grieving our lives as they once were

All of this is hard. It’s hard for people who are parenting in isolation. It’s hard for people whose income is jeopardized. It’s hard for people who have to keep going out in to the world everyday, even if they or someone they live with is high risk, because there simply is no other option. It’s hard, as you’re sacrificing and struggling, to watch other people make reckless decisions that feel like they’re negating everyone else’s efforts. And it’s especially hard for anyone who’s sick right now — with coronavirus or just generally — or who’s close to someone who is.

I spent the week working on this piece about what parents in full or partial isolation are going through — and how other people, parents or not, could help. I’m not a parent, so I wasn’t doing this out of some desire for others to know my experience. I did it because what I’m trying to work towards every day is vast, adaptive empathy for what others are going through right now, the sort that doesn’t eclipse the weird mindfuck I’m going through, just makes me feel less alone in it.

All of the work I’ve done on burnout has been helpful, I think, when it comes to cultivating this posture: acknowledging the extent and contours of someone else’s burnout does not negate your own. It puts it in context, but it also creates solidarity, and underlines that individual action — altering your attitude and lifestyle and behavior — is helpful but ultimately insufficient.

In the United States, so many of us are still operating under a blue sky as a storm gathers in the distance. It feels weird to isolate when that storm still feels days off, but it’s all anyone can talk about. We’re getting very clear messages from Italy, telling us very explicitly that what we’re doing is not enough, but most people just aren’t scared enough, even now. They’re going to the beach on Spring Break. They’re flooding National Parks. They’re stir-crazy and going to the park to look at the cherry blossoms and standing far too close to each other. They’re clinging to the story that it’s not going to get bad outside of the city. And that’s the thing: people tell themselves all sorts of stories in order to do what they want to do.

Here in Montana, we have 31 cases, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but we also only have about one million people, and one of the “grayest” (as in, oldest) populations in the United States. Our governor has been ahead of the curve, and all restaurants and bars are shut down save take-out and delivery. But most people in this largely liberal town are still congregating, albeit in slightly smaller groups, as usual: playing pick-up basketball games, running into each other on the trail and chatting, going on their scheduled Spring Break camping trips with friends from out-of-state. A friend of mine who’s been in strict isolation with her husband and two elementary-age children texted me yesterday and said she’s feels increasingly as if she’s overreacting: other friends are still having playdates, still going to Costco.

I passed this story along to another friend in Montana, who’s also in strict isolation because of a compromised immune system. And you know what she said? Tell her thank you, from me. Overreacting is just reacting as if someone you care about could suffer if you didn’t. Maybe that’s what all of us need: one high risk person, whether a family member or a medical professional, to think of each time we consider taking an unnecessary risk. Think of that person now, and then think of them not just sick, but intubated. Think of the worst case scenario so that we can hold that sliver of hope that it will not happen.

Imagine being this doctor, in Yakima, Washington, anticipating the date in April when his hospital will run out of ventilators, and looking outside everyday and seeing large gatherings of people, not out because they have to be, but out because they want to be. What a deep and grievous insult to the sacrifice of every worker, from the custodial staff to the nursing aides, at that hospital.

It’s so hard to think of the your kids crawling up the wall, the claustrophobic, compulsive doomscrolling on your phone, the risk that accompanies going out to your essential job, the abject fear of the economic and societal future, and group all of that under “this is what is required of us.” (Doomscrolling is not required of us, of course, but a symptom of what is required of us).

It’s even harder to realize that this is what’s going to be required of us for some time. There are small and large things we can do for each other, money we can spread around our community, but all of that is piecemeal — and no substitute for decisive and expansive governmental action and aid. We can figure out how to keep doing what is required of us. But that is what is required of our elected leaders.

Like a lot of people, my body has been rebelling. My face has broken out. I’m sleeping poorly. Every day I wake up and have a few seconds before I realize how fucked everything is, and the day starts spinning on its different axis. My partner and I are in complete isolation, which is lonely but ultimately just fine: we have enough of everything, including space to roam outside with the dogs. Everyone I know is manically texting, trying to weave something like safety out of near-constant communication. I spend a lot of time oscillating between fear and anxiety, between anger and organizational determination.

