Set at least fourteen alarms to go off between 7:30 and 11:00 a.m., then hit snooze until your phone escalates from vibrating to screaming. Toss it across the bed. It will shut up. Pull the sheet over your head. Wonder why things work this way: why obligations tag behind you like single-filed, over-eager, fluffy little Pekin ducklings. Fluff your pillow. Notice that while you don’t smell optimal, the funk doesn’t yet overwhelm. You can go another day without a shower. Turn over onto your back. Stretch until you can reach your cell phone, grab it, text your boss: Hey Nic, I’m having a lot of neck and shoulder pain. Could I work from home today so I can do some stretches and sit somewhere comfortable?
Wait and hope she doesn’t suggest you just bring some pillows along to the office. Of course. I hope you feel better, my dear.
Yes. This means you do not have to bundle up and walk to the library where you would sit opening and closing tabs on your laptop, feigning productivity, avoiding a project you never should have put your hands on. Having a boss who isn’t paid what she should be is amazing. You both understand the library has overworked you. That it owes you. And much more than one paid day of leisure.
Another ping: I started the conversation about your wage increase with my supervisor and we had a meeting with the regional today. I’ll call later to discuss it with you.
Text back the crossed fingers emoji. When you send it, believe for twenty-seven seconds that Brooklyn Public Library might pay you more. Then laugh remembering your boss knows by work-from-home you mean nap-from-bed. Did she really mention to anyone that you’ve asked for a raise? You bullshit her; she’s probably bullshitting you. Having a Black woman boss who isn’t paid what she should be is disappointing. All the more reason to rest—on company time.
Ease back into slumber, the only realm where responsibility can’t harass you. After an hour or so, panic and vault out of bed in a hurry. Check your sheets and pants. Sigh in relief when you see you managed not to leak menstrual blood all over the place. Whew. Get up, pull the curtain shut, resent yourself for thinking a sliver of sunshine might make you the sort of person who embraces morning. Pee. Change your pad. Rinse your hands. Burn a stick of white sage incense. Return to bed.
Think about the stories and essays you could, but will not, write. Set alarms for forty-five to seventy minutes from now. Smile as you pull the covers back up. Roll up into a fetal position, then stretch out, flip over and extend your left arm to turn on the fan. Revel in all of it, the mystery of the burning incense, the peace of the breeze adoring your skin, the comfort of a day that belongs all the way to you.
Flip through your phone and confirm the groceries come tomorrow, not today. Flip through your phone and wonder why you’re flipping. Flip through your phone and think about all of the people you need to respond to, so your friendships don’t spoil. Even sending a text is a burden. Something to run from. Close your phone, then eyes, for a bit.
When you do finally manage to tear your heavy, complacent body from the warm mattress, splash some water and astringent on your face and brush your teeth. Change your shirt for Zoom. Keep on the same need-to-be-laundered pants, for one more day, resisting every urge to sniff them. Change your pad again. Switch to your main daytime headscarf. Flick on the kettle and refill the French Press with Café Bustelo. Go downstairs to fill half a mug with milk and hope you don’t run into your roommate or her lover and feel tempted to complain about how you’ve lost days trying to pinpoint whether it is an unwillingness or an inability that stands between you and the completion of mundane tasks. Come back up the stairs and notice you ought to sweep. Feel a pang of regret for not being cleaner, not being capable of the smallest efforts that Good People make. Put on earrings and lipstick and draw a few squiggly lines in the sketchbook to the right of your laptop. Marvel at how good that thick purple marker feels when dragged across the page. Turn on the lamp you use while on Zoom, settle in your chair, and prepare for a conversation you don’t have much to contribute to. Open your calendar to find the link and jump the fuck up and down when it reveals that the meeting you thought was today isn’t until tomorrow. This means you don’t have to video with anybody or make up excuses for why you haven’t done any of the things you’ve been promising for weeks. Take your earrings back off. Pretend you’re going to write but instead dance around a little to the version of Don’t Leave Me This Way by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, featuring Teddy Pendergrass. Shimmy those shoulders, grin, and keep the footwork simple as you march around your bed lip singing with an empty bottle of kombucha as your mic. Play the song three times in a row.
Give thanks that Future You can do all the things you’re hiding from, so that you don’t have to. Chew down a weed gummy. It’s amazing that hippie white women in California openly sell drugs on the internet. Sit back down and stare at your laptop and mark emails you don’t want to deal with as SPAM. Gobble down a leftover slice of pizza, awe at those slices of Northern Cardinal red pepperoni that cup and hold pools of oil that have now solidified but remain perfect for dunking ripped off crust into. Your life is not so bad. Especially when you don’t look at your bank account.
