Anti-hustling

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…

Resources

  • 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.

Listicle

Here’s a distillation of he hypothetical thesis I am proposing in my PhD applications, arguments which also inform the work I’m doing in my MFA thesis.

  1. Our conception of the body is always a historically contingent conception. When we talk about material things that affect our thoughts and emotions, part of what we negotiate with is the doubling effect of capitalist logic. Logic like–metaphysical transcendence being carried through physical substances. Feeling is a product of inputs–even circulating hormones and neurotransmitters are seen as static building blocks of emotions/thoughts. The sense that we should have an endless capacity for feeling better, and that the experience of pleasure is the ultimate indicator of accomplishment. 
  1. Part of what’s interesting about writing about health subcultures is their narrative approach to the body-mind connection and their often oblique negotiation with racial, ecological, geographic, architectural, and economic influences on embodied happiness.
  1. The literary and aesthetic genres which form around these health subcultures are capable of resisting this quantifiable logic and the colonial conquest which is its foundation, but also are often active perpetuate it.
  1. Sianne Ngai theorizes “minor aesthetic categories” as capitulating lived experiences in late capitalism; similarly, health genres capitulate something fundamental–though often unnamed–about the world we inhabit.
  1. Siegfried Kracauer: “The position that an epoch occupies in the historical process can be determined more strikingly from an analysis of its inconspicuous surface-level expressions than from that epoch’s judgments about itself.” (The Mass Ornament, transl. Thomas Levin, 1995; page 75)
  1. In addition to a sense–real or imagined–of participating in tradition, herbalist subculture and similar health practices permit a hermeneutic approach to the body in the here and now: a reading-into the body which doesn’t reduce its functioning to biochemical (or even social) factors.
  1. This hermeneutic form isn’t just pseudo-scientific, it’s incompatible with the constraints of scientific objectivity. But the cultures which surround scientific medicine tends to weaponize objectivity such that narrative healing modalities can be seen as nothing except pseudo-scientific.
  1. And yet, even popular culture circulates domestic practice, daily habits, and even objects as remedies. These remedies tend to be couched in some small shred of scientific evidence–look at Women’s Health magazine–or are so fully aestheticized as to become a doubly-sanctified commodity: handcraft-as-remedy.
  1. It is also possible that the hermeneutic meaning-making of an ailment enabled by herbalism’s energetic diagnostic system reflects medical under-determination of how a human body can be acted upon by material substances. That the impact of substances on physical functioning–and the impact of physical functioning of thoughts–necessarily requires a framework more nuanced (and literary) than the one enabled by biochemistry or pharmacology.
  1. Further contextualization of health subcultures with psychiatry could potentially open rich, nuanced explorations of the drug war and the devastating, cross-sectional epidemics of addiction. The criminalization of certain botanical substances also puts into relief the oblique ways in which health genres negotiate with indigeneity, colonization, and the historical vilification of traditional medicine.
  1. More than particular remedies which might bring psychological solvency, I think some of the most compelling connections between health subcultures and the mental healthcare crisis are obscured by the minutiae scrutinized in the former: they both reflect contextually-specific physical and psychological needs disavowed by institutional medicine and care-taking. 
  1. These are questions which acknowledge that care-taking and medicine are at times distinct from each other.
  1. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure that thinking about that also requires a negotiation with the forms that spirituality takes in this disenchanted, neoliberal context

Racial Justice Resources for Self-Education

“For my part, if I have recalled a few details of these hideous butcheries, it is by no means because I take a morbid delight in them, but because I think that these heads of men, these collections of ears, these burned houses, these Gothic invasions, this steaming blood, these cities at evaporate at the edge of a sword, are not to be so easily disposed of. They prove that colonization, I repeat, dehumanizes even the most civilized man; that colonial activity, colonial enterprise, colonial conquest, which is based on contempt for the native and justified by that contempt, inevitably tends to change him who undertakes it; that the colonizer, who in order to ease his conscience gets into the habit of seeing the other man as an animal, accustoms himself to treating him like an animal, and tends objectively to transform himself into an animal. It is this result, this boomerang effect of colonization that I want to point out.”

— Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism (41)

Amidst the global uprising and the newfound widespread public discourse around the ongoing traumas of white supremacy, I was taking a required MFA course on modernism and aesthetics, in which I encountered this excerpt of Césaire. I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways that colonization and white supremacy shape monsters, and how actively learning to undo or avoid reproducing its damages (its complicity with the destruction of other lives) is a way to become more fully oneself, rather than to withdraw or subtract oneself — a false binary between liberty and self-suppression which is in toxic circulation around the pandemic and the push towards racial justice. (Becoming more fully oneself can also include the acts of quieting oneself, and listening to the stories of others.)

I’ve been laying mostly pretty low social media wise these days, mainly due to the exhaustion that sank in as this academic year wrapped up, but felt aware of an urge to perform the ways that I was also personally undertaking the work of reckoning with these matters — something that seems a bit antithetical to undoing the deranged dialectic of white supremacy. I’ve been hesitant to be too visible or performative for that reason, but I did want to offer some guides and readings that I have found helpful (both in terms of participating in this moment, and in education myself around race and racism in slower, long-term ways). They are below.

Resource + Action Guides

Please get in touch if you feel one of these guides is no longer trustworthy or there’s something else you feel should be represented on a compilation like this. Also this is a shit-ton of information, just saying.

Articles, Podcasts, Panels, Etc

  • “The Fire This Time: Race at a Boiling Point,” Panel on 6.5.20 with Angela Davis, Robin D. G. Kelley, Gaye Theresa Johnston, and Josh Kun; moderated by Herman Gray.

This reading/listening list is scratching the surface of what’s out there; hopefully you find something that’s helpful. These conversations have been going on for a long time and will continue. I am working to believe that the work I do within myself–and continue to do beyond this moment of upheaval–is an important part of this necessary healing and transformation and unlearning the patterns of white supremacy–escaping the boomerang effect of colonization that Césaire described above.

Grad Student Housing + Pandemic Lifestyle

There have been a lot of low-flying airplanes overhead around here in grad student housing which is really not at all unusual. Living in San Diego is pretty sci-fi, especially in this “neighborhood,” adjacent as we are to the hospital and various very tall buildings in suburban labyrinths with reflective fly-eye glass. But I’ve been interpreting every military plane or every ambulance siren I hear in relation to the virus. There are all of the usual emergencies from beforehand, and while the virus doesn’t change everything it does change the way I see what used to seem ordinary, which now seems remarkable in its continuity. Or the ways that it’s the same, but different. The HDH maintenance carts still rip through the maze-sidewalks, but now the workers wear masks. A man in scrubs biking towards the hospital at 6:30am. A flank of morning power-walkers peppily propelling themselves forward, squeezing other pedestrians to the sidelines, dangerously close to them. Chatting with the cashier at the grocery store, her face hidden behind a mask which slipped down her nose. The person bagging said she almost took the class I’m TA’ing for. “I would’ve been your TA!” I said. We drove back home in Ethan’s van, with the grocery bags sliding around in the back. There was the usual assortment of wrappers at the passenger-side footwell. Stroopwaffles and Honey-Stingers, mostly. And last night a child played pretend with their mother at the edge of the brand-new student housing complex, the one being repurposed to house students sick with COVID-19. “How much strawberry ice cream?” Pantomiming work at an ice cream parlor, hovering hands in the shape of invisible creams.

Ethan has been baking cakes: lightening cake, apple cake, lemon cake. He eats all the cake and the cake make him fart. He farts while we walk across the rainbow bridge and through Mesa Nueva, where electric signs display strangely buoyant PSA’s: “Difficult Journeys Lead to Beautiful Destinations” or hipster clip art about sneezing into your sleeve. There is caution tape stretched around gathering places, like around the ping-pong table and the playgrounds. But people still gather around picnic tables, or cluster in the grass. One evening there were people working out at the very edge of the caution tape stretched around the Mesa Nueva gym: a couple, doing core exercises where they held each others’ feet on that 2-foot perimeter. It seemed comical. On the walks things seem mostly normal. Yesterday when we walked across the rainbow bridge Ethan and I joked about ways he could continue working for REI, but remotely, taking customer service calls from his bedroom with his very fancy microphones, or posting promotional videos about REI products to YouTube. He has to attend a 1pm conference call today to find out the future of his employment there, after a month of receiving emergency pay. He expects to learn he’s being officially furloughed.

