Editor’s note: As often as is possible this year (pitch me!) I will be handing over the keys to this newsletter. These special editions, which I am calling The After Party, will be available to all subscribers. The Main Event will be in your inboxes on Sunday, as usual - smi
For 2021, my focus was supposed to be on pleasure. It felt important, not only because I had been building my life around work, but because the pandemic was so consuming and exhausting.
I had to cancel trips, shift lots of programming to online, parent my elders, and figure out all kinds of money situations. On the plus side, I picked up a lot of work since there was a higher demand for writing by Black people on racism, the movement for racial justice, and being Black AND [on and on]. I worked through disasters, uprisings, relationship woes, exhaustion, disappointment, and rage. For me, a queer Black feminist and human rights defender, it was a typical year.
Except it wasn’t. I had completely lost the work-life balance I carefully constructed and maintained for years, and struggling through each day started to feel normal. By October, I was promising volunteer team members that I would take a break in December, and a longer one in May. I continued to center work and pick at the scraps, trying to piece them together to form something that might be enough for me. In the midst of living on the leftovers, I remembered: pleasure.
It felt like—and still feels like—it is critical to be intentional and uncompromising about pleasure. I did well in January and February, but March got dicey. By the time my birthday rolled around on Easter weekend, I was in a pretty bad place. I spent the day crying because a simple plan fell apart and I could not get conch salad (think ceviche, but with the meat from the conch shell). It was a long holiday weekend, and I cried every day for no discernible reason. It felt ridiculous, but only until it was over.
When the crying was done, I realized that I needed to be empty. I had to let go of pent up rage, anxiety, and dissatisfaction. I was emotionally exhausted and the only thing left to do was figure out how to not only feel better, but open myself up to more joy and get back to a pleasure practice.
So I took two weeks off. I practiced slowness and ease. It was hard at first, but I got the hang of it. I stopped speeding past people who moved at a moderate pace. I spent time in silence, in wonder, in observation of time and everything around me. I thought it might bore me to do nothing, but it actually… felt good?
Just before I started the break, I’d ordered my first fancy camera.
I needed to learn to use it, because I wanted to take photos I could use for personal and professional projects. I took a walking tour with a photographer to learn how to use my camera and properly compose photos, then ventured out on my own every day, looking for whatever needed to be captured. I walked more slowly. I paid more attention. I saw beauty. I took my time finding the right angle. I let myself take multiple pictures of the same thing. In combination with comfortable shoes, a big bottle of cold water, and a tripod, that camera helped me to slow down.
During those two weeks in May, there was magic everywhere. I was curious, full of wonder, and patient on the road to discovery.
The hardest thing about my time off was releasing myself from the old ideas I had about who I was, or who I needed to (continue to) be. I had to be willing to become something new. I had to choose to pay attention to the good things that were happening because I was willing to change. I let my tea steep a little longer. I stopped trying to control the hula hoop. I took my time to properly work the conditioner through my hair. I didn’t feel the loss of time. I felt the joy that comes with ease, relaxation, and being in a flow state.
I learned something new: It feels better to move with time than it does to constantly race against it.
I know a challenge awaits me as the temperature continues to rise this summer. I don’t enjoy intense heat, so I tend to rush through anything that requires me to be outdoors. I’m already trying to find ways to make it more comfortable for me to move slowly. I’m looking for more ways to welcome ease into my life. I’m going to prepare meals that are easy to freeze, thaw, and reheat to reduce the time I spend in the kitchen for the next few months. I’m also scoping out places with lots of tree coverage and others that are close to the beach where I can walk (relatively) coolly and taking note of low-traffic times so I can meander along in peace.
I don’t want to fall back into rushing, so I’m trying to create the best circumstances for me to access pleasure with ease, the same way I would plan to get work done under ridiculous circumstances.
Why not plan for pleasure? Why not put joy in my schedule? I’m affirming, to myself and for myself, that I am my first priority. I am more important than work. My pleasure is important. I should access it with ease. I am doing what I must to make pleasure my reality. I am dedicated to slowing down and feeling more alive in each moment.