It is May and the sun is nowhere to be found. ☔️
I’ve spent the past two days trying to remember the origin of the wine mom rise and grind mantra, You have as many hours in a day as Beyoncé. I can’t work it out! Who was the first person to say this? How did it end up as the e-mail signature of your most annoying co-worker? Who was the first person to make it into a cross-stitch to sell on Etsy? All that my fruitless Googling revealed is that the phrase became popular around 2014, and that ever since we have been living under some pleasantly cross-stitched mandate to work as hard as, literally, the hardest working person on earth.
We def know this now because we’ve all seen the Homecoming documentary, right??? As usual, we only learn what Beyoncé wants us to know, which is that she began to prepare for the Coachella performance eight months in advance when she was just a few months postpartum. There’s this part where she shares her gruelling diet and performance regime in a voiceover (no sugar, meat, alcohol, etc.) as the camera trains on her hungrily gnawing at an apple. AN APPLE. With nary a dab of peanut butter on top!!!! And then she says something we’ve never heard Beyoncé, who somehow has as many hours in a day as us, say before: “I’ll never push myself that far again.”
It took me a minute to process that she actually said that when I first watched because, tbh, I was dramatically, pre-emptively mourning the thought of ever having to give up coffee and almond croissants. But weeks later, her admission is still on my mind. No doubt it was intended to be a ‘humanizing’ moment in a documentary that exemplifies the grit and determination of a woman who continues to best her own career, by working body and spirit to the bone. But it gave me the same frisson of excitement as Rihanna’s thickening frame, like, damn Beyoncé is overrrrr it.
It feels like the most effective message Beyoncé might offer at this moment, where surviving calamity — physical, financial, mental, spiritual… — demands more and more of our attention.
Right now I’m reading Jenny Odell’s excellent book How To Do Nothing: Resisting The Attention Economy. It’s not a guide to logging off; instead it’s about the “rhetoric of growth,” and the small ways we might actively resist the undertow of digital neoliberalism, which has helped codify behaviours, addictions, and anxieties into our neural networks. We’re literally addicted to being productive all of the time, even if we don’t participate in social media or check in with the 24-hour news cycle. Our virtual and physical landscapes have been cultivated for maximum attention deficit and reactivity. Odell’s book sounds cynical but it’s not — it’s smart and lively and curious, and encourages us to escape “laterally toward each other,” instead of remaining myopic and distracted by all that we can, could, and probably won’t do.
This is a circuitous — and hopefully not illogical — way of saying that if Beyoncé is tired, perhaps we aren’t too far off from bunting and mugs and wine charms or whatever that bellow, in whatever disgusting font is available, “I’LL NEVER PUSH MYSELF THAT FAR AGAIN.”
I’m kidding. I absolutely don’t think that Beyoncé is advocating doing nothing — but neither is Odell really. What I see in Bey’s confession that Odell’s book affirms is that we need boundaries around what deserves our attention. For Bey it’s family and physical health; for Odell it’s birds and the art that can be discovered within the most mundane of human behaviour. For me, it’s not allowing fear and anxieties around work and success and how much time is left!!! to leech into my relationships with others — and myself. When we affirm healthy boundaries we are transmitting important information to other people, information that can trigger connectivity, sensitivity, and other radically human values that the attention economy and productivity has numbed.
I’m highly in favour of doing ‘nothing.’ It’s why I wanted to do Burn Out, the podcast, the way that I did — with no sponsors, not timed to a release cycle, featuring conversations about just how hard it is to make art. It’s also why, for weeks now, I’ve ‘forgotten’ to tell you that there’s a paid option for this newsletter — so that you might donate some money in exchange for my time. Because the truth is that the real pleasure for me is in having a small group of people who might enjoy hearing what I have to say; I don’t want to put a tax on your time and attention.
Lots of love,
PS: If you need some help setting boundaries (I know I do), then I recommend checking out this Mad Map on mental health, which I learned about via the Healing Justice podcast.