The economy is ridiculous though. It’s ridiculous all the things people do for money. It’s not exactly that the economy seems fragile per se to me, but that it is misguided. Real-life emergencies turn its misguidedness into its own emergency. So maybe that means the economy is fragile? Two winters ago, before I found out that I’d gotten into grad school, I got laid off from my job and spent a few weeks furiously applying to jobs and then trying to do everything else less furiously. I felt like a freight train I was reigning in, not because of unemployment per se but because of being constantly restless in general. But there was nothing I could do to make things go faster. The collapse of structure in my daily life tightened the pre-existing tautness but instead of heeding it I rented videos from Rainy Day records and watched them while I sewed a pastel button-up shirt in my tiny white apartment that looked over downtown Olympia. I wanted life to feel pastel. I watched the Tanya Harding movie and the documentary about Hedy Lamarr. So I know my own version of the panic feeling about not being able to make money, how it skews everything you see and collapses one’s patience for the efforts you can or should undertake to improve your situation. It’s hard when the only thing you can do is wait. But I do not know that feeling when so many other people are experiencing it too, so I imagine the impatience is exponential. Or maybe there is a comfort in the togetherness?

Last night I listened to the George Saunders interview with Cheryl Strayed, the one that’s making the rounds. I found it comforting and felt there was truth in this idea that we don’t even really know what this whole thing is yet, and we probably won’t know til later. How trying it is (especially on writers) to cede to that not-knowingness. There are the unknowns of what is happening in places I don’t have any access to: how bad is it inside of prisons, inside of hospitals, or to be homeless right now? What is that experience like? And then even to understand those places which I’m continuing to inhabit, though they are cinched by a partial tourniquet. What the loss of blood flow shows. That’s what people are saying, Rebecca Solnit too, about how crises are opportunities for seeing what’s already been happening. What Eirik was talking about in the Crisis Times about the molecular structure of the corona, the microscope, the eclipse: things that only become visible under specific circumstances. And I think it will take a long time to absorb and understand that, and there will be a question about how—even without understanding it all—something might change, or we might hold ourselves open to its possibility even under the duress of urgency.

Corona Virus, Precarity, + Embodied Labor: Week One

Monday

Monday morning, March 9th, an overheard conversation between two undergraduate students in a cafe: 

“Tonight is the deadline for the University to decide if they are going to do all classes online next quarter, because of the virus stuff.”

“Do you think they’ll do it?” 

“Nah, I don’t think so.”

Monday night, I got the email: All UC San Diego classes to be held remotely in spring quarter. Though drastic, the maneuver felt more precautionary than prescient or urgent. Friends speculated the move to remote instruction was a response to the wildcat graduate student strikes spreading through the UC system.

Tuesday

On Tuesday, the seed of disruption had been sown as the significance of next quarter’s solitude settled in. I went to the store with Ethan and we bought vegetables, peanut butter, and bags of plantain chips and lentil pasta. I imagined every surface as covered with deadly invisibilia, but later sat at a table within five inches of friends, unafraid of their breathing. I started to feel the frenetic hum and inner heat produced by thoughts moving so quickly they were made illegible. That night, before falling asleep, I wrote about the virus against Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor:

Whatever symbolic or poetic meaning projected upon the reality of the disease, or which the reality of this disease is wrapped up in, is as much about the world it exists within and travels through as it is about the illness itself. Talking about the virus is talking about a globalized world which moves at the rate of its high-tech apparatuses but cannot actually account for the physical bodies which it is populated with: our vulnerabilities and our reliance upon the material world even when the normative processes of production stall or are hampered. Talking about the virus is talking about overproduction of things suddenly made useless by a microscopic contagion.

Wednesday

By Wednesday, the poetry reading was canceled; class was canceled. While at home that afternoon I tried to remember what “Community Immunity” means and revisited an essay by Ed Cohen. So many unfilled needs exposed by the virus — that’s what I wanted to write about. 

Cohen’s essay is about the AIDS pandemic in South Africa and the problematic individuation (depoliticized, decontextualized) which biomedicine entails. Cohen contrasts this isolated approach with the collective permeability which something like a virus highlights. Because its problem is its transmissibility, the virus requires a social response. It requires tending to the social and material elements of being and staying well, which — for all their biological sophistication—the institutions of medicine aren’t positioned to contend with.

