You can listen to a recording of the short essay below as a prologue to the new episodes of Burn Out — coming soon! I wanted to offer some clarity around this project because I’m no longer on Twitter and thereby present as contextless and inert online. But also cos I think so much about divesting attention from and emotional attachment to various hierarchies and platforms of power, for personal and political well-being and to re-engage with complexity. I realized I hadn’t said any of this out loud, because I’m forever processing what I learn, but that it’s important to be clear that what began as a strange, murky, self-doubting period of life, has become lucid. It will change again, but I commit to the ongoing.
There are some things I haven’t told you.
When I started this podcast, two years ago now, it was meant to be an experiment: I wanted to know if I still cared about art. If work could still be both fun and meaningful — whether it went viral or not. I wanted to find a point of continuity between the first 10 years of my career, and what is to come.
Two years ago, recording those first shaky episodes of Burn Out, I trembled and second-guessed-myself all the way. Wild, given what I’d already accomplished and given that I was really just making a podcast with friends, for my friends. But I didn’t trust myself. I believed that starting over — back in Toronto, post-Big Media Job, working independently — meant I had to prove myself all over again. I was flippant about the podcast being a little DIY whatever thing. I made myself, and the work, small because that’s how I felt inside.
Over the last few months I’ve been following news about the protests, the analysis of the protests, and the institutional reckonings that the protests have triggered. It seemed like everyone had a plan. I put posters up around my neighbourhood, which is the whitest neighbourhood I have ever lived in, I donated to mutual aid funds, and amplified calls to action from Toronto organizers.
I also read essays by journalists about the racism that thrives in media organizations. They wrote about how supremacist logic resulted in labour violations, and caused professional disenfranchisement and emotional distress. Their collective point was that the media is culpable in a world view that’s deeply out of step with the historical realities of racial capitalism. To paraphrase my friend Pacinthe Mattar who wrote a recent essay for The Walrus, “Media organizations themselves have failed their own tests of accuracy.”
These essays made me angry in a few different ways: They resurfaced the shame, bullying, deceit and rejection that I’ve experienced throughout my career; I was reminded of how I became cruel as a result; I felt deficient for not working harder to game the system, to get to a point where I had enough institutional legitimacy to be supported in my own call outs; I was angry because the pleasureeeeee I felt in extricating myself from that mess felt small and insignificant and less of an achievement than its combined destruction.
Sarah Schulman writes that the essence of supremacy ideology is “the self-deceived pretense that one’s power is acquired by being deserved and has no machinery of enforcement.”
I began to try and heal this self-deception. I started this podcast, and a newsletter. I began to read again. I went to therapy. I spent less time on my phone. I thought about the life I grew up wanting and whether those hopes still felt accurate. I am deeply Sagittarian and therefore restless, sparky, and obtusely optimistic: I could not help but irritate everyone around me by talking about how fruitful and relaxing this self-imposed convalescent period felt —— But, I started this essay acknowledging that there are things I haven’t said.
I’m no longer sure that it’s possible to work within these institutions and not be coerced into generating propaganda for the increasingly fascist values that order the world today (addendum: read this book review for more). It is not possible to do good work if your bosses are immune to history, and how it has shaped our social and economic realities. I will not make my politics line up with model minority expectations. I do not want to work with exploitative partners for career visibility. I see through the casteist math that makes some narratives of Blackness or brownness or queerness more amenable to power.
Burn Out is not a podcast about overcoming struggle. It is primarily an archive of experience of artists, many who are racialized, queer, and or women-identified, working within the nation state/corporation that we call Canada. It is an invitation to disrupt colonial habits of understanding through relational connections, contemplation, and uncertainty. It pushes back on marketplace ideas that connect desirability and worthiness and visibility to artistic merit. Burn Out disavows the idea that struggle can only be certain about what it is we are against rather than what we are for. It rejects the idea that the only power worth having is their power. Burn Out is a dream state.
And the artist or maker remains a salient object of study I think, as long as people work to make the mundane beautiful. The Indigenous botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer says mundanity is sacred: “water turns to wine, coffee to a prayer.”
This prologue was meant to introduce you to the forthcoming episodes of Burn Out, which I’m really excited about and which are loosely rooted in resilience and resistance. They’re more pointed versions of the conversations we’ve been having here on Burn Out all along. A more spacious version of the work I’ve been doing since I first started my career. As it turns out, the only plan is to keep on.
Postscript from Canisia Lubrin’s, 53 Acts of Living:
Worry is this master narrative. Worry damns us to treading this unliving, which began centuries before our birth.”