There is a lot to feel guilty about. There is a lot that we are not doing. There is a lot falling to the wayside. There is a lot slipping through the cracks.
Guilt itself is slippery. So much a part of us, that we forget it’s optional.
Do you know guilt like I do? So intimately it feels like a second skin, so easy to slip into?
If you know guilt like I do, you know its words are liquid and almost formless, so easily absorbed,
Guilt says I should be doing this, but I am doing that.
Guilt says I should spend every waking moment with my children or at work.
Guilt steals joy from us and replaces it with a compulsive numbing; it steals a daily walk and replaces it with scrolling social media; it steals a dinner with friends and replaces it with frantic last-minute projects.
I’ve been thinking a lot about guilt. I’ve been sensing its borders, and noticing how it is separate from me. I can ascertain its edges, rough and soft at the same time.
I’ve been asking myself— what is the enemy of guilt?
The answer surfaces and resurfaces.
Guilt is the machine inside us built by capitalism. It tells us we are nothing without production. It say our lives are meaningless without evidence of our hard work.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how “hard work” and “privilege” get switched around and mixed up.
How hard work requires a lack of presence. Because presence is a complete lack of work. Presence is absolutely no work. That’s why it feels so hard.
And some of us have survived lives that have exhausted us, and are more exhausted by things that give others energy. We are allowed to rest, if we need to rest. When we rest, we give others permission to rest.
One summer, I tried not to work.
I was teaching a summer high school creative writing class in Hawai’i, but I had a couple weeks before and after the class, free from commitments. I was housesitting in a beautiful home with a beautiful view and a comfortable bed. I was readying myself to move to Europe for a Fulbright, and had spent the last winter nannying 50 hours a week while writing a book proposal. I was absolutely burned out. And I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me— not only was I moving to Europe, but I’d sold my book, and had a year to research and write it.
During my work-free weeks in Hawai’i I was my most exhausted. I didn’t understand it. I kept asking myself why am I so tired? I had promised myself whatever I needed to do in order not to work. Even if it meant sleeping all day. But when it came time to not-work, and my body actually did want to sleep all day, or, rather, lay in bed or by the pool or by the beach, I had a really hard time letting myself do that.
There was this voice.
Such a familiar voice for many of us, I think.
I called it my drill sergeant, because that’s what it felt like. It never stopped; it never went away. It was always there, urging me to go on a grueling hike, or telling me to go to a coffee shop and write, or even just pushing me to get out of the house, when I truly just wanted to lounge around all day.
It sucked the joy out of everything.
When I spoke to my therapist about it, I said, I don’t think I know how to rest.
And she told me, yes. That’s true. That’s true for many of us.
One of the things that happened with my drill sergeant, was that it would tell me to do things I didn’t want to do (for the sake of being productive). Then, presented with something I should be doing, I would feel guilty for whatever I was currently doing (resting). Then, I’d leave the present moment, in which I was enjoying resting, and time-travel to a different, not-real moment, in which I was working or doing.
Then, I would get upset at myself for not being able to rest.
It was like little wars happening inside me, whenever I tried to rest.
I started feeling that happen recently, right after I finished my book revisions. I went straight into “PhD Candidate” mode. I am teaching two classes and taking three classes and also trying to write my own things, and I found myself desperately trying to avoid rest. Instead of resting, I’d scroll TikTok for two hours, or watch shows. Guiltily. I never felt rested after doing that; only more overwhelmed.
Then I got sick.
Last Wednesday, after crying over Zoom to my therapist, I started feeling sick. I notified one of my classes that I couldn’t attend, and crawled into bed with Emergen-C and several covid tests (all negative). Them I slept all day Thursday.
I’m serious. All day. I don’t remember Thursday at all.
Then, today, Friday, I woke up feeling okay. I went to a park and walked. I went to the store. I came home and felt tired again. I took a nap.
I had said to my therapist on Wednesday: I think it’s better for me to lay in bed and do nothing when I am overwhelmed and exhausted than to scroll social media or new sites.
I mean, duh.
But I was avoiding acknowledging how unhappy I feel in this new place (Florida) and how let down I feel by my new program (inevitable, really). I didn’t want to admit to myself that I miss Seattle, and I miss the freedom of freelancing (though I am grateful for the stability of the program). I am in a liminal space of settling in somewhere new and drastically different.
And then, after my nap, I wrote this newsletter and shared this all with you.
Because that’s what happens when we take care of ourselves. We can do things again. And be present with them.
Really, I’ve been wanting to write a newsletter for a long time, but I didn’t know what to say.
That my life sucks right now?
That aging is really really hard?
That moving from a liberal place to a conservative one is an absolute jolt to the system?
That I feel kind of lost after turning in my revisions?
I could go on, my friends.
And yes to all of those things, because they are things I have felt, and we are taught to reject those negative feelings and thoughts and that does nothing for us at all except create little wars inside us.
I wonder, how are you?
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want this newsletter to be, and how it can be a resource that doesn’t look like all the other resources out there. So I thought of something.
I’m going to start sending little newsletters every morning. They’re called Morning Recalibrations. You can delete them or open them (or even unsubscribe), but I am picturing them as daily opportunities to find some presence for yourself as a writer. Each one will have a quote, a resource, an inspiration, a question, and that’s it.
You can answer the question for yourself, or in the comments. If you answer it in the comments, you’ll be contributing to this little community, which is now a bigger community because there are nearly two thousand of you.
These will show up in your inbox every single morning at 7am.
There will still be longer newsletters, but I am trying to feel out what that looks like for me. Confessional posts about my own life? Sure. But also other stuff. What I do know is that it can’t be too academic because I am doing that all the time now. If you have thoughts or requests, leave a comment below and let me know. I’d love to hear from you.
I can very much relate to your musings about rest and tiredness and missing and old home. I have no sage advice to give, just wanted to let you know that you are not alone in this.
Thank you for writing this and your raw honesty. It's so hard when we make a decision and it's not everything we imagined (because of course we imagine things will be wonderful, otherwise we would never make a change). I think a key to all of these difficult feelings is self-compassion. Of course you are going to feel a jolt. Of course you are going to feel unmoored. Of course it sucks feeling surrounded by conservative people. I just made a big move from Seattle myself, and I am having similar feelings of being rocked by a more conservative area. Let me tell you that there are hippie weirdos everywhere, and the more conservative the area the more we stick together. And honestly a lot of these conservatives are lost, confused, and led astray by malicious manipulation. Maybe you're exactly where you need to be, or maybe you had to give this a try because you would always wonder "what if" if you hadn't. No matter what, you can still keep checking in with yourself and if one day you decide it's not for you, you can make another change. I think most importantly, your existence does not get swallowed up by your area, even if it feels like that sometimes. You get to cast a vote every day just by being there and having impacts you don't even know about. Step into your power and your self-compassion!