Work for the Long Haul


In a recent interview in the magazine gal-dem, Roxane Gay’s comments about cancel culture, a phrase I just learned from my daughter last night, are critical to a national conversation we desperately need to be having with ourselves and each other.

This conversation is not easy or simple or quick. It requires nuance, patience, and commitment — all skills eroded by a cultural moment that lends itself to reactivity and the hot topic du jour.

Related to this, in my mind, is something Leesa Renee Hall​ wrote recently about why “becoming an anti-racist is a lousy new year’s resolution.” Read that here, and join Leesa’s Patreon community for writing prompts and deep work around uncovering and addressing your unconscious bias.

This is all work for the long haul.

For the past month or so, probably since around the time Freedom School with Desiree Lynn Adaway​* ended in December, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own part in this movement. Truth be told, my thoughts have drifted to wondering whether anything I’ve done has made any difference. And each time I start indulging this self-referential reverie, I have the same wake-up call moment: IT IS NOT ABOUT ME.

Every single time I have thoughts like, “what am I really doing, anyway? Is anything I’m doing making a difference?” is an opportunity to peel away another onion-skin layer of internalized white supremacy.

This in of an itself is a significant aspect of addressing the ways in which whiteness is in me, whether I want it to be or not.

Centering myself, questioning the work if I can’t see the immediate “results,” as if anti-racism and social justice work is akin to going to the gym and expecting to see greater muscle definition after a few workouts.

For many well-intentioned white feminists, letting go of the need for evidence that we are “making a difference” is a humbling and crucial step on the long, decidedly not sexy road of becoming better allies.

We have to be more devoted to continuing to show up, listen, learn, and put our own agendas aside than we are in getting credit for our efforts, feeling good about our “impact” on the very individuals and communities we claim to be invested in yet unconsciously place ourselves above and apart from. This is what I mean by nuance.

We have to keep expecting more of ourselves. This means questioning our questions, and, more importantly, stepping out of the “I” mentality that keeps our focus inward rather than on the real stakes: People’s lives and systems designed to denigrate and destroy individual dignity and entire communities.

This is work for the long haul.

* There is still time to sign up for 2019 Freedom School, which begins at the end of January.

Life’s A Lot of Work, I’m Tired

sleep

Life’s a lot of work, I’m tired. 

These are the seven word, seven syllables, that came into my mind as I ran.

I was surprised to be running. I’d been running, sure — errands. I thought it might turn out to be the kind of day when I go around in running clothes but never actually end up running. I’d gone to the post office to mail our taxes stuff off to my what-would-we-do-without-her accountant in Northern Vermont (loyalty, yo), along with an overdue parking ticket. I’d stopped off at the library to return two books that were so overdue they’d been marked off as missing. (Shit, I’m noticing a theme here…). I drove to the grocery store, receipt in hand, to pick up the paper towels and bottled water I’d paid for but left behind yesterday, in between picking Aviva up from the bus and Pearl up from Hebrew school.

A slight headache that began yesterday morning, and that low-grade meh that comes every month so predictably you could set a Swiss clock by it. It’s too minor to be called depression, and too insistent to ignore.

It felt like a minor accomplishment to be out running errands in running clothes in the first place. I glanced at the weather app on my phone. Temperature: 21. RealFeel: 1.

One degree? I could hear the little voice in my head, the one that wants to pick a fight with life. The same one that gets whiny and wants a vacation.

But I did it. I left the car in the Stop & Shop parking lot, set a timer for 20 minutes, and ran. Hands red and cold, breath surprisingly steady, twenty minutes of sun and oxygen and heart rate up and moving through space and time enough to get things moving, including my mood.

Life’s a lot of work, I’m tired. These seven words, these seven syllables, like ticker-tape. A mantra. An allowance to acknowledge that it’s ok not to be the energizer bunny. Not to be “on” all the time or positive all the time. Not to have to defend “tired” as if somehow it contraindicates gratitude. No, I will not buy into that noise.

I looped back to the car, rosy-cheeked. And as I drove home, with grand plans to shower and nap before doing work, I talked to myself a bit. I do this — I talk in the car when I’m alone all the time. I talk to God, I talk to my angels, and I talk to myself. Maybe it’s all the same, who knows. There’s something about the car, though, that seems to bring out some of my clearest moments.

And you know what I said?

I have a great boss.  She sends me home for a few hours to shower and rest when she can see that I’m feeling tired or down or achey or just meh

Suddenly, I had a new framework for my morning funk. I’d been up since 6:00am. I’d gotten two kids off to school. I’d resisted the rabbit hole of the bad news and the even worse news we’re all stewing in. I’d also resisted the rabbit hole of all the “shoulds” that come to my door some mornings, peddling their snake oil and suitcases filled with fears gussied up as magic potions, potions that will help me make more money, have more energy, write more beautifully, connect more deeply, and all other manner of bigger, better, different, and next.

Life’s a lot of work, I’m tired.

Instead, I wrote a haiku at a red light. Those seven syllables were the first of three little lines. Later, after a long, hot shower, I climbed back into bed.  Because I have a great boss, and she told me to get some rest before coming back to the office. I mean, kitchen table.

I looked over at my wife. “Is it ok that I wrote that I’m tired on Facebook?”

She looked at me with something I can only describe as confusion. And before she could say another word, I answered my own question, chagrined that I’d asked that in the first place. Did I really just ask that? As if being tired, as if saying that life is a lot of work sometimes, is somehow something to keep to myself or downplay or conceal? Social media is weird.

Earlier, I’d read words I needed more than I knew. They planted themselves in my psyche as I set out in my running clothes to run errands.

Dear Sister,

What looks or feels like laziness is actually exhaustion 9 times out of 10

Take the time you need and rest your body and soul

Desiree Adaway

So, so true. I can berate myself for being “lazy,” or love myself by recognizing when I’m exhausted. This distinction makes all the difference.

I’ve held several full-time jobs. The kind you go to in the morning and come home from eight or nine hours later. I’ve also always had a full-time life. Imagine that! And life and work were often at odds in some way, vying for my time and attention. Sometimes, there was that sweet spot, where the two overlapped. I loved that.

Since striking out on my own again, one thing I keep encountering is this: You take yourself with you. (Duh.)

I still have those crying-out moments, when I’m tired and there’s too much and I wonder, how will I keep going? Where I fear, if I “stop,” everything will fall apart.

And here’s the thing: I am gathering evidence. Over time, one day, one week, one month, six months now without a traditional paycheck, that we are ok. That I can trust life. That I can relax. Take rest. Reset, regroup, recharge. All those fabulous “re” words.

There’s no glory in burning out just as there’s no shame in saying, “I’m tired.” Or, “I need a hand.” Or (gasp!), “This can wait.”

Life’s a lot of work, I’m tired.

To say as much is not an admission or cop-out or an embarrassment or a complaint. It doesn’t mean I’m not madly in love with my life and my work. It’s just honest.

I joke a lot about napping and how much I love it. A few days ago, I even came up with a title to add to “promptress.” (Naptress!) Today, after a much-needed and delicious nap, Mani took it a step further by calling herself a sleepologist and coming up with a brilliant slogan: “To rest is to invest.” See? I’m quoting the real experts here, people. This, from a woman who used to thrive on all of four or five hours of sleep a night. Where I was a devoted napper and an early-to-bed, early-to-rise type, she was more “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Amazingly, I now work at home and can nap pretty liberally, and rest is now a crucial part of her healing journey. How about that?

Oh, life. You keep showing me this and I keep picking fights with you before surrendering, sometimes gracefully but more often than not, collapsing in a heap.

Thank you, for such patient, welcoming arms.