your attention

This is the Sunday edition of Culture Study — the newsletter from Anne Helen Petersen, which you can read about here. If you like it and want more like it in your inbox, consider subscribing.

Was your Sunday as weird as mine? I got the election news on Saturday morning after a night of still bad-sleep, spent the day only kinda believing, did a bit of crying and a bit of celebrating during the speeches, then woke up to a massive emotional and physical hangover on Sunday morning.

I felt like I wanted to yell at everyone who was spending their day yelling at each other on the internet — but also wanted us all to just cuddle together and nap. I was starving but didn’t want to eat anything. I was still deliriously tired but couldn’t rest. I was Peggy, pictured above, wedging myself into a chair trying to….Relax? Exhale? Recover from the muddle-brain of the weeks, months, years before? I certainly couldn’t muster the wherewithal to write a newsletter. What would I even recommend? Sleep?

The revelry on display on Saturday was a form of long-anticipated, much-needed catharsis I wasn’t quite sure would arrive. It was fortuitous, I think, that the call was made on a Saturday morning: there was time and space to celebrate. But you don’t recover from this sort of exhaustion overnight. You might feel somewhat brighter than when I wrote my post-election post last Wednesday — I think I do, but I’m still trying to sit with it — but I also feel the imminent press and threat of COVID in a way that recalls those first few weeks of lockdown. My Twitter feed is just local journalists tweeting echoes of the same dire hospitalization numbers in states across the country. England is in mandatory two-week lockdown. American Thanksgiving feels like a ticking bomb.

If you need to keep losing your shit, lose it. If you need to keep stealing naps from the rest of your day, steal them. If you need to organize your inbox, cut out dairy or alcohol for the week, go on a long-ass walk everyday without listening to a podcast, do it. If you need to keep lowering the bar, lower it, then lower it again.

I remain convinced that heart of “self-care” is not pampering, per se, or spending lots of money — but giving yourself permission to listen to yourself about what will actually feel like rest and respite. Not what other people tell you rest should look like. Actual rest, which is to say, your rest, which might not be recognizable as such to others. My partner got a massive deli-made sandwich for the first time in months and I watched it turn his entire week around. Sometimes you just need to not do everything yourself, and sometimes you need to finally figure out what that smell is in the fridge, and sometimes you need to just delete those emails in your inbox of shame that have been haunting you for months.

I’m still committed to shifting our society towards something better, something equitable. I’m still here to articulate the utopian, to make it speakable and imaginable and, someday, accessible. I’m still shouting it doesn’t have to be this way. But I am also so thrilled to open up space to think about it different ways, to return to bigger projects, to write an entire newsletter on Anya Taylor-Joy’s face, to simply find the news cycle slightly less relentless.

That’s not the same as turning away from politics. It means being able to calculate your offense instead of scurrying, constantly, on defense. It means evicting the toxic asshats who’ve been squatting, unbidden, in your brain. It means wresting control of your own attention and deciding where to guide it. That includes: back to politics. But also: your neighborhood, your family, your smelly fridge, your house plants, your cross-stitch, helping people you don’t know and people you do, acting intelligently about this dumb virus, making your space cozy as fuck, picking up that book you’ve been desperate to read, calling a friend and talking about nothing for hours like you’re teens, going out and raking your leaves or the leaves of an elder in your neighborhood and coming back in and smelling like slightly sweaty cold late fall air, laying on the floor with your dog and petting them until you kinda forget you’re a person and they’re a dog, signing up for Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight, and anything else [COVID-safe, sorry] you can think of, but the best part is that you get to think of it, not Donald J. Trump.

For me: I’m going back to thinking about some of the big, still-unruly ideas about the history and future of work, especially as it intersects with a post-COVID future. I’m still working my way through a massive pile of books, but I’m also starting to reach out to people for interviews — and have prepared this questionnaire as a starting point. If you’d like to think, write, or talk more about your own work from home experience, past or present or future ideal, it’s the first step. (People always tell me they find filling these things out surprisingly therapeutic; maybe you will too) If you think that your organization could make an interesting mini-profile for the book, email me. If there’s someone in your life who you think would have a valuable perspective on all of this, forward it their way (here’s the overview of the book project, if that’s helpful). If there’s someone I should reach out to for an interview — I’d love to hear those suggestions, too.

But I’m also trying to recover some other corners of my life, too. I’m watching this movie preview. I’m reading this book. I’m cooking this soup (add kale). I’m re-reading this profile of the Reverend Raphael Warnock and this profile of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. I’m listening to this song and this playlist. I’m donating to my local food bank. And like so many of you, I’m figuring out where to guide my attention, my anger, and my care next. ●


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