We are all grieving our lives as they once were. It’s already clear that those lives will not return as they once were: there will be no all-clear signal, no magical reversion to 2019 day-to-day-life. What happens over the next few months will affect how we think of work, and domestic division of labor, friendship, and intimacy. Like all calamities, it has the potential to force us to reprioritize, well, everything: what are needs and what are wants, what is actually necessary and what is performative, whose work we undervalue and whose leadership is actually bluster.

I hope we start thinking now about what we want that world on the other side to look like — what sort of protections, and safety nets, and leadership you want in place — and let every day of anger and frustration and fear bolster that resolve for change. It didn’t have to happen this way: not epidemiologically, not economically, not societally. So how can we avoid the amnesia that so typifies our current moment, and try and agitate for the conditions so that it doesn’t happen this way again?

Things I Wrote This Week:

The Best of the Literal Billion Coronavirus Articles I Read This Week:

Very Small Things That Have Been Helping Distract or Calm Me:

  • It looks like Westworld (Season 3 just premiered) is good again?

  • I spent $20 (which is what two movie tickets would’ve cost) to watch the new Emma and it fucking ruled

  • The Indigo Girls did a live Instagram concert which I found deeply soothing; so many artists are doing something similar

  • New War on Drugs !!!!!!!

  • Spike Lee talking about his most prized possession on his birthday

  • The Peloton App is free for 90 days; I’m obsessed with Ross Rayburn’s Sleep Meditations

  • January Jones, my isolation queen

And finally, this week’s non-Corona-related just trust me.

If you know someone who’d like this sort of thing in their inbox once a week-ish, forward it their way. You can subscribe (and find a shareable version of this) here. Posting your mundane daily activities on Instagram is a social service right now, and my account is filled with even more Peggy and Steve than usual. My Twitter is as bleak as everyone else’s. Please ignore any typos or weird sentences; relative inattention to detail is what allows me to get this thing out in the world every week for free.

act accordingly

Yesterday I heard from people in four very different locations, from four very different walks of life, who’d either been 1) diagnosed with COVID-19; 2) directly exposed to someone diagnosed, and now in self-quarantine; or 3) were exhibiting symptoms but unable to get tested. I woke up this morning and heard about two more in my extended friend group.

Vivid evidence of the attempts (and failure) to contain the outbreak in Italy were right there, trying to make us understand what the future would hold. But still, people say that Wednesday — when Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson told the world that they’d tested positive for COVID-19, and the NBA very abruptly cancelled their season — was the turning point for awareness in the United States.

I think that’s when people who had convinced themselves it’s “just the flu” or “just a political plot to make Trump look bad” may have shifted their thinking. But I think this weekend is when it’s going to start becoming personal: as one of my partner’s colleagues put it to me on Twitter, “It's basically a circle closing around you. You'll hear about infected people in other countries, then your country, then your state, city, region. Then a friend's friend gets sick. then your friend gets sick. Then repeat all this, but with deaths.”

Here in Montana, like so many other places, a general lack of testing allowed so many to believe that “it hadn’t come here yet.” The high school basketball tournament (a huge deal here) went on as planned, same for planned St. Patrick’s Day runs, and a Charlie Kirk speech in Kalispell with hundreds in attendance.

On Friday, the first four cases were detected, in four very different areas of the state. On Saturday, two more cases were announced in Missoula. One of those cases is the Montana Commissioner of Higher Ed, who contracted the virus at a massive meeting of the Board of Regents. On March 5th. More than a week ago.

I tell this story because everyone either already has or will have one like this in their lives. At some point, we’re going to stop tracing backwards because we’re going to simply be overwhelmed. Yes, the number of people who fall seriously ill is statistically low. But looking at this pandemic through the lens of statistics is a coping mechanism, intended to make you feel better and safe. The percentage of people who die is “low,” but “low” still means hundreds of thousands of people, many of them our most vulnerable.

I don’t care if you don’t like old people, or you don’t have older people in your life (and “older” here = over 60) that are valuable to you. You almost certainly have someone in your life who is vulnerable to this disease in some way, or who could suffer from lack of care if the hospitals are overwhelmed with patients. Everyone, everyone, should be attempting to act as if they share a bed or a home with someone who’s at high risk.