Glance at the butcher paper hanging behind your bedroom door, the all caps to do list that looms like a death threat. Is there anything the fuck at all from that list of mad scribbles that you could pick and complete? No. Today isn’t a day for completion. Say it aloud so you remember. Sit in your armchair and put your feet up and open a notebook and write WHY WHY WHY in big block letters, then stare at your Himalayan salt lamp. Wish you had more leftover pizza. Make your favorite white tea—the one with hibiscus. Take a shot of apple cider vinegar. Grimace. Open the internet. Google the more successful kids you went to high school with. Google the woman your crush married. Google ethical fast food. Laugh a little too loudly. Open Instagram and chat with a friend about how she should prepare for an upcoming interview. She really wants the job. Cross your fingers that it works out for her even though you don’t understand how or why she could so deeply want to engage in labor. Play word games on your phone.
Order White Castle. Notice they have Seafood Crab Cake Sliders. You want to try the crab cakes in the way you want to try vaginal steams—your curiosity outweighing both fear and sense. Know it’s okay. Future You will resume the consumption of vegetables and real food. Look outside at the backyard neighbors. Are they responsible? Do they eat fast food and listen to podcasts about serial killers too? Ask the internet why you aren’t intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. Watch spellcheck correct the spelling of both of those words. Wonder what the path of least resistance is. Look at your bed for a really long time. Walk over to it and caress the blanket on it, but do not get back in. Put on a hoodie. Water your plants. Go downstairs and collect your White Castle sliders from a stranger. Say hi to the roommate. Don’t dive into conversation; you need to eat White Castle while it’s hot. Rotate between swallowing the sliders and drinking water, until your levels of delight and disgust are equal. Wash your hands with lavender castile soap. Think about moisturizing with cocoa butter. Don’t. Give in: you really do need to sleep one final time—to cleanse your palate. Leap back into bed. Fart big farts. Be related to Homer Simpson. Leave one leg unblanketed so you don’t drown in your own sweat. Resist feeling guilty; your ancestors were enslaved and overworked, surely they’d want you to doze off at every single opportunity. Get the Rest They Couldn’t.
Would they find your resistance to fulfilling your commitments and ability to justify undesirable behaviors like playing hooky and missing deadlines compelling or obnoxious? Or would they think you deserve a day free of obligations? Consult your tarot deck.
For you, cooking and writing are a combination of work and rest. But today you don’t want to cook. You want to eat. And you don’t want to write. You want to have written things. You are insufferable. Writers tend to be. Consider that all those people from college who went places got there because they did things. Things besides constantly climbing back into bed. But their places of arrival aren’t that beautiful. And those people do not look well-rested. The sooner you accept that you aren’t going to do what they did and don’t want to be where or who they are, the better. Notice and ignore how chapped your lips are. As you fall asleep, yet again, take comfort in the likelihood that, at some point in a reasonably near future, you will have written what you need to write. (Nothing.)
Get mad at the world, not yourself, when the next alarm goes off. Should you down another gummy? No. Force your Black ass to get up, if only so that you do not take the bed’s softness for granted. Sit in the armchair instead of at the desk. Wish you had ordered pop with your sliders. Sugar. Open up a new document. Let the laptop warm your thighs. Get frustrated when Spotify crashes. Listen to the National Newscast. Think about how annoying thought leaders, hustlers, and anyone capable of doing things all the way are. Click and search until you come across an article called something like “Your Partner Should Make You a Better Person,” then roll your eyes. Sure, you don’t want your partner to make you a worse person but, holy shit, isn’t our society’s persistent push for people to maximize absolutely everything and make progress in every realm of their lives exhausting? You can thank perfectionism and the mentality of scarcity for leading you and so many others to a state of perpetual striving, and dissatisfaction. It’s a trapping that leaves you always trying to get more and become better. These aims get packaged as progress and growth, but they’re really no more than destruction and distraction, wrapped up all pretty. You know that, but still fall for it.
