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.

To PhD or Not

“Do it!” Eirik and Miranda said unequivocally.

AJS asked, “What if there is another route towards being a public intellectual?”

Pepe said that PhD programs are not nearly as fun as MFA programs. That the writing you do is “boilerplate.” He told me that PhD students have a lot of dental issues resultant from stress, but said it still beats any job.

JR said universities aren’t so much sites of active learning as they are “scholarship factories.” (We talked about speed reading.)

Mustafa said the academe will always try to reinforce disciplinary boundaries, which isn’t separate from the ways that universities are historically colonial institutions.

Katherine said the question of whether to pursue my curiosities in a PhD was related to the questions I have about how to be in service to others.

Cathy said I first need to formulate questions that are academically intelligible.

Irene said she supported my journey.

Peter (via Ethan) cautioned against PhDs in departments which rely on graduate students to do all the “grunt labor,” and spit you out with a degree after five or six extractive years. And I was like, Yeah, I already know about that.

I talked to Nina about making a YouTube channel instead of going to school, as if those two were interchangeable: methods of actualizing an audience, some incentive to research and articulate that research. We also talked about how making a YouTube channel could be a part of whatever happens next.

In an email to Miranda, I wrote, I’m currently swarming in the mild chaos of drafting my personal statement and trying to pin down a working set of research questions that’s academically intelligible, but I think I’m getting there. Broadly speaking I hope to study the circulation of knowledge about the body and care practices outside of scientifically legitimated channels–especially how the connections between mind, body, and context might be differently understood on radically different terms than biomedicine. And in what ways that difference requires a negotiation with spirituality, or an attempt to identify the forms it takes in this neoliberal context. This would be my academic way of trying to think about why institutional medicine isn’t more medicinal, and also the potentialities and risks or losses in the separation of autonomous care-taking practices (like herbalism etc) and biomedicine (particularly psychiatry). 

Miranda wrote back, This is a great time to be embarked on these studies–anytime would be a great time–yet particularly now of course with this public health crisis the etiology of which is inextricably politically, socially, economically, ontologically, metaphysically, historically, culturally, and ecologically meshed. 

Ethan said the more he thinks about it the more sense it makes to go to school. He thinks I should apply, even though it’s geographically inconvenient (among other things).

I often go to bed thinking it all sounds like a great idea, and then wake up hung over from that confidence. But the more I think about it the more sense it makes, like I’ve been circling around these questions for years, and now that they’ve almost come into view as “academically intelligible” it feels wasteful not to go for it. Or like there’s something I could offer by doing so, which made me think about Katherine’s identification of the questions I have to ask myself: what does it mean to me to be in service? And what kind of service are we talking here?

Writing prompts for healthcare workers (and anyone else who needs writing prompts right now)

Experiences of illness and its treatment are emotional and complex in a way isn’t usually accounted for in the rapid pace of healthcare treatment itself–it’s a lot of complexity to hold in. This was the case before the pandemic but the volume of pain and loss which healthcare workers are being exposed to right now seems truly, deeply hellish; the risk of burn-out is severe. Expressive/reflective writing is a therapeutic tool for releasing difficult/trying/impossible/traumatic/galvanizing/ambiguous events, a practice which rests upon the belief that writing is a form of physical processing that can’t just happen in the abstract space of your brain. I know that expressive writing won’t remedy the actual experiences which healthcare workers are going through, the fact that they are putting their lives on the line with insufficient PPE, or their physical exhaustion. It won’t resolve the fact that EMS workers in New York City are being denied hazard pay. But it’s possible that having an outlet to process the miseries of the recent past will release some of the physical burden of those experiences, and provide an opportunity to draw back into yourself. (It’s also okay to not be ready to process and to stay disassociated in order to survive.) If you want a space to do some processing, setting a timer for 10-15 minutes and writing can be a small, low-stakes way to build that. You can also keep writing after that point if you get on a roll. Here are some first aid writing prompts for healthcare workers, essential workers in the line of fire, or anyone who feels like writing about right now:

  1. Write about what you feel in your body right now: what does it feel like in your face, hands, chest, stomach, hips, thighs, calves, ankles, feet, ears, fingers, eyes, forehead, mouth? Describe pressure, motion, weight, touch, smells, sounds, and sensations of all kinds.
  2. What is something you’ve seen/experienced that felt impossible? What image comes into your head? Describe the image (colors, characters, scenes), and if you want, the story of the image.
  3. Write a letter to yourself, from yourself, in third person: “Dear you…” Tell yourself about some things you know but which have been hard to admit to yourself. Give yourself advice about how to make it through this. Be kind.
  4. What questions do you have about right now? What questions can you answer for yourself, and what questions are unanswerable?

It’s going to take a long time to understand, and to unspool, the damages and experiences of the present. Writing for a little while might not expose all that is unknown, but hopefully it will provide some relief.

Boredom, the Supernatural, and the Pursuit of Redemption

~~THE GHOST IN THE MACHINE, ETC~~

March 2015

Cover #4

From January til March 2015, I metabolized research on supernatural beliefs in relation to mental illness, malaise, health food fads, subculture, colonization, herbalism, and also art history into weekly crystallizations of questions, poetry, and drawings. What follows are the results of that experimentation. Some are more closed than others. Make it a treasure hunt for signs of herb school, Thierry de Duve, Walter Benjamin, Sianne Ngai, Marx, and the Paleo diet. In other words, how closely does the fetishization of commodities mirror the sacralization of “magical cures” and what healing power do aesthetic objects hold over us? These are some questions that pop up. Most of what I have to show here is from a not-yet-fully-digested stage (which I guess is the step before shit); there might be something important about these articulations in which the inter-related nature of disorganized material has not yet been stripped of its complexity via a concise synthesis, or at least that’s the wager. Here they are found in ascending order.

Ghost in the Machine #1

Ghost in the Machine #2

Ghost in the Machine #3

Ghost in the Machine #4

Ghost in the Machine #5

Ghost in the Machine #6

Extirpation

“Cereal, Indefinitely” — Aesthetics and Redemptive Habits (Spring 2015)

Beginning with a field trip to a campus cafeteria and then taking a hair-pin turn into some contemporary cultural lifestyle trends, I try to examine what a trifecta of neon fitness gear, artistanal donuts, and bone broth can tell us about how the redemption of “happiness” is represented in the ethereal space of popular culture and public expression.

As the connection between physical and emotional health are simultaneously hyperbolized and distorted, food stands as a talismanic escape from abjection in ways that are more and less fulfilling: pseudo-nostalgia and misleading entry-points into an escape from the bodily degradation which proliferates in our present moment. I linger a bit in the trends themselves, visiting some staunch ice-age ideologues and contemporaries. And then yet another hair-pin turn into aesthetics, letting Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin be like puppets for the promise that seems more compelling than a totally distorted commodity-primitivism, while also attempting to complicate the boundary between their proposals.

Click the link below for a June 2015 iteration of this ongoing project, complete with typos:

 

Cereal, Cover