It’s difficult to strike the right tone here, between inspiring the appropriate amount of concern to actually act and scaring or lecturing in a way that makes people shut down or become obstinate. Last week my approach was encouraging us all to be proactive, and think of what we could do for our communities. This week, I keep thinking of a line from this harrowing piece from an Italian in the Boston Globe:

“We thought a few local lockdowns, canceling public gatherings, and warmly encouraging working from home would be enough stop the spread of the virus. We now know that wasn’t nearly enough.”

People are hoarding toilet paper because they are scared of the abject worst: what will happen if society unravels, if we lose our ability to sustain the practices, routines, postures that make us feel human today. This, I think, is such a huge part of why people are still going to bars, why older people are insisting on keeping up their routines, why people are furtively going to the gym and telling themselves it’s okay because they’re wiping down the equipment. If you behave like nothing’s happening then maybe nothing will. This delusion will be responsible for so much continued spread, so much unnecessary unsuffering.

But people tell themselves all sorts of stories in order to do what they want to do. And I get it: a lot of the things people want to do aren’t just routine, but things like weddings and vacations they’ve saved for and planned for years. Just because the disappointment is personal, and ostensibly so small in comparison to the devastation of continued spread, doesn’t mean that it’s not deeply felt. It’s okay to feel deeply sad, to mourn those personal losses, to sit with those feelings. Just don’t let those feelings eclipse your better judgment.

I think of Nicole Chung, who’s currently forced to decide whether to bring her children to see her mom one last time, who’s in the last stages of cancer. Or the person who told me their family is desperate to honor their Grandmother’s life in a huge, familial celebration, or the aging mother who had been looking forward to a visit from her grandchildren for the last year, and is terrified of the depression that arrives with isolation.

All of this is so fucking hard. There are no easy, or universal answers. The best piece of advice I’ve seen is — if you’re able — isolate as if you’ve been exposed, but spend in your community as if you haven’t. I’m supposed to get my hair cut on Tuesday. I cancelled, but I’m paying her anyway. I would’ve gone and seen three movies, at least, over the next month at my local indie movie theater. They just made the pro-active step to close, and I’m donating the cost of those tickets to them. I’m stocked up on books, so I called my local bookstore and had them send books to the children of my friends who are going stircrazy in Seattle. My marathon in Vancouver was cancelled. I’ll spend the money I would’ve spent on a new pair of shoes from my local running store, which has started doing home deliveries. I’m taking other money I’ll save from my cancelled social life and giving it to the local food bank and buying gift cards at my local coffee shop and breakfast burrito place.

Everyone’s life and financial situation is different. I can do this because I’m salaried. What you can do might be different — and might simply be the enormous and selfless action of staying home. If you can’t stay home, wash your hands like crazy, but also remember that it’s not your fault. Some people who are still working out in the world are keeping the roads fixed and hospitals running and the world in order — we should be so grateful to them, and the way we can show our gratitude is staying home. Some people are still going to work, even if they’re not feeling great, because they have no other choice. They have no paid sick leave, no flexibility. They have no way to make ends meet if they don’t show up. Their dilemma is just one of so many broken components of American society that have been illuminated by this crisis. If this is not your situation, you should acknowledge how fucked up it is by staying home.

We are literally all in this together. If you are sick, it shouldn’t be a stigma. Try to forgive the people who keep acting in infuriating ways (including your parents, or your roommates, or your best friend) and try, the best you can, to appeal to them to change their behaviors.

You will never know the direct ramifications of your actions over the last week, over the weeks to come. It’s so hard, especially for Americans, to change our behavior without clear, tangible, direct rewards. But this isn’t about you. It doesn’t matter if you feel fine. Our society is ailing. We must all behave accordingly.

Some Stuff I’ve Found Particularly Helpful

I’m also working on a COVID-19 story about parents navigating, well, everything. What’s going uncovered, what do you wish people would know, and what are the sort of questions you’d like answered (or at least discussed)?

Just reply to this email — or email me directly at annehelenpetersen@gmail.com (I won’t quote you without permission, and we can come up with a pseudonym if you’re worried about privacy)

And for a bit of non-COVID reading: This week’s just trust me. Stay to the end.