I imagined opening my essay about the virus by talking about how we experience the pandemic a mainly a problem of individual exposure when its peril exposes the deficit in the community’s immune system: its ability to mobilize defenses and response mechanisms. But isn’t that what everyone’s already talking about? And what immune system is prepared to deal with a novel exposure, beyond (perhaps) its familiarity with the form of a pandemic: the ability of an invisible new iteration of an ancient organism to wipe out its host?

So maybe our vulnerability to this particular corona virus is not the fault of industrial capitalism per se, or a paradigm which emphasizes the eradication of contagions rather than the cultivation of a healthy, resilient biosphere. But there are additional vulnerabilities industrial capitalism compounds because what is good for stopping the virus is bad for the economy. What is necessary for treating the virus and caring for the bodies (infected and otherwise) who continue to exist despite the economic slow-down requires a nimble response in the structures of medical care as well as material production and distribution. How do we decide, or who decides, what is important? What is essential? 

A lot of work seems unessential, and yet without the remuneration it enables, basic existence is periled. As my teacher (a philosopher of medicine and science) said, “It makes it pretty clear that biopower trumps capitalism.”

Also on Wednesday I received a crash-course on living with pandemics (from the internet, from my mom). I learned that my deliberation about whether or not to take a trip to Seattle the following week as planned shouldn’t be a deliberation about whether or not I would be well, but about my role in the perpetuation of this wave. A wave whose calculability I fixated on, watching the numbers rise as if to verify my paranoid response. I was infected with an urge to explain the rationale of social isolation to all my friends. I played this missionary role to my partner, who also slated to take this Seattle trip. Stretched on our bed, he said he wasn’t sure what the point would be in avoiding the airport because he works in retail, just another depot of human contagion.  

Thursday

On Thursday, I went to the grocery store to pick up a few more things and was greeted with the sight of panic-buying: lines trailing into the aisles, shelves ransacked of their packaged goods. The frozen section of Trader Joe’s was nearly cleared out—black basins covered with flecks and crumbs that were visible for the first time. Only a few less popular items remained: frozen kale and cauliflower pizza crust; some sauce-covered microwavable chicken lunch. Suddenly, my hypothetical musings about the corona virus became so much less abstract, about how the precarity brought about by the virus is more than the physical vulnerability of being sick but the existential trial on the structures we are held inside of. Our reliance on them for our safe-keeping, for the maintenance of basic needs, felt clearly incidental to their existence; as if we were hacking them for that purpose. What underpaid, essential labor was being performed by the grocery store clerks and stockers. Not all labor can or should be performed virtually—we need to eat, after all. So what about that?

By Thursday, we have both decided that taking an airplane anywhere is absurd. A trail-running race I’d signed up for in January is canceled. Dominos of duties fall one after another.

Friday

By Friday, exhaustion from thinking too much. I eat tuna salad at a cafe during an in-person meeting, which feels transgressive. (The in-person-ness, not the food.)

Saturday + Sunday

Saturday, Sunday — settling into a new normal. I’m no longer required to leave my house. My partner receives the news that his place of employment will be shut down for two weeks, but he will be paid. Celebration! Fear! This spaciousness is exhilarating and terrifying. I’m trying to structure my time, trying to figure out what of the seemingly infinite domestic tasks I could undertake to fit in alongside my obligations like grading student work. Am I to be idealistic about all the things I could accomplish? Can I embrace monasticism? I picture myself with thread and needle, suddenly gifted with the patience  to embroider wall-hangings. Unfortunately I’ve brought into this seclusion my long-standing sense of inner disorganization; it’s difficult to commit to non-essential projects. As was the case before the pandemic, it’s hard to self-actualize from the space of my house–both too much and too little time; hard to know whether I should be self-optimizing or relinquishing domestic ambitions. But I try to avoid letting the existential questions laid bare by the virus transfer to a similarly existential void around the activities of daily life, these small gestures of creative resilience and willingness to bring something new into the world. 

