“I’m so tired, I just want to not use my brain right now.”
Oh god, how my teenaged self used to bristle when Mom would say that to me—usually as I was ranting about murdered nuns in El Salvador, or overexplaining the words to some Wobbly labor song, or dissecting a recent news story. How could she possibly want to shut her mind down? How could she so take for granted her freedom and capacity to think critically about the world? I remember that once I was so frustrated with what I saw as her convenience-seeking, privileged ignorance that I just straight up told her, “Mom, I don’t respect you.”
Silly, arrogant boy.
Right now, I just worked another 11 hour teaching day, then jumped in to my four hours of evening father duties. As soon as my first, brief moment of free time approached, was I reaching for a book, or turning on Democracy Now, or catching the latest posts on an intense political forum? Was I rushing off to my study group or a collective meeting? Nope. I took my Playstation 4 controller in my hand, and rested my ipad playing sitcoms on my lap. As Glendi, my wife, passingly asked me about some errand for the weekend, I caught myself unfolding my mother’s classic response:
“My love. I’m so tired, I just want to not use my brain right now.”
Is this really convenience-seeking, privileged ignorance? Is this really choosing to shut my mind down? No. It is necessary, completely understandable mental, physical, and spiritual recuperation. It is a natural survival strategy within the structure of the capitalist workday, and while, sure, it can be abused as an excuse for patterns of apathy and inaction, we should recognize that even the most active and militant among us regularly need these down times.
The problem is, that if our movements and activist cultures aren’t well-built to suit this reality, then it doesn’t matter how righteous that down time is: if we are overworked and tired, we’re still essentially thrown to the sidelines of social struggle. We are neutralized.
That’s how I feel almost every day. Neutralized. Compromised. Left out.
But what if our movements worked differently? What if we better built spaces and practices for the millions of tired, overworked, and overwhelmed among us? What if the most cutting edge, visionary revolutionary politics wasn’t tied to how much free time you had—or how much you’re willing to grind yourself down—and was instead open for all of us—parents and double-shift workers, people with 150 client caseloads and mountains of to-do lists? What if we had more revolutionary spaces that were slick and comfortable, refreshing and restorative—that complimented, rather than contradicted those urges to just lay back and zone out with TV sometimes?
Could we build and spread that kind of political practice? Might it actually help us grow and strengthen our power, even if it superficially looked like we’re slowing down for the masses? Perhaps it wouldn’t make a bit of difference, but I think it’s worth some experimentation.
I think back to my evening rides home with my mom in the minivan. What if my haranguing and guilt-tripping could have given way instead to a soft and warm recognition: “That makes sense, Mom, and thanks so much for how hard you work for us. There’s this group I know that talks about this political stuff, but it won’t make you feel stupid or exhausted or like it’s too big. It’s actually fun, and they’re nice, and they understand. I’d love to go with you some time.”
If only such groups existed.