If you know someone who’d like this sort of thing in their inbox once a week-ish, forward it their way. You can subscribe (and link to it) here. You can follow me on Twitter here, and Instagram here. Please excuse typos or weird sentences; inattention to detail is what allows me to make the mental space to get this thing out in the world for free.

i don't know how to make you care about other people

Like so many others, I’ve spent the week thinking about Democratic politics (exhausting!) and COVID-19 (also exhausting!) As many have noted, America is particularly susceptible to a burgeoning pandemic because of our broken health care system (specifically: the number of people who are un- or under-covered by insurance, and thus will opt not to seek care) and the number of workers who lack paid sick leave.

But it also challenges the very American cult of the individual: the idea that you take care of you and yours, but also the idea that if you’re fine, then everything’s fine. My personality (not alarmist, just knowledge-hungry) has led me to read dozens of articles, observed all the science journalists’ commentary in our company Slack room, read all of the long tweet storms from public health officials, and the agreement seems to be that regardless of the precise mortality rate, millions of people will get sick, the vast majority will be fine, but many elderly and otherwise vulnerable people will indeed die — either directly due to COVID-19, or because they could not get the care they needed for another ailment due to an overwhelmed medical system.

You can’t contain the virus, but you can work to lessen the extent of the spread: to “flatten the epidemic curve.” As Zeynep Tufekci put it in her excellence piece for Scientific American last week:

"We should prepare, not because we may feel personally at risk, but so that we can help lessen the risk for everyone. We should prepare not because we are facing a doomsday scenario out of our control, but because we can alter every aspect of this risk we face as a society.

That’s right, you should prepare because your neighbors need you to prepare—especially your elderly neighbors, your neighbors who work at hospitals, your neighbors with chronic illnesses, and your neighbors who may not have the means or the time to prepare because of lack of resources or time.”

But I think most Americans are conceiving of “preparedness” merely in terms of how to amass the goods necessary for one’s family to live for several weeks. That’s certainly the main way I’ve been thinking of it, in part because it’s the easiest (and, as Americans, we’ve been trained that the best way to make ourselves feel better about a vague fear = buy things). But that mindset reinforces a deeply unhelpful, un-civic-minded attitude: if I’m fine, everything’s fine.

There are so many intertwining ideologies that have contributed to this mindset (Protestantism, Capitalism, Reaganism!). It’s the source of so many of our societal ills — and is a major reason for the broken, piecemeal state of our current healthcare and sick leave systems. If I’m fine with my healthcare, why would I care about others? If I get paid sick leave, why should I care if others not in my position don’t? Any good economist can tell you why you should — you eventually take on that burden in some way — but so many people cannot divorce themselves from the understanding of personal responsibility for, well, everything. You provide for and defend for yourself, and I’ll do the same for mine. Within this paradigm, if something bad happens (addiction, illness, disaster, poverty) you simply haven’t worked hard enough, haven’t cared enough, haven’t planned enough. The fault is yours, not the reticence of others to conceive of themselves as part of a larger social organism.

This mindset makes it all the easier for a disease to spread — and to wreak societal havoc in so many other ways. And it’s the hardest to combat in moments like this one, when the most important actions are preventative ones. Buying toilet paper — but not so much that no one else can get any — sure. But also thinking about how your habits, your compulsions, your desire to keep living your life completely as usual, because there’s (seemingly) nothing wrong with you, will have ripple effects that will almost certainly lead to other people’s death or significant illness.

Does that mean canceling daily life? Not yet. Every single action has to be weighed against its larger ramifications: so many kids in New York rely on food from their schools that canceling school, at least right now, would create a massive hunger problem — and thousands of the New Yorkers who provide basic services would be forced to stay home.

But — and I say this as much to myself as to all of you — you can channel some of that anxious energy away from reading articles on the internet and towards thinking about who in your life and in your community will certainly need help or assistance. Who can you talk to now to make a plan to help them later? (With supplies, with groceries, with their pets or children) If you’re able, can you donate to your local food bank, or donate additional supplies to the homeless shelter? Can you buy things from local businesses, restaurants, and artists now, so that things might be less lean for them in the months to come? If you’re someone who’s high risk, how can you be honest with yourself and others about it? If you’re able to work from home and still pull your normal salary, can you commit to still paying someone who provides you with a service (a housecleaner, a dog walker, a hairdresser, a yoga teacher, etc) even if they have to stay home?