What does the subtraction of ordinary life expose? Before the corona virus, it seemed implicit that what is necessary for the world right now (ecologically, at least) requires halting over-production. But this necessity has been made impossible or unthinkable by the abstraction of the economy and its unvanquishable requirements for belligerent hyper-productivity. And then something unthinkable makes that pause possible. What will happen after this? is a silly question to ask but impossible not to think about.Will the ordinary ambivalence of the current economic system remain exposed as constructed and contingent in its cruelties? What would it take to center our labor around common needs and desires, something more impressionistically obvious about what kind of world we want to perpetuate? (Or more urgently, what is necessary for survival.)

A collective, social response to the pandemic is unfolding (albeit enacted through wide-spread acts of self-isolation). In this isolation, I feel like I’m a part of something. But I think about how the lesson of the pandemic shouldn’t be that the internet and the socializing it enables will save us, but the undeniable fact of our physical bodies as mutual vulnerabilities is enough to stop the world-as-it-is and its perilous disregard for the ecologies our bodies depend upon, even despite the impossible momentum of capital. (Is that what’s happening?)

Citations:

  • Ed Cohen. “Immune Communities, Common Immunities.” Social Text (2008) 26 (1 (94)): 95–114.
  • Susan Sontag. Illness as Metaphor. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1978.

Resources:

  • Critical responses to the social and political elements assembled here as “Crisis Times” by the creator of A Fiery Flying Roule
  • An herbalist friend Stascha Stahl posted this “hesitant PSA” on Instagram, and my mom posted this blog entry about affordable holistic measures; individuals can take to avoid infection even if exposed to the virus. Another herbalist friend Kelly McCarthy has some resources on her website as well.
  • Therapist Nedra Glover Tawwab has posted some helpful suggestions on her social media
  • While I’m not much of a reddit participant, this thread has some helpful information about the virus and responding to it.
  • State of California online portal to file disability and unemployment claims

This essay was published in The Crisis Times in March 2020 — available here as a PDF:

For more info on The Crisis Times, see https://twitter.com/misroule

Chris Kresser

Who is Chris Kresser? According to the preface of his 2013 book Your Personal Paleo Code (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013), he is someone who has been deeply moved by his own experience with “serious, disabling health problems that modern medicine seemed to have no solution for.” (x) This personal tribulation led him to seek out “science, wisdom, and trial and error to health himself, and due to that experience, he decided to pursue integrative medicine.” (x) His articulations are to be found on his highly successful website,  and he has a “thriving” private practice. One cannot visit his website without passing through several layers of pop-up invitations to join his list-serv (and receive in one’s email inbox paleo recipes tailored to you).

Your Personal Paleo Code is dedicated to “all who struggle with chronic illness: may this book be a catalyst for healing and self-discovery.”

Its sub-title is “The 3-Step Plan to Lose Weight, Reverse Disease, and Stay Fit and Healthy for Life.”

Who are the clients who fill the rosters at Chris’ private practice? Based upon his in-text anecdotes, often they seem to be people who are at the brink of frustration with the lack of total results they see from their already dialed-in habits.

One example, from Your Personal Paleo Code (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013):

“Jen, twenty-eight, came to see me complaining of difficulty reaching her target weight. She had started a Paleo diet nine months prior to our visit, and she lost twenty-five pounds — almost all of the thirty pounds she wanted to lose — over the first five months. But no matter what dietary modifications she made, Jen couldn’t lose those final five pounds. ‘It’s so frustrating,’ Jen told me. ‘I’m eating perfectly and exercising every day, but nothing changes. I’m completely stuck.”

I reviewed Jen’s case history, and I noticed she had a habit of staying up until midnight or later. She often used her laptop or iPad at night to check e-mail or chat with her friends on Facebook. She woke up frequently through the night and sometimes had trouble falling back asleep. And though she was often in bed for eight hours, she woke up feeling unrefreshed. I suggested to Jen that inadequate sleep and too much exposure to artificial light at night might be disrupting her metabolism and preventing her from losing those last five pounds. I suggested she try:

  • Getting to bed by ten or ten thirty each night
  • Stopping electronic media use at least two (and preferably three) hours before bedtime
  • Wearing orange glasses that filter out melatonin-suppressing blue light after dark (see below for more on this)
  • Making her sleep environment pitch-dark, cool, quiet, and free of electronic devices (Jen had a habit of leaving her phone on the nightstand)
  • Getting exposure to natural light first thing in the morning by taking a fifteen- to twenty-minute walk outside