Sign on to LinkedIn to remind yourself just how much productivity and attainment bother you. Read through what people have posted about how honored they are to have earned the opportunity to ‘create exponential value.’ How proud they are to have earned their Negotiating with Suppliers Certificates. The global pandemic and turmoil are not stopping them from #hustling. Decide you are not jealous of these accomplishments. You hardly know what they mean. And you don’t want to do what it takes to achieve them. Glare at all of those work anniversaries—students you advised once upon a time have now worked in positions for longer than you ever have. Ever will. You have never had a promotion. You understand why. At your funeral, your niece will never claim, “Aunt Sheena was the most hardworking person, ever.” Instead she might speak to your unique ability to make tubs of French Onion dip disappear, exclaiming that one time, “The serving suggestion said it was for thirty people, but she ate it all by herself! All of it!” Scroll some more. Notice your finger wants to keep scrolling even though absolutely nothing here makes sense. Scoff at a post that asks, “Do you lead by doing?” Wish there were fewer leaders. Fewer followers. More people willing to stand still—to sit. And maybe even dare to recline.
Get distracted by the message that pops up:
Terry Jay claims generosity but likely just wants to take. Free time, energy, attention, everything. You wonder what the scam might be and log out.
Consider sipping some whisky, but don’t. And don’t look at clocks. Instead draw a stick figure urinating and write “Pee on the Protestant Work Ethic” in cursive below it. If you sit and think long and hard enough, maybe you’ll discover how to get the most you can, while making minimal effort.
Work and mathematics repulse you. Because of this you do not force yourself to solve equations on a daily basis. Numbers require too much work and sweat and result in too much error. That equates to too much laundry. But the way out of work isn’t as obvious. You can avoid it today, but your livelihood depends on you returning to it—your livelihood depends on you getting stressed out over strings of words that can’t possibly matter. You’ve heard theories about procrastination: sometimes it’s the result of a fear of success. You do fear excelling at nonsense. Some say procrastination is an unhelpful form of perfectionism. Perhaps but isn’t your problem. Your problem is that nothing matters. At one point that thought brought more ease than dismay. There was a freeing sensation accompanying the realization that the stakes were so low. But now the arbitrariness of it bears a weight you can’t lift. A lack of meaning does nothing to stifle expectation. Woe is angsty, tired little you.
Pretend that you can escape the kind of ambiguous work that puts you in a perpetual state of chasing growth and trying to create value to justify why your position to exist. The kind of life that is full of work that is never going to be finished. Google what it takes to be a REAL writer. Find an article that can decide your fate. If you don’t have what it takes, you can spend the semester in bed waiting for transformation, and if it doesn’t come you’ll at least have the calm you deserve. Open Karen E. Bender’s article, ‘If You Have These Traits You Might Be a Writer.’ Agree with Karen, writers do love words, they do handle them delicately. This gentleness, Karen writes, ought to be joined by sensitivity, imagination, commitment, and delusion.
Delusion, you have.
And, like your favorite rapper Jean Grae, you are “overly sensitive when it comes to, well, just about everything.” But you lack the stubbornness and will that could propel you to achieve acclaim.
Bender writes, “To be a writer is to find the locus of control within yourself.” Worry that there is no locus of control within yourself, that you are out of control, out of yourself, that you will crawl back into bed and stay there longer than ever, having permanently exhausted yourself while tossing letters on pages. Look at the bed and at the screen and remind yourself it is fine not to produce. How long will it take for you to grant yourself rest as the first option, without a side of guilt? To operate from the premise that everyone in your family has worked so hard so you can sit and sleep around? Go on a long walk, heading nowhere in particular. Come home, shove your devices in a drawer, and exfoliate your face and feet.
Over the last almost two years you’ve had opportunities to learn a lot about what matters, but how can you learn something that big if people around you aren’t making shifts—if people around you are bent on returning to the way things have always been? To not expanding social safety nets or cutting ties with our culture of productivity? The Great Resignation’ inspires envy and awe, but it falls short—people in articles and friends of friends have supposedly resigned from their pointless roles to go grow their own food and spend time with their families. But everyone you actually know has resigned to the grind, not away from it. You too have acquired more responsibility coupled with inconsistent feelings of pride, resentment, and exhaustion. Your mind finds value in your job title even when your gut knows there is none. Are you stuck in a cog or is it stuck in you?
You’re becoming aware that no list of achievements will mark that you’ve made it. Making it will always require more work, more wrinkles, more deadlines. More misery. But even knowing this, you will still overcommit and let your obligations cuddle with you in bed. Don’t worry. That can only go on for so long. When you need to recover your body will—must—intervene. As often as it needs to. Your body will not let you continue to dwell in avoidable distress. It will remind you this is not how you want to live. It will reach for the snooze button so that you don’t have to. It will reach for the snooze button so that you can rest.