Can you understand how making the next few months better for as many people as possible will also, by extension, make it better for you?

Things I Read and Loved This Week:

If you have additional ideas for how to help your community in the weeks and months to come, you can comment below and/or reply to this email. As always, if you know someone who’d like this sort of thing in their inbox once a week-ish, forward it their way. You can subscribe (and link to it) here. You can follow me on Twitter here, and Instagram here. Please excuse typos or weird sentences; inattention to detail is what allows me to make the mental space to get this thing out in the world for free.

you could call that a burnout cure

Haag is part of a wave of young workers who have been unionizing in sectors with little or no tradition of unions: art museums, including the Guggenheim and the New Museum, but also tech companies, digital-media brands, political campaigns, even cannabis shops. At Google, around ninety contract workers in Pittsburgh recently formed a union—a significant breakthrough, even if they represent just a tiny fraction of the company’s workforce. More than thirty digital publications, including Vox, Vice, Salon, Slate, and HuffPost, have unionized. (The editorial staff of The New Yorker unionized in 2018.) Last March, Bernie Sanders’s campaign became the first major-party Presidential campaign in history with a unionized workforce; the campaigns of Eric Swalwell, Julián Castro, and Elizabeth Warren unionized soon after. At Grinnell College, in Iowa, students working in the school’s dining hall unionized in 2016, becoming one of the nation’s only undergraduate-student labor unions. Sam Xu, the union’s twenty-one-year-old former president, said, “Mark Zuckerberg was running Facebook out of his dorm room. I’m running a union out of my dorm room.” From: “The Faces of a New Union Movement”

I didn’t grow up in a union home. Didn’t really know anything at all about unions — in part because Idaho, where I grew up, became a Right to Work State shortly after my family moved there. I didn’t understand the people I relied on (my teachers, first and foremost, but also all sorts of other employees who made all of our lives work) as, well, workers. Because one of the most important things that a union does is situate employees, first and foremost, as laborers — you may love and cherish your elementary school teacher, and they may love what they do, but that does not obviate the fact that they are operating in the larger sphere of capitalism, in which work is exchanged for money and some level of security.

When, in the 1990s, it seemed like the state would vote to approve various “One Percent” initiatives (which promised to cut property tax, the primary means of funding schools, to 1%) I remember being scared of what that would do for me, as a student in those schools — not for what it would do for my teachers, who would have to operate under that new reality. Part of that is just the typical narcissism of an (American) child, but I have to think that part of it, too, was that I viewed my teachers as fixtures, constants, to be taken for granted. How would that have shifted if I saw them, as a group, on strike, or even just with matching t-shirts on a Friday, advocating against it?

For some, those sorts of visions — labeled with commentary from parents or peers — might make you think of your teachers as ungrateful, or uppity, or some other anti-labor slur. But there’s a reason why, in 2018, Idaho salaries ranked the lowest in the nation, from pre-K through college. Why, when you adjust their pay for inflation, they’re making 6.8% less than they did in 1999. There’s a reason why Idaho schools struggle so intensely to recruit and retain teachers, and often resort to hiring teachers unqualified to teach in their subject area. Part of that reason is the prevalence of anti-“big”government / anti-taxation legislators who control the state. But part of it, too, is that the teachers have had very little means to push back against the way they are treated, and valued, and funded. The message you internalize: If you want to teach in the state of Idaho, this is how it’s going to be; if you don’t like it, you can leave.

And so many do. To other states, where the salaries are higher, where the unions are stronger, or where the animus towards funding education isn’t so strong. But some people can’t leave. They’re bound to a place. That’s difficult for some of us hyper-mobile millennials to understand: that you can’t always just chase the employment opportunity. But sometimes you don’t just “want” to be near your extended family; your extended family needs you there. Or they help provide the child care that makes it possible for you to work. Or your partner has a good job that you can’t or won’t give up. Or you love a community, have loved it your whole life, and want to be part of its future.

That’s another thing a union can do: make it possible to be where you need to be, or do what you feel called to do, without reconciling yourself to being treated, and paid, like shit.

It took having and losing a union for me to understand that. During my Master’s degree, at the University of Oregon, I was part of a robust, powerful union that I appreciated not at all. The fact that, as a TA, I was paid a living wage for the city — the sort of wage that made it possible for graduate students to not take on student loans — didn’t feel remarkable. I was still making considerably less than I had as a nanny in Seattle.

