fun would be interacting with the same people in much smaller groups or shorter time frames, and you are doing this particular con for the business aspect and this is WORK for you--or when you tell yourself that it ought to be a lovely co-mingling of work and fun, when in fact you haven't talked to anybody you actually work with or anybody you like, and hmm, maybe you should stop going to this con completely and pick a different one that has at least one of fun or work. (Or decide that as nice as it can be for some people to get face-time with those they work with or share interests with, it's just not for you and stay home. That way is fine too. I love the cons I love, but I'd be the last person to say they are for everyone.) Any of the above can be fine as long as you're being honest with yourself and coping accordingly--and, of course, not being a jerk to other people along the way, and recognizing that other people have other reactions and reasons for being there.
Conventions and writers are just one example. I think that we tend to seize upon an aura of virtue whenever and wherever we can find it. Reading political blogs and participating in the comment section doesn't have to be classified as just a hobby, it's part of being an informed electorate and/or maintaining a community! You want to do those things, don't you? Those are important things, right? And they are. Except. They're not infinitely important, and there's a law of diminishing returns there: how much participation will make you more informed, how much will build more community, how much you're just doing because you like to (and it's fine to do things you like to do!), how much you're doing out of habit. I think habit is a big one for how we fall into things that have some productive component and some fun component but haven't been analyzed recently for how much of either we're getting out of them. And it's very easy to say, "Oh yeah, we should think about that," and not always easy to actually, y'know, think about that. Even though we totally should.
Politics is one of the areas in which I feel like we're doing worst at this. It particularly comes up in a US election year, when people watch the election results as though they were a horse race, which for a few people is actually enjoyable, but for most gives the illusion of involvement with the political process without actually doing anything productive, while still subjecting minds and bodies to stress hormones and reactions. I've watched people do it: some get really happy and excited to watch the results, and for them yay. The rest...it's like a horse race you don't even like but feel compelled to watch anyway. Except it's not. The results won't change. So if you don't like watching the results in real-time, and you're not actually doing something where it's related to your job or any other real-time analysis that will make a difference, don't do it, do something else. At this remove it sounds obvious. It just...seems to come up every Presidential election. I have friends who get upset and stressed and watch anyway. This worries me and makes me sad.
So I've been thinking of declaring Election Day officially Talk About Something Else Tuesday. Go vote, those of you who are eligible and informed, and then come home and take a deep breath and...talk about something else. I'll compile a list of suggestions for alternate blog topics here and post them on Election Day. Just "not thinking of pink elephants" doesn't work; thinking of something else actively is much better if you're trying not to stress, if you've already done what you can. And then at the end of the night or in the next morning you will find out who has won the various elections you care about, and the results will be the same even if you don't hear the exact moment when they have 3% of the returns counted from Decatur, IA. Go for a walk, make a pie, volunteer somewhere apolitical in your area, blog about something unrelated to politics. Unless you can honestly look at watching election returns and say either, "Yes, this will really be enjoyable for me," or, "Yes, here is the concrete good I will do with this," do something else. And let's help each other on that one. Suggestions welcome in the comments section.
Do what you can, and then stop dwelling and do something else that's either productive or fun, but for heaven's sake not neither. I will keep repeating this to myself until I get it right. Probably this means I will be repeating it awhile. Sigh.