Hands. Off. My. Saturday.

So last night I had a small meltdown. This was the third or fourth meltdown in as many weeks; it’s March (lately February) and I am incredibly overwhelmed at work and exhausted from winter’s pace and relentless cold, fatigue, and stress. (Even Emma the dog, typically a face of snow-covered splendour, hasn’t been her usual treat this season; mostly, I’m just fecking tired and ready for it all to end.)


(Yup. That’s Emma. Ready for winter walkies… as usual.)

Last night’s meltdown was special, though, and in its specialness rather instructive. I was sending a series of emails related to a recruitment event happening on my university campus next week, seeking student and faculty volunteers to support our Theatre Studies table. While messing about with this event, I realised that I’d almost missed the fact that ANOTHER event, a regular and university-wide (and thus fairly high-profile) recruitment fair, was happening this week.

On Saturday.

Nobody had told me. Even though I am, with the help of a *very* small team of dedicated colleagues, running our theatre program solo right now. Which means, of course, that ALL of us needed to be mobilised, and quickly, and arrangements seen to STAT, so that we did not end up missing the thing entirely.

First, I freaked out. I am not embarrassed to say that I was trying to eat dinner at the time (this is what March amounts to for me, friends; sitting at the dining room table – HEY, AT LEAST I’M AT THE TABLE! – on a Monday evening, circa 8:30pm, stuffing leftover biryani into my face and drafting emails on my laptop all the while). Some rice and bits of cardamom may have been coming out of my ears. Suddenly, panic set in. It felt like – even though this is obviously mad-as-a-hatter territory – the program might live or die on its visibility at March Break Open House.

Next, I triaged the problem, realised whom I needed to contact and about what, and set about drafting a new round of messages. It was at this point, though – when I was emailing to ask various faculty and students and colleagues and friends which shifts they could cover – that I realised that what was going to happen this weekend to me was actually very, very bad indeed.

I was going to have to work on Saturday.


I am an evangelist for Saturdays. Since graduate school, it’s been my one hard and fast rule: no work on Saturdays! I make exceptions only for immovable work events that also, ultimately, involve pleasure – conferences, for example, where I know a day spent listening to colleagues share their work will end with some kind of drunken debaucherie at, say, Au Pied de Cochon, or Olympia Provisions.

Why such a rule, above all other rules? Friends, it’s simple. Academics work ALL THE TIME. We live our work. The research is in our blood and bones. The things that give us joy also give us labour. It’s not hard – let’s be honest – to rack up 60, 70, 80 hours a week at this gig and barely notice, because hey, it’s also a pleasure to think about the artists we write and teach about while hanging around Facebook, and it’s easy to semi-draft the next paragraph of that overdue book chapter while walking the dog or bathing the kid or cooking supper. The work is everywhere. It never leaves us. We need to leave it – on purpose – or be doomed.

So ever since grad school, when I lived in a tiny, sweet apartment in downtown east-side Toronto (now part of the swish Distillery District, and utterly unaffordable to mid-career, middle aged me!), my rule has been that Saturdays are for Other Than Work, Period. I shop for food. I cook a lot of things. Emma the dog gets to visit the coffee shop I frequent in Wortley Village (London, ON) where I now live. There may be a martini or two come evening. Along with the Saturday Guardian, and maybe an episode or two of something new and yummy. (The Night Manager, oh my god!)

This Saturday, as it turns out, I’m going to have to fork over a few hours to work. And I just want to register how annoyed I am. Because, friends, time off is ALSO an activist issue, a feminist issue, on this International Women’s Day. We all know we work too hard – especially women, who still do the bulk of home and child care even while working professional, full-time jobs, and who are still shockingly underpaid for their labour.

And we all know, deep down, that after working too hard on stuff that really, truly, doesn’t matter THAT MUCH, we are far too drained to turn our attention to politically or socially activist matters, let alone matters of personal care. Overwork is a strategy by which we are conscripted into an army of consenting subjects, far too damn tired to stand up for inequality, for the rights of refugees, or against a complacent and increasingly right-wing political class; drained from the day, if you’re anything like me, you read the news online, sigh and rage a bit and wish you could find the energy to do something… before you then turn back to your “work”.

Dammit, Saturday. Come back. I need you more than ever.



10 thoughts on “Hands. Off. My. Saturday.

