Working at Care


A few weeks ago, some new friends of mine wanted to get lattes and hummingbird cake for breakfast. Cake for breakfast? My intrinsic health-conscientious inner-dancer balked at the thought. I need avocado and an egg on organic whole grain toast with a side of grapefruit for breakfast. Then I need to stretch and exercise, not eat cake.

Thankfully, I was able to override this reaction and acknowledge that it’s probably more important over the course of my life to enjoy a bit of decadence with some friends than to sit in my kitchen congratulating (or flagellating) myself over achieving a “healthy lifestyle.” The cake filled me with the resulting sugar rush and crash you might expect, but I’m glad I put away my health-obsessed purview and enjoyed the cake. I believe it was as healthy for me as my usual breakfast regimen, with moderation of course.

Moderation. Isn’t moderation at the crux of this question of what’s good for us?

I recently came across an unusual pamphlet on care, distributed by an Anarchists’ Collective called Crimethinc. Here’s an excerpt: “Can we imagine a form of care that would equip each of us to establish an intentional relationship to our dark side, enabling us to draw strength from the swirling chaos within? Treating ourselves gently might be an essential part of this, but we must not assume a dichotomy between healing and engaging with the challenges around and inside us. If care is only what happens when we step away from those struggles, we will forever be torn between an unsatisfactory withdrawal from conflict and its flipside, a workaholism that is never enough.”

Workaholism: the name of the game in just about every professional field. I feel guilty when I don’t work. I don’t feel guilty when I neglect to spend down time on the porch or a lazy afternoon with a friend even though in the long run those moments will likely be more important.

There’s an imbalance; I feel good about myself when I “get things done” but crave to sit around and eat cake, but when I allow myself to sit around and eat cake I am filled with the guilt that I haven’t been productive. And I’m not the only one. I hear this predicament similarly echoed over and over again in my friends and family. Where does this rhetoric come from? How has it so wholly pervaded our social outlook?

Work. I acknowledge that work is important. It’s in large part what defines us personally, professionally, economically, even socially. The first question we often ask each other is: “What do you do?” To sit in the Garden of Eden all day would be to ignore the honest work of planting, tilling, harvesting, watering and watching your crops get eaten by nematodes.

There must be a balance. Care and work must evolve from each other and feed each other, not be polar opposites. Let’s get enough sleep each night. Let’s eat from the earth. Let’s make it a priority to spend time with and do things for loved ones. Let’s care about what work we do, and work at caring for ourselves. Let’s not feel guilty when we indulge a little. Conversely, let’s feel guilty when we don’t indulge a little.

Let’s get to work; pass me the cake!


Photo courtesy the Food Network