But there were so many remarkable union achievements that I didn’t realize — at least not until I left for my PhD at the University of Texas, another Right to Work state. (If you’re not familiar with the phrase Right to Work, it basically means that Unions are “allowed” but impotent). I left Oregon because Texas was ostensibly a much better program in my particular sub-field — or at least much more renowned. But I was conceptualizing of “better” uniquely in terms of “chances that it could eventually land me a better job.”

I didn’t even consider what it meant that there would be no union. That even though, like every PhD student, I would ostensibly have a tuition waver, I would end up paying thousands, every year, in student “fees” (technology fees, building fees, advising fees, bullshit fees) — the sort that the Oregon union had rightly identified as a backdoor means of charging tuition. That the health insurance would be cover significantly less. That I’d barely make enough to cover my monthly rent in Austin, and would need to take out loans to pay for everything else. That there would be no opportunities to teach in the summer, thus forcing me to take out even more student loans. That there was no way to get tuition wavers for classes over the summer. That I’d have to pay a fee just to use the gym in the summer. That my department, despite being one of the most popular on campus, would pay significantly less than so many others on campus. And most importantly, that there was absolutely nothing that I could do about it.

I graduated from a “better” program and, like so many PhD graduates, cobbled together a series of jobs until leaving academia altogether. I might have done the same if I had finished at UO. The difference would’ve been about $80,000 less in student debt. So which program, ultimately, is “better” in this job market? Which is why, when people email to ask me about going to graduate school, my answers stipulates that you should only go if: 1) you’re fully, fully funded and have no illusions that you will get a tenure-track job and 2) if at all possible, you can attend a program at a university with a union.

The modern public university, left to its own devices, will exploit labor in whatever way it can. As its longtime primary funding source — aka, taxpayer dollars — continues to disappear, universities have turned into classic capitalist enterprises: charging as much as it possibly can for the “product” of an education, while paying the employees who create that product as little as possible. A union, like all forms of regulation, simply puts guardrails on that capitalist drive. It protects workers in small but meaningful ways from reconciling themselves to the lowest common denominator of treatment and payment. It forces capitalism to treat its workers as humans instead of robots.

Which is why it makes so much sense that millennials and Gen-Z are embracing unions, the labor movement as a whole, and the politicians who support both. As Steven Greenhouse points out, “A Gallup poll last summer found that sixty-four per cent of Americans approve of unions—one of the highest ratings recorded in the past fifty years. The highest rate of approval came from young people: sixty-seven per cent among eighteen-to-thirty-four-year-olds.”

Part of that support, I think, is a natural, cyclical resurgence. Unions became so strong in the mid-20th century that they were taken for granted — and/or framed as “greedy,” or responsible for work going overseas. That’s the sentiment that allowed so many states to pass Right to Work legislation, and that sustains the sort of anti-union sentiment that prevails in workplaces all over the country — most vividly in this year’s Oscar-winning documentary American Factory (streaming on Netflix, can’t recommend it highly enough).

The predominant conservative messaging, from the mid-‘70s onward, was that it was unions who were responsible for the loss of your job, the decline of your community, your family’s fall from the middle-class — unions who hampered the free market, unions who made Americans uncompetitive. Forget about the role of tax cuts, or the rise of stockholder activism that demands massive profits. Forget about the role of consultants in the sloughing of the labor force. Forget about the innovation and competitive edge that was lost in the eagle-eyed pursued of profits. Forget the long-term ramifications of defunding the education system at every level. Within this worldview, everything bad that’s happened to the workforce over the last 30 years is the fault of the workers who demanded security, and safety, and the means to support a family, and not live in constant fear of what would happen to you when your body can no longer work.

That message resonated for decades. For so many boomers, it was a convincing explanation for the decline of the middle-class. But Millennials and Gen-Z, we’re not buying it. Maybe it’s because that line of thinking hasn’t, in fact, restored the middle-class — it’s just decimated it even further. Some of us are students of history, and see that it’s not a coincidence that the post-WWII period understood as the “Golden Age” of American capitalism was also the golden age of unions. Some of us, like me, came to realize what a union had provided them only when they were suddenly without one. And many of us, reared on the idea that you should “do what you love,” no matter what it takes, or how you suffer, or who profits from that suffering, are understanding ourselves as workers for the first time.

