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.

“Grain Brain”

David Perlmutter. Grain Brain. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

When it comes to books about health, sometimes I am already repulsed upon reading the brief author bio in the jacket flap: too successful is this Floridian, president of an eponymous “Brain Foundation.” I have not too much to say about it except that its division into chapters (and narration style) bears strong resemblance to Wheat Belly. Are they diametric twins, addressing audiences who are more concerned for either brain or belly? I’m not sure.

A few notes: Perlmutter is a fan of fasting (182). Also host of anecdotes about business-type patients (a stockbroker on page 205 for example).

A sample of what a day might look like, to be found on page 240:

Wake up, walk the dog: 6:30 a.m.

Breakfast: 7:00 a.m.

Snack: 10:00 a.m.

Bagged lunch: 12:30

After-lunch walk for twenty minutes: 1:00 p.m.

Snack: 4:00 p.m.

Gym: 5:45 p.m.

Dinner: 7:00 p.m.

Walk the dog: 7:30 p.m.

Lights out: 10:30 p.m.

(pg 240)

I am interested in exploring how this genre of lifestyle advice books crafts schedules around these blank places in the day; the pleasure and necessary appeal of moments of self-care stand out as signature points in the day. This is something of a given considering the nature of the subject matter, but it seems relevant to explore as the behind-the-scenes motivator/explanation for the surge in popularity of these volumes.

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.