I didn’t intend to take such a long break from writing this newsletter. Old me would never have allowed such a thing. Even though I was so burnt out by the UK’s long, bleak COVID winter (not to mention two!! bouts of the virus itself) that I could barely string a coherent sentence together, I fully intended to force myself to resume writing after a couple of weeks off. But then a few weeks rolled around and my brain still wasn’t cooperating, so I conceded that I might need to give it a few more. It took a few rounds of repeating this pattern for me to acknowledge the irony of writing a manifesto for changing our toxic relationship to work and productivity – and then perpetuating the exact patterns I’d denounced.
At the risk of sounding extremely self-important, resisting the imperative to publish came to feel like a sort of praxis, not least because it coincided with a time when all my other work has been of the brand/consultancy variety that I’m unable to publicly ‘share’. I’ll admit that there were many points when I panicked that people will think I’m not working; each time having to catch myself for getting stuck in the capitalist matrix once again (or - as one of my long-time favourites, Tara Brach, puts it - ‘the Trance of Unworthiness’.)
If there’s one thing that writing this newsletter has taught me it’s that, as much as I might like to think of myself as a special snowflake who sits around having entirely original thoughts, this is rarely (OK, never) the case. I’d hazard a guess that many of you are oscillating between the two states in which I’ve spent much of the past year: Half apathetic/over it/struggling to see the point of any form of ego-driven work whatsoever; half guilt-ridden/self-flagellating/deeply concerned that you’ll never be able to drum up any genuine enthusiasm for your ‘career' ever again. This internal battle commenced well before the pandemic, but it accelerated to high velocity during the endless months of lockdown.
Since I published Work Ethics last August, it’s been interesting to take in an outpouring of articles and thinkpieces that tussle with many of the same questions that I tried to address in the book: How do we replace the false idol of work? What if we created a different value system around labour? Why does non-essential work even exist? When I completed the book, I thought it was a full stop on a time of painful, personal self-enquiry into my feelings on work, worth, and ‘success’. I now realise it was only a question mark – and a tentative one at that.
Not that I’ve spent the past six months going around in cerebral circles. During our time of isolation, lots of people apparently realised they were introverts who had been unhappily navigating an extroverted culture all along. I had the opposite revelation. Even though I live alone, work for myself, and need lots of solitary time to think and read, I’ve reluctantly accepted that I am a ~people person~: I feed off real-life conversation and crave IRL culture of all kinds. After almost a year deprived of these pleasures, among so many others, I dove into a fairly hedonistic summer in which I excused myself from reflecting too much at all: No Thoughts, Just Vibes, as the meme goes. I feel incomparably more creatively stimulated - albeit physically and financially depleted - for it.
Still, I am an (over)thinker by nature, and my mind was/is prone to trying to make sense of this moment – uniquely indecipherable as it is. As always, travelling has been the way that I best read the proverbial room, and I was grateful to experience six weeks of New York’s truly sexy comeback summer, when the city felt as dynamic, sweaty, and throbbing (ew! But true) with life as I’d ever known it.
Back in London as the seasons started to change, it has been heartening to see the city come back to life. Like pretty much everywhere, Britain is currently plagued with social, political, and economic problems - not to mention the ongoing viral plague itself - but the cultural verve of this damp little island never fails to inspire me. We might be dancing to a backdrop of social and political turmoil, but we’re still dancing. Maybe that’s not denial, but its very opposite: a brave and hopeful affirmation of the inherent joy of simply still being here, and alive.
Reading-wise, I gratefully hoovered up work from writers who managed to keep publishing throughout the summer. Among other pieces (including those hyper-linked above) I enjoyed this long read on how COVID has ended the neoliberal era; (Ding Dong!); Mari Andrew’s sweet and thoughtful dispatches; Recho Omondi in conversation with Pharrell Williams; Anne Helen Petersen’s newsletters, even though I don’t always relate to her sentiments; Kyle Chayka’s New Yorker column; Harron Walker on why she’s OK with being in her Flop Era. And, just when you thought you’d read every possible take on our tortured relationship with social media, here’s another one by Chris Hayes that is worth your time (promise).
My summer wasn’t as book-heavy as it might have been in less sybaritic times, but I enjoyed diving into a couple of volumes of Anais Nin’s Diaries – I’m always interested in the ways that women navigate the balance between work and the societal forces that conspire to stop us from getting it done (my friend Sharmadean Reid is always insightful on this - I just ordered this book on her suggestion). I belatedly devoured Bernadine Evaristo’s rich and real Girl, Woman, Other and I just started Flights by the Nobel Prize-winning Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk. Below, one of the many passages that already have my brain whirring:
“Standing there on the embankment, staring into the current, I realised that—in spite of all the risks involved—a thing in motion will always be better than a thing at rest; that change will always be a nobler thing than permanence; that which is static will degenerate and decay, turn to ash, while that which is in motion is able to last for all eternity.”
I’ll leave it there for now. Happy to be back in your inboxes at long last.