Work and Relaxation

Monday, September 24, 2012

I'm trying something new today! I wrote my blog post and then read it aloud (speech-like) in a podcast format - this time it's on activist work and relaxation. I've done this before with fictional stories, but not as much with creative non-fiction, so this is my stab at it. Let's hope that after a few tries I can get into a more natural speaking rhythm! Transcript after the jump.

I never really was one for relaxation. When I say the word 'relax' I usually mean that I'll be doing something else that's not directly work-related, something labor intensive and generally tiring, but that no one could reasonably call productive in the same way as emailing or writing an essay. I find myself standing in front of a lot of hot ovens or waiting for something to brown on the stove. Domesticity appeals to me when the rest of my day is wrapped up in texts with words like 'onto-epistemological' and meetings upon meetings. But I never really feel that it gets the respect it deserves.

Making something out of nothing is a venerable employment - so common that we stereotype it as something that's lesser than our own cerebral work with numbers and words. Just look at the labor rights movement in general, a bunch of hard-working folk trying to make their all-too-necessary positions seem relevant in the eyes of those who would turn up their noses at giving health benefits or the sick days. Intense labor rights work is a bit alien to me too; I can almost ignore it, though of course the point of acknowledging privilege is to look into places that you're told you can ignore. But I can empathize and support in any small way that I can. My hobby is their livelihood; my relaxation, their 9-5.

These are the thoughts that I slip in and out of as I shove a tray of cookie dough into the oven or lock the lid on my pressure cooker. I try to think about how my life threads intersect with so many others, through the work that I do and the decisions I make. Even when I relax, my mind is never relaxing.

I was sitting in a meeting recently where my mind was relentlessly pushing me out of the present moment - I tried and tried to stay on point, but the only things that came up were: "Does this really matter? Does any of it really matter?" I'd like to think that I stay away from the melodramatic pessimist stuff most of the time, though it does remind me of my flirtations with existentialism. But sometimes in the back of my mind, I think about the ways in which our efforts might honestly be just another way to pass the time. All that stuff we call work blends into all the stuff we call relaxation - and we're stressed no matter what it is.

I dip my spoon into a bright orange bowl of pumpkin-squash casserole and try to unwind from the hours spent looking over applications and delegating tasks via a brightly lit screen. I think about all the futile and mind-numbing parts of working on a cause: recruiting for signatures, acting peppy as we usher people into our events, writing out missives that will have to be explained again and again before someone actually executes the task correctly. Organizing really isn't glamorous work. But I think that all those moments when we're using our energy to put together something that looks outwardly insignificant are actually building up to the process of making something out of nothing. We stand behind our work not only when it's interesting or convenient, we feel strong emotions even if they're not all positive, and ultimately we are connected in more ways than just a phone call or an email: we're making our words and our numbers do something for us. I think about that as I run the water in the sink, soaping up all the dirty dishes. How even if it really doesn't matter, we're still letting everyone see how they can try. Because isn't it great when you can have someone trying along with you?