After making these simple changes, Jen found the quality of her sleep improved dramatically, and she was finally able to lose those last five pounds. ‘I have so much more energy when I wake up,’ she reported, ‘and I feel much calmer throughout the day. But the best part is that I don’t feel hungry all the time anymore, and I’ve lost the extra weight without even trying.'” (231)

Connections between healthy habits (often with a veneer of “naturalism”) and the ability to maintain as low a weight as possible are frequently made in this book, and often are the first clause of a list which trails ailments which fit more readily into the category of “chronic disease”: how sleep disruption is a metabolic stressor (230, 231), how stress leads to weight gain (244-245))

Despite an emphasis on simulating the healthful conditions of our paleolithic ancestors, Kresser’s advice is well-suited for those whose lifestyle modifications are likely to be accompanied by purchases of various kinds, be it a change in grocery shopping habits or neat little tools for amping up one’s office strength training routine: “The idea is for you to integrate short bursts of physical activity throughout your day. You might, for example, do three sets of push-ups, three sets of pull-ups, and three sets of lunges interspersed with periods of sitting or standing at your desk (or walking at it, if you have a treadmill desk).” Toys suggested: push-up handles, pull-up bar, PowerBlocks, Abdominal wheel, weight bench. (218) That these health suggestions are accompanied by the suggestions of objects are financially inaccessible to many seems to only reflect that Kresser’s genre of advice is tailored to a crowd whose lives follow the rhythms of capitalism yet who expect that this should not interfere with their health, and whose participation in the marketplace is one that affords them the ability to purchase such tokens of health. Part of Kresser’s success undoubtably has to do with how organized his website is. It is something of a clearing-house of alternative health information, in the Paleo vein. Without much scouring, one can easily access articles on hot topics of health; the ambiguity of scientific studies cited is compensated for with the authoritative (and aestheticized) arrangement of the data. Does this adaptation of integrative health advice, formerly fringe, belie more profit-driven intentions on the part of Kresser? In what ways does this tailoring of advice to a more affluent (or health-fixated) crowd — those who unabashedly embrace the imposition of work upon their lives — define this way of addressing the body?

I’m thinking about the ways in which readers whose class backgrounds might differ from the clients whose success stories Kresser cites get caught in the net of performative paranoia, as they seek out remedies to the chronic diseases which are nested in with all the other bodily ills he speaks of. It seems as though the ways in which his health advice center so thoroughly on weight loss that they are not, in fact, suited to those readers who seek out remedies to the chronic diseases. Perhaps this is to say that Kresser, as a phenomena, is less of a health revolution so much as a progression of the market that stokes fearfulness of bodily uncertainty and malaise in exchange for profit, albeit with more successful results. Is this intrinsic to the pursuit of health which revolves around the mediation of information and data?

Kresser capitalizes on more and less legitimate health concerns related to lifestyle, speaking to fringe health fanatics while still presenting as authoritative and trust-worthy to those less inclined to such fanaticism. Often positions himself to re-mediate health-obsession and paranoia, publishing articles on the dangers of over-exercising and excessive carbohydrate restriction, while still very much appealing to a cultural urge to deduce the benefit or risk of habit down to the microscopic level with an eye towards optimizing the body’s performativity. He writes in a colloquial, personable manner while citing scientific studies, and leaves plenty of room for scientific ambiguity.

One perfect example of the ways in which paranoia about product composition (environmental contamination in the lining of the can, or nameable diagnoses with compact acronyms which restrict one from certain types of products — “fructose malabsorption,” or FM for short) gets routed towards purchase of safer products:

Coconut Milk Article

(“Recent research has also tied fructose malabsorption to depression.”)

One more note on the topic of Kresser — but one reflection of the “branding” of a certain way of eating. With this trend more broadly, a diet that is simple, and perhaps the epitome of agrarianism (rather than of the Paleolithic) becomes a token of cosmopolitian identity; opting out of certain kinds of foods, rather than a removal of aspects of self, become ways to put on an alternate identity.