It doesn’t matter how cool our job is, how flexible it promises to be, or how much we dreamed of making it our career if we can’t survive on what it pays us, if we’re riddled with anxiety about covering medical bills, if we’re sleepless and scared and exhausted all the time. As we continue to age into adulthood, we don’t want good snacks or a ping pong table or fucking visits from therapy dogs. We want a modicum of job security, a moderate amount of severance if the event of layoffs, pay raises that keep pace with inflation, the promise that some white guy won’t get paid $15,000 more to do the same job that we do simply because he’s grown up with the confidence of a white guy, and the ability to report abuse without fear of retaliation.

That’s not greed. That’s not a symptom of being coddled, or over-indulged. That’s understanding yourself as a worker, not a robot — a citizen within capitalism, but not a slave to it.

So many of us were reared on the idea that hard work would, ultimately, provide security — and happiness and everything else would flow from it. It didn’t work out that way. Which is why you can trace a sometimes straight, sometimes meandering line between millennial burnout and the new labor movement. We’ve seen what happens when we rely uniquely on ourselves, and our capacity to work. So we’re trying something incredibly novel: looking around, recognizing each other, and also recognizing that the way things are doesn’t have to the way things will be. You could call that a burnout cure. Or you could just call it solidarity.

Things I Read and Loved / Been Compelled By This Week:

As always, if you know someone who’d like this sort of thing in their inbox once a week-ish, please forward it their way. You can subscribe (and link to it) here. You can follow me on Twitter here, and Instagram here. Please excuse typos or weird sentences; inattention to detail is what allows me to make the mental space to get this thing out in the world for free.

redeveloping a relationship

I’m on a plane on 6 am on a Sunday morning, flying to New York to appear on a show that 4th grade nerdy me would be astonished by, followed by a quick reporting trip. I’m pretty exhausted (I got home late Thursday night from a different reporting trip), and annoyed to be flying on a Sunday (I try, as best as I can, to protect my weekends from work trips, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t). I haven’t been sleeping particularly well (sometimes I get on jags) and I’m stressed about a few reporting deadlines.

Sometimes the weird life of a journalist like me is dynamic and invigorating; sometimes it is deeply fatiguing. I have the luxury of recovering before the week — I’ll sleep nine hours tonight — and when I come back this Thursday, I’ll stay put for five weeks. I don’t have the energy to write anything that illuminating, but wanted to emphasize that even though my writing can sometimes feel like I’ve figured something out (about, well, whatever) I’ve usually just figured out what’s going on, not figured out how to fix it, or inoculate myself against it, in my own life.

One recent thing that’s recently given me a lot of pleasure = rewatching a movie, in this case Sneakers, that I basically memorized as a teen but haven’t seen in at least a decade (the politics are more complicated than I realized, and Robert Redford in Dockers, hello! Plus River Phoenix!) and rereading two books that bewitched me in my 20s (Shirley Hazzard’s The Bay of Noon, which will enthrall any of you who love Ferrante, and The Transit of Venus, just a marvel).

Hazzard took about a decade per book, and I’ve been thinking about what it must feel like to lavish that sort of broad, lasting attention on something — how you’d develop a relationship with the book that’s far different than even the one I’ve cultivated with my own books, which feel unleashed in a flurry of study and writing. Hazzard’s prose is highly crafted, and I periodically found myself frustrated that I was taking as long as I was to finish the book, but then I remembered: that’s part of the point. Also: it doesn’t matter how many books I’m reading. It just matters that I’m reading: something I really and truly love, and that doesn’t need to be quantified for me to love it.

I spent three weeks reading a book of 350 pages, which allowed me to develop a sliver of the sort of relationship that Hazzard felt with that book. It also gave me space to remember what bonded me to it in the first place, why I so loved the emotional tempest on the page. I strongly recommend both books — and I’m going to reread The Great Fire, widely regarded as her masterwork, next — but I also just recommend revisiting a text that’s not a guilty pleasure so much as a slightly demanding one, whatever that might mean for you. There’s real joy to be found in re-developing a relationship, no matter how long it might take.

Things I Read and Loved This Week:

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