Another Week Ends

The work and play issue continues. This week we saw two articles surface that had […]

Ethan Richardson / 10.16.15


The work and play issue continues. This week we saw two articles surface that had more bad news to give us about the growing presence of our work lives in our leisure time. Ugh. I’ll spare you both of them. One of them talks about the implicit message of workaholism in tv shows these days. Besides The Office, many popular series paint the picture that work is life, that meaningful work sometimes means the dissolution of everything around you, but is still lionized by the show’s plotline (Mad Men, Scandal, Rescue Me).

The one I want to quote here is the one by Melissa Gregg over at The Atlantic, about the language of immediacy that has seeped into the workplace, which has rapidly fueled the kinds of hamster-wheel panic that much of these conversations have circled back to. When the workplace is place where you must always be on to make sure you are caught up, taking any reprieve from the inbox means everyone around you is winning. It is no surprise why this then makes its way into the lives we carry home with us.

Today’s jogging-and-gym circuit suits a work culture that thrives on adrenaline. It acts as tonic for workers who are fearful of stepping off the treadmill and losing their rank in the company. Leslie Perlow captures these anxieties in the introduction to Sleeping With Your Smartphone. “If you stop working long hours and always being accessible,” she writes, “others will likely speed past you on the career ladder.” Chronically connected workplaces fuel the apprehension that you can never catch up if you leave. This is a major problem for companies whose employees consistently fail to use care entitlements or sabbatical programs.

From the Googleplex to the Foxconn dorm, management innovations have incrementally extended the embrace of the firm, eliminating the temporal and spatial distance that might allow workers to imagine a life beyond. This is why so many time-management manuals begin by advising readers to identify their personal life goals. The frantic pace of the under-resourced office perverts their sense of time. It demands they fixate only on the short-term. Last-minute crunches play with a person’s mind much like a restless night’s sleep: small problems become inflated to the point of urgency and panic, even though few things ever feel as dire with the perspective morning brings.

In the competitive environment of the firm, it is little wonder that workers resort to performance-enhancing drugs: the confidence boost of a cocaine spike or the soothing buzz of Friday night drinks. When so many jobs require social networking to maintain employability, these mood enhancers are a natural complement to the work day after 5pm. In an always-on world, professional credibility involves a judicious mix of just the right amount of uppers and downers to remain charming.

2) Also in the Atlantic, the UCLA drama continues. Conor Friedersdorf talks about the new measures on free speech after a “Kanye Western” themed party on campus. It’s just one of the many instances called “microaggressions” on college campuses, but, as Friedersdorf points out, the law of rightness not only increases the trespass, it is incapable of summoning the liberty it demands.

I am reminded of a letter poet Tony Hoagland wrote, responded to a racial indictment of his own, to which he wrote:

The poet plays with the devil; that is, she or he traffics in repressed energies. The poet’s job is elasticity, mobility of perspective, trouble-making, clowning and truth-telling. Nothing kills the elastic, life-giving spirit of humor more quickly—have you noticed?—than political correctness, with its agendas of rightness, perfection, enforcement, and moral superiority.

3) How about Marilynne Robinson and Barack Obama, sitting down and talking about Christianity in America? Besides Robinson’s line that “people believe the worst thing they can say is the truest thing they can say,” this is my favorite exchange:

The President: How do you reconcile the idea of faith being really important to you and you caring a lot about taking faith seriously with the fact that, at least in our democracy and our civic discourse, it seems as if folks who take religion the most seriously sometimes are also those who are suspicious of those not like them?

Robinson: Well, I don’t know how seriously they do take their Christianity, because if you take something seriously, you’re ready to encounter difficulty, run the risk, whatever. I mean, when people are turning in on themselves—and God knows, arming themselves and so on—against the imagined other, they’re not taking their Christianity seriously. I don’t know—I mean, this has happened over and over again in the history of Christianity, there’s no question about that, or other religions, as we know.

But Christianity is profoundly counterintuitive—“Love thy neighbor as thyself”—which I think properly understood means your neighbor is as worthy of love as you are, not that you’re actually going to be capable of this sort of superhuman feat. But you’re supposed to run against the grain

Along the line of politics and matters of the heart, the New York Times published a spot-on reflection on the “thoughts and prayers” of politicians so often promised in moments of great national suffering.

‘‘When uttered by civilians, it’s mechanical enough,’’ Garfield said. ‘‘When uttered by elected officials, it has all the emotional resonance of a Miranda warning.’’

4) Funny, funny.

From the Onion: Blood-Drenched Sarah Koenig Announces Upcoming Topic for Next Season of Serial

From The Toast: Bible Verses Where The Phrase “All Is Well” Has Been Replaced With “It’s All Gravy”


5) BBC Journalist Victoria Derbyshire used her breast cancer diagnosis and operation as an opportune moment when she posted a video, minutes after coming around, to make an announcement to the world. What could have been a very powerful show of vulnerability and weakness for such a renowned figure became instead its opposite. In her post-op reflection, Derbyshire says that she wanted to publicize this moment of her life because she felt the need to tell the world that “cancer is manageable.” It makes one wonder, based on the reactions to her announcement, for whom this message was good news. Certainly not those for whom cancer was not manageable. At the same time, suspending as much judgment as we possibly can, it seems we might all hope this to be true when we find ourselves (or our loved ones) under that same knife.

6) An incredible cover story at GQ about Taylor Swift by Chuck Klosterman, who does the incisive work of getting at the pop giant’s wide-eyed image on her own celebrity. Behind that image, though, Klosterman describes someone who knows precisely what she’s doing, and is making calculated steps for any misperceptions that may come her way. At the same time, like any career that has made it to the top, Klosterman also points out that this is necessary for Swift to survive.

“Am I shooting from the hip?” she asks rhetorically. “Would any of this have happened if I was? In that sense, I do think about things before they happen. But here was someone taking a positive thing—the fact that I think about things and that I care about my work—and trying to make that into an insinuation about my personal life. Highly offensive. You can be accidentally successful for three or four years. Accidents happen. But careers take hard work.”

Here we see Swift’s circuitous dilemma: Any attempt to appear less calculating scans as even more calculated. Because Swift’s professional career has unspooled with such precision, it’s assumed that her social life is no less premeditated.

7) PZ on what happens when we, uh, die.