Is this working?
Of the bajillion tweets, takes, articles, and images I consumed last week, Anne Helen Petersen’s newsletter How to Work Through a Coup really got me, probably because I opened it up while trying to work through an attempted coup. She points out that expecting to be productive during traumatic events, then feeling bad when you’re not, is the “black heart of productivity culture.” In response, she suggests creating “permission structure[s]” to give yourself time to process at home, at work, etc. as a way to resist turning into an unfeeling (and maybe cynical) robot.
It was a helpful reminder. I’ve seen rumblings online about how people shouldn’t be surprised about the actual violence that occurred after Trump stoked it for so long. But you can know a death is coming without knowing how you’ll feel when it arrives.
Full disclosure that I have not yet read AHP’s book on burnout, Can’t Even, so she may take this idea further there. But I wonder how we can really build permission structures into jobs that operate on a schedule, whether that’s a 9-5 or a shift, and how long we can sustain them. We’re working in crisis, under deteriorating social conditions, and during a pandemic that isn’t letting up anytime soon. I’m lucky that my job has always been pretty flexible, but it’s feeling more and more like we need to take time to process…all the time. How long can we perform in a paradigm built on predictability, while the world gets more and more chaotic?
I don’t think it’s a new question, but I can’t stop asking it lately. I finished reading the book Disability Visibility this week, a collection of essays edited by Alice Wong, for a book club at work (we’re coming full circle here). The piece “Six Ways of Looking at Crip Time,” by Ellen Samuels, brought me back to the idea of productivity culture (which Petersen calls out as able-ist, among other things). Samuels lays out one idea of crip time in the first paragraph:
When disabled folks talk about crip time, sometimes we just mean that we're late all the time—maybe because we need more sleep than nondisabled people, maybe because the accessible gate in the train station was locked. But other times, when we talk about crip time, we mean something more beautiful and forgiving. We mean, as my friend Margaret Price explains, we live our lives with a "flexible approach to normative time frames" like work schedules, deadlines, or even just waking and sleeping. My friend Alison Kafer says that "rather than bend disabled bodies and minds to meet the clock, crip time bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds.
Samuels writes that once she realized she couldn’t sustain a typical 40-hour work week, she pursued an academic career because “It was, and still is, the only way I could see to support myself in crip time.” She had to circumvent a set schedule. Reading Samuels and Petersen made me think about how workplaces could change to be more hospitable to people who need not only more time—to get stuff done, to process grief or emotion, to rest, to be caregivers—but different time, too—time that can’t always be blocked off on a calendar on a weekly, recurring basis. Time that may stay slow, and keep collapsing.
Other than that, I read the epic Lawrence Wright New Yorker piece, which is basically a brief history of the pandemic thus far, and A Burning by Megha Majumdar. The first is fact, the latter fiction; both read like plays wherein the authors develop characters and knit together dramatic subplots that culminate in devastating, but very human, results. I am very grateful that Georgia flipped blue. I’m going Somewhere Real with Shira Ehrlichman.
Here’s a song to leave you with:
Until next time.