  1. At my University half a dozen recruitment events are now scheduled on Saturdays throughout the year and while we have always worked on weekends on practical assessments with students, some teaching is now officially being scheduled then. Its very difficult for those with children or who are carers in other ways -or those of us that would simply like a life beyond work but no one (apart from me) appears to object. In these tough times everybody just wants to keep hold of their jobs. I also heard a radio programme today abut the UK government’s plan to extend Sunday opening hours.. with no intention of higher pay. This is the neo-liberal economy 24/7 work (for those that still have it)

    • Oh, Gerry, I feel your pain. I remember well how much shadow work around recruitment we did at QM! And I sensed rising resentment from colleagues, but also a general sense of shoulder-shrugging/what can we do? As you say, everyone wants to keep their jobs. The lack of security is palpable, and feeds the 24/7 economy. Neoliberalism is a self-perpetuating monster, after all.

  2. First: big hugs, you! Second: I also keep forgetting about Saturday and also usually regard Saturdays as sacred, so I’m right there with you. In fact, I had OTHER work planned for my sacred Saturday until I recalled said recruitment event. So I think I will be doing a double shift on my “work-free” day. Third: we will have that lunch we keep talking about, and we’ll have it on a Saturday (even if not this one!). Thanks for the reminder about why a day a week that is protected from work is essential (so why do we let it slip?). I like the way the staff work it — when they have to come in for an event on the weekend, like March Break Open House, they then book a “lieu day” usually in the week following. That’s a day off to make up for the day they came in. Smart.

    • We should ALL start doing that, en masse! The staff are superb about maintaining work/life boundaries, at least in my department; I think faculty could learn a lot from them! AND I think it’d be healthier for us to model that kind of behaviour for grad students, than what we do now: encouraging them to valorise working all the time…

  3. Have you heard of the #endweekendconferences movement? As a former academic, it doesn’t affect me anymore. But as the wife of an academic, and the mother of our two children, weekend conferences mean I’m often left holding the bag on weekends–with activities and so on structured around the assumption that we are a two-adult family on Saturdays and Sundays–but so often we’re not. Yes, conferences are on weekends to avoid cutting into the teaching week. But that assumes that teaching time is sacrosanct and deserves protection but personal time is free game.

    • I have not, but thanks Kelly! I will check that out. I think it’s a fantastic idea. Yes, of course, protecting teaching in the term makes sense, but it’s also important to remember that our tenure and promotion processes DO NOT protect teaching at all. Which means that ultimately, we’re asked to scramble in the term to get to conferences on weekends (because not going = potential problem for our research agendas), we can’t recharge for the following teaching week while there, and our partners are left holding the household bag in our absences. It’s a lose/lose.

  4. Hi Kim. A friend of mine once owned a great mug that bore the legend: Trade Unions: The People who brought you The Weekend. The EU recommend that no-one works more than 48 hours per week on a regular basis so I try not to. I don’t have a sacred Saturday. I have an Almost Sacred Whole Weekend. This is partly because I live with someone who used to be a Trade Union officer and the withering expression that comes over his face if I say I’m working on Sat or Sun is not to be born. Occasionally, yes, work creeps into one of those days at a time of high marking load/someone’s PhD submission/a heavy admin task. But I would say that these days I’m only letting work creep in to one weekend in three during the teaching semester – and never during the student vacation. If I work a Saturday open day I try to take at least an afternoon off during the week. This is a huge change of culture for me. I used to work virtually every weekend. What this meant was that on at least two days in the week I would work a feeble, exhausted, procrastinating kind of day in which little would get done even though I was at work for long hours – because my brain would exhaust itself and at some level was always telling me ‘you can finish this at the weekend’. OK, I still have times when I can’t get things done to time, have to say no to something I’d like to do, get in a time-management muddle or bury an email. But I honestly think that these thing happen /less/ than when I was working longer hours. I do get up insanely early during the weekday weeks to fit extra stuff in – but that’s when I’m at my best anyway and nothing seems too much (I really should have gone into farming. Or even parenthood. Too late for both now…). Oh and even if I do work a weekend day, I don’t open work mail at weekends or mail colleagues at weekends, especially not those junior to me. A friend at work once said that if she wouldn’t travel into work to get a piece of information on a research day or a weekend, she wouldn’t open an email. This has helped enormously. My answer to everyone who says they can’t not work weekends is to say – try it and see what happens.

    • Oh my god, Bridget, thank you for this. Thank you! This is EXACTLY the reason I created the Saturday rule – so I could recharge and refresh and be at my best (or better, anyway) in the week when I had to get things done. I tell my grad students: those people who say they work all the time? Not true. They are often fucking off at coffee shops or what have, not intentionally but because their brains are TIRED and are forcing them to rest by being less productive for a bit. So, yes, absolutely: TRY and see what happens!! I think you’ve actually inspired me to try to take Sunday more or less off, too – maybe even starting now. OK, maybe starting next week. 😉

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