It is gray and rainy as I type this, and just an hour ago I heard thunder–an exciting and rare sound in San Diego. I’m drinking black tea that tastes like lemon and flowers, and feeling the familiar drag of fatigue at the bottom of my eyes. While rain was happening on the other side of the window, I sat through an offensively boring lecture as a TA, after which I taught and then held office hours. Before that, I attended an AWP workshop while I (embarrassingly) tidied up an assignment I’ll be turning in later this week. All this internetting makes my face feel gooey and tired. Switching browser tabs at breakneck speed, scouting for citations, and multitasking during class also feels pretty bad for my health. (I’m sure someone has done research about the somatic experience of navigating the virtual world…and if you know who they are, please tell me!)
Finding sustainable, self-nurturing habits in which I am more deliberate about my engagement with this computer, my work, and my ambition is feeling increasingly important since I wrote last. I’ve had more tired and foggy days. Sometimes I think, “Wow, this depth of exhaustion couldn’t possibly be caused by my multitasking habits, the demands I place on myself to be creatively productively, the hyper-exploitation of my academic labor, and the deficit of human contact!” and other times I think, “Um, yeah, it probably is.”
Maybe fatigue is also ambient, collective–irreducible to personal habit. I also know for sure that ways I spend my hours and days take or give energy. How to give myself the most energy (and thus the most rest) is something I’ve been thinking about these days: not just taking care of myself in active ways, but creating margins for nothingness. This does not come easily for me; certainly my academic context, with its binges of productivity, doesn’t facilitate empty space. Though I am waiting to hear back from PhD programs, I’ve begun to question whether it’s even possible to have a healthy lifestyle and stay in academia. I’m still debating that one. Either way, I’m finding a lot of helpful practical (and even spiritual) guidance in the work of Dr. Kate Litterer, whose blog contains a bounty of resources about slowing down, prioritizing what’s most important, and making time for rest. I’ve made some progress in dismantling perfectionism as it manifests in my creative process over the years–see video link below for more on that!–but I’m also learning that there’s still so much to let go of, and so many ways that I’m still unable to listen to my physical limitations. So I’m asking myself big questions about what is viable and what is desirable for me. Is there a way for me to do creative work without depleting myself? What kinds of equations exist in my head between sacrificing my body and health and desired outcomes? What does it look like to practice solidarity with the others who are also in this depleting context, especially those who face it without the privilege of whiteness?
I’m mulling over these big questions. Here are some smaller, bite-sized pieces — possible leads into them…
- Dr. Kate Litterer’s blog the Tending Year — so many tips about condensing work time down, setting priorities, and making time for rest! Also, Kate’s academic research about Lisa Ben is really cool, and she talks about it on this episode of the Queer Witch podcast.
- Tricia Hersey’s project Nap Ministry, which intervenes in the wearing down effect of this context especially on Black and Brown bodies. I want to acknowledge the racist and patriarchal roots of hustle culture, and its false and dangerous promises that achievement is the remedy to inequity.
- Impractical Labor in Service of the Speculative Arts (ILSSA), a union for reflective creative practice — an interesting entity which focuses on the immaterial working conditions of art-making
- “Context switching” is a term I learned from this article (read if you want, it’s not that important) to refer to the labor that goes into changing tasks–for example, checking email while you’re doing something else, and then switching back to it. I’m trying to do less of that these days, and to aggregate similar kinds of work on similar days in order to preserve my cognitive energy.