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.
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.