According to the coroner’s report, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s died with the heart of a 60-year-old, even though he was only 39 when he was assassinated. This is no doubt because of the constant stress and enormous pressure of his activism. It goes to show that having a literal “big-heart” is not actually a good thing.
I’ve promised myself that this—dying of a big heart—is one of the ways that I won’t follow in Dr. King’s footsteps. The struggle for black freedom can engulf one’s entire existence, as Mandela says of his own life in his autobiography. I used to think that kind of life was admirable. I still believe that, but I’ve come to also believe that it’s unfair.
It’s an injustice that some black people would spend the majority of their lives and energy trying to clean up a mess they didn’t make—that is, white supremacy. Some of us are compelled to do so, seeing it as an existential necessity, and wouldn’t feel right in the world if we stopped. But it isn’t all we want to do. Ask any black activist to imagine that the entirety of the domination system, every ism and phobia, had disappeared. What would they want to do with their extra time?
I’ve asked several people this question and watched their eyes pop open with glee, or listened to them release a pregnant sigh, or watched their brow furl in deep consideration.
We’d make more art, plant more gardens, take more trips, get more full night’s of sleep, or just take more full weekends off—the list goes on. It’s true that racism doesn’t prevent us from writing songs or growing our own tomatoes, but it sure would help create more margin for pleasure and joy to not be fighting the power 24/7. And if it’s true that we would do more of these things if we weren’t so busy fighting, then shouldn’t we do more of those things today? Isn’t that also a form of resistance?
The other day, I saw Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Culours tweet that she doesn’t just want to be “the Black Lives Matter girl.” That resonated with me in such a deep way. We want to do more than fight for our lives. We want to live.
I’m writing this reflection because today I’m feeling burned out. And I feel this way often on Sundays.
I feel this way because I write two articles a week: one for this blog and a shorter one for my weekly email list. Why do I write two separate pieces of content per week? Because I care about my readers, and I want them to feel like they’re getting a lot of value from me, that what you receive in your email is not just a link back to my website.
In addition to the two articles I write, I curate a list of articles from others on antiracism and social change for my weekly email list.
By themselves, these tasks require just a couple of hours per week to do. But the challenge is that I do all of this writing, and the study required to keep writing, in my spare time. This means that I spend my entire weekend doing racial justice work, after working two jobs during the week. I’m at capacity, and I’m finding this to be unsustainable.
I’m not writing at my best right now, because I’m always up against my weekly deadline. I’m giving up the time I could use for refreshment and recreation and self-care as time for writing for justice. I’m sacrificing time with my partner to make sure everything is posted on time. All of this to continue doing my part to invest myself in the struggle, as I promised myself I would years ago.
But if I’m honest, I want to do more than fight for my life. I want to write more songs—and not necessarily songs about “justice.” If I didn’t feel compelled to spend most of my time fighting white supremacy, I’d spend the weekends doing nothing but resting, reading, and having fun with my friends and my partner. I’d make brunch and learn to make craft cocktails. I’d practice the guitar more. I’d build my own studio and make music from sun-up to sun down. And I realize that I can do most of these things and still fight the power, but it would be a whole lot easier if I could use less of my spare time on work.
One thing I remain resolved to do, though, is to not die of a big heart. This means I’ve got to make some changes to do what I have to do, what I’m compelled to do, and what I love to do, all while having a full life.
I’ve got to make room for:
Rest: I want my weekends back.
Study: I need ample time to replenish what I’m giving out.
New projects and development: I’ve got 3 major projects that are being held up while I try to met the goal of 2 articles per week: (1) The Hope & Hard Pills Podcast, featuring change makers from around the world, (2) a book proposal, and (3) writing for larger publications that have reached out with invitations.
I’m not going to discontinue my weekly email, but I’ll probably need to take a blogging hiatus, or decrease my output, to get these things going.
If you’re feeling like I am, I’d encourage you to also take a step back and figure out how you can your work in a sustainable way. Then do it.
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