Rest is a Budget Item
For Labor Day weekend, from the folks who brought you the weekend
This was going to be titled “Self-care is a budget item,” which was (I think) a brilliant quote from my editor and eventual podcast producer, K.O. Myers. He makes a very good point that if we (or I personally) do not take care of our brains, everything else will matter not at all. I tend to work extremely hard and then crash, as though I only have two speeds, 120 and 10. It seems like I went at 120 for the first forty years of my life.
I changed the title from “self-care” to “rest” because self-care is a very loaded term. It means different things to different people but often conjures up images of yoga, massages and green tea scented candles. That’s not restful to everyone, and it’s also not accessible to everyone. I happen to love yoga, massages and green tea scented candles, but rest is something a little different. And rest is essential for long term health, short term health, and not driving the people around you insane.
The problem is, I think very few of us were taught truly restorative rest practices. I know that when I was growing up my mom had to work so much that we were always on the go. It was fun to go from job to job with my mommy, and I got to control the radio in the car. But we never had time to really rest other than just crashing with exhaustion when possible.
I find it very difficult to turn myself off under almost any circumstances, but now that I am freelancing and my time is money, it’s even harder in some ways. I can quantify my time in actual dollars, and I can always be working on this project or that. I have a lot of content creation projects for clients as well as another part time job, and it’s a bunch of running about. I wouldn’t trade it for the old W-2 for anything (that’s another entry) but making time and mental space to rest is hard.
Yet if I don’t I crash pretty badly, and we can’t have that, so…
We will go back in time to the time before the country had strong unions, which predated the time when it had weak unions which predated the time in which we currently find ourselves when it has very few unions at all.
Many of you may have bought the myth that things like an end to child labor (though we know it still is rampant as is child slavery), the forty hour work week, overtime, basic safety protections, were granted due to the kindness of a benevolent government or the bosses themselves.
Nope. They were won on the picket line and in sit down strikes and sometimes with blood left on the ground (cause the bosses were killing the workers, make no mistake) by THE LABOR MOVEMENT. The thing this holiday is really about.
And now what have we as a society done? Largely given up these hard won gains to work more, make less, be brainwashed into being attached to looking at phones and answering work emails at all hours of the day and night, and having no real rest.
I know very well the history of the decline of the labor movement when the bosses started to really fight back at the end of the seventies and especially into the Reagan years. I feel like I was born at the decline… I did not do that on purpose. I did what I could, and it was a very good twenty year run as an organizer. But I saw how deeply the workers bought into the capitalist ideology, even as it took more and more away from them.
For those who are extremely well educated professionals I think it can be even more insidious. Nurses will fight against mandatory overtime because they want to do a good day’s or night’s shift, take care of their patients, and go home to their families. For those highly educated professionals, it seems to never end. I live in a neighborhood where U Penn professors coexist with long time black residents and white anarchists who were way cuter twenty years ago, and everyone is stuck on their phones all the time. At the gym, at the store, at the hair salon with two kids sitting next to them who look like they need attention. The only people not stuck on their phones are the people who hang out on the corner in front of the corner store all day long. I get it - one reason I quit the W-2 world of more high powered jobs that I could likely get is that I don’t want my little family’s economic security tied to me being tied to my phone all the time, and I know how real the expectation is that you be available day and night, weekends, holidays, all the time. It’s enough to make you want to hang it up and work in a surf shop on the beach.
They look to me like they need rest. I wonder if they ever get any.
Rest is different for everyone. I am doing things that I consider rest on this Labor Day weekend, after I worked very hard all week. I’ve had some amazing conversations with a new friend. I’ve dusted my entire apartment. I love dusting. I really do. I’ve finally read a friend’s article that I’ve been saving for when I could apply full brain power to it. I’m waiting on my ex to send me a medical study that seems to imply that a drug called rapamycin may extend life in cats. And I want to extend life in cats. One cat in particular.
Reading medical studies, friends’ articles, dusting, writing my Substack… these are things that I consider rest. Many people would not consider these activities rest. For me, absorbing someone else’s creative work is rest. It’s like being an algae eating fish and calmly hanging at the bottom of the tank feeding on the atmosphere.
Wow, that was the most un-sexy image I have ever come up with. Let me try again.
There used to be an ice cream shop around the corner from me that had very unusual flavors, like strawberry thyme and Maryland Crab and Everything Bagel. I had to use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy tools to stop myself from going to this ice cream shop too often and eating too much ice cream. It was just so delicious, and not delicious in the way that a pint of Ben and Jerry’s from the corner store is. Anyone can get Ben and Jerry’s, and it’s comfort food because it’s familiar.
The flavors of ice cream at Little Baby Ice Cream were not familiar at all. Some of them were downright strange and turned out to be a bad idea gone worse (like the Smurfs, for those of you who remember Josh K’s high school band) But the very strangeness of the flavors made them exciting to try. Who would have thought of mixing basil and banana into an ice cream? No one, until the people at Little Baby did. That’s what it’s like. That’s why I love consuming the off-beat, different from anything anyone else thinks of, I refuse to use the phrase outside the box because that phrase must die but you know what I mean, work of my friends. That’s rest for me. It restores my brain to the point where I can be creative again too. Keep it coming, y’all. Hmmmm… banana basil flavored ice cream for the mind.
Rest is doing whatever is restorative for you personally. For a lot of people I know, it’s watching baseball. Well, I’m not sure they find it restorative but they do it a lot. Things that put the brain into a different mode from work mode. Things that briefly shut down the feverish effort to survive and allow one to float along on the power of someone else’s brainwaves. Or just on the winds of the galaxy…
From the folks who brought you the concept of a weekend, a time to rest and restore, we have the Labor Day holiday. Not for sales and consumption of things we don’t need or parties we don’t want to go to (but have fun if you actually want to go to that party!). The very idea that the average worker should have the right to time off is still a revolutionary idea. I’m planning to celebrate it by taking some time off.
What are you dear readers doing for Labor Day weekend? What is restorative for you?
At the risk of repeating myself, I like to take pictures of flowers. I think the flowers like it too. Haven’t gotten any complaints.