I’ve been a freelancer for more than a decade now. When the pandemic lockdown hit last year, and so many people’s lives went haywire as they were thrust into a work-from-home scenario, the impact on my work life was minimal. Even now I find I need to remind myself that sometimes the emails I send are arriving in other people’s bedrooms (ahem, workspaces), and not in a noisy crowded office. What has been surreal (on any number of levels) is seeing and hearing so many people struggle with the challenges of my normal day to day: setting boundaries, setting schedules, figuring out how to have not insane sounding conversations when you’ve been by yourself for hours at a time. These things are hard, even if I’d stopped thinking of them as such a long time ago. Being reminded of this made me reconsider how many of the things I think of as normal, are in fact very much not.
I began my writing career covering the world of media and politics. Sometime in 2012, I burned out quite badly and took a long siesta (that my bank account was not siesta-prepped did not register at the time). This was years before the word burnout fully entered the cultural lexicon, and the response to my dropping out was largely one of fascination and pity, though both were brief. Generally speaking, unless they are paying your bills I find people are not terribly interested in what you are or are not doing with your time. This realization was very freeing. I later wrote about the experience (the word “Blackberry” factors into the subhed, which should give you an idea of just how long ago this was). At the time, I’d assumed my experience was specific to the media world, and also possibly just to me. Perhaps I just wasn’t up to it. “It” being a career. The overwhelming response I received to the piece, however, made clear I was a bit of a canary in a coal mine. It was coming for us all.
Much like my freelance life before the pandemic, seeing burnout become a widespread concern has been weirdly gratifying. It wasn’t just me.
Over the years, as my life has increasingly moved away from any recognizable narrative of what we have been traditionally told a woman’s life should look like – marriage; motherhood; the corner office, even – I’ve found myself questioning all the stories we’ve told ourselves, or rather been told, about how we’re supposed to live. And trying to tell more honest ones. This is the place most of my writing comes from: exploring the divide between how women are told to live, how we are actually living, and who is profiting from the gap between the two (reader, it is not women).
Which brings me to what is currently my favorite subject: rest. As we come out of this year of lockdown, during which women were punished for their life choices in nearly every way imaginable, I find myself thinking a great deal about rest. The American narrative does not acknowledge rest. This is killing us.
Movie theaters have been open at limited capacity in New York since April, and this past week I went and saw the 1969 French Film ‘La Piscine.’ Actually, I went and saw it three times. If you can’t actually get to the South of France pre-internet, this seemed like the next best thing. The film is essentially two hours of four extremely beautiful, sometimes naked people (here is the trailer if you want visual proof) lounging around a pool at a villa outside St. Tropez. What plot there is, is jammed into the last thirty minutes, by which point you are so mesmerized by everyone’s face it hardly matters.
Midpoint in the film, Romy Schneider asks what they are going to do the following day. She asks this while lolling on a couch in a bikini, arms wrapped around Alain Delon at his most perfect. She is recovering from a day of lying by the pool. She subsequently answers her own question: “Tomorrow, I’ll take a long siesta.” The French understand rest. They understand it as a right, and not a reward. This is not going to be a newsletter about why France, a complicated country with many, complicated problems, is better. But simply to emphasize that as we all gear up to re-enter the world, we have a brief opportunity to not simply consider new ways of living, but to learn how to tell new stories about how we are living; the story of rest being one example. Laws and cultural norms are simply narratives about what and who we deem valuable that have been codified. In this country the narratives we live by benefit the few, the white, the male. Acknowledging there are other, better, more true, more enjoyable stories to tell feels like an important first step.