This week, I decided to stop pretending that I am even a little bit into the self-sacrificial work ethic thing, and it felt fucking great.
It happened in a town in Sonoma County called Petaluma. “Petalumlum,” as I call it, is known for its eggs (from happy chickens, obvi) and also being filled with quaint shops that sell, like, artisan soaps shaped like piglets and stemware that has the word “olive” hand-painted on it in French.
I had been feeling guilty about driving the 40 minutes to Petaluma just so I could work, but technically I can work from anywhere — so why shouldn’t I take advantage of that? The minute I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, I could see that promising stretch of light blue sky in the distance, just beyond the continent of fog.
I arrive at Acre, a little coffee shop off main street. I have been ordering dirty chais a lot lately, but today I order an iced coffee and some smoked salmon toast: capers, pickled red onion, cream cheese. I open up the laptop to start writing and make my way through work emails. I look outside – sun. I stick my leg out and watch the shimmer from my lotion catch the light. Ugh, I love that shit.
I realize how silly it is that I felt badly about making the drive.
I realize that I would have spent at least the driving time to get myself to start working and to keep myself focused. I would have walked to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator to find that the crème brulee or the freshly grilled cheese sandwich + tomato soup I’m craving is just not there — AGAIN — because I didn’t make it in the first place.
I would scroll through old Instagram posts and get all butthurt because some dude named Brandon in South Dakota said I was dumb 17 weeks ago (why you gotta be like that, Brandon?). I would decide on eating handfuls of the Chocolatey Delight Special K my mom got me last Christmas that I had been saving for the right work-avoidance moment.
I think about what brought me to freelance work.
My first career was in youth development. Right out of college, like many first-generation fat women of color, I went into a social service industry — teaching at a continuation school. Even though I technically did choose teaching, it felt like I was just consenting to a path that had been seamlessly laid out before me in an industry that is heavily reliant upon unfairly compensated, gendered labor.
I knew how to give and give and give, while people ungratefully acted as if they were doing me the fuckin favor.
I remember when I used to work at schools and offices, I had a theory that they knew a normal person could only be productive 4-5 hours a day but they were willing to subsidize the remaining 2-3 just to crush your soul.
To be fair, working with gun-running, emerging baby thugs and unwed teenage moms was pretty great, because they knew so much about everything, and I was inspired by their keen sense of how rigged everything is. Almost everything they said started with, “(extended sigh and exasperated eye roll) Miss Tovar… how do you not know how to spot an alcoholic/roll a joint/get kids to stop throwing desks across the classroom?”
But it only takes a dedicated and vociferous minority to inspire fantasies of getting hit by a car on the way to work. Even though I knew intellectually that my “most challenging” students were just hella traumatized, it didn’t change the fact that I was being attacked every day in ways that felt very personal.
I stayed longer than I wanted to because my resume only had one kind of work on it. And then, when I couldn’t take it anymore, I went into Phase 2 of the first-generation fat woman of color path – grad school. Yes, they’ve got us in a pipeline! I had been doing odd gigs in tourism, radio, and writing by then — but nothing that was paying the bills. Unlike most, I ended up able to parlay my MA into something job-y. So that brings us up to speed.
Nowadays, I do conference calls from wherever I am at the moment. I answer work emails on the train, while I’m waiting in line for tacos, and (for better or worse) when there is a lull or awkward moment at a party. A lot of my “colleagues” are actually my friends, and when we go out for lunch, we weave in and out of conversations about personal stuff and work stuff. Because of all this, my work life and my personal life aren’t exactly separate.
So, why would I bring my realest, most hedonistic, unapologetic, you-can-have-it-all-babe attitude to one and not the other? I literally do not know.
I will admit that even though I have been living pretty large, there are still these nagging residual poop thoughts that swirl around in my mind toilet because I live in a culture that is obsessed with the idea of rigidity and discipline for the sake of discipline. I remember when I used to work at schools and offices, I had a theory that they knew a normal person could only be productive 4-5 hours a day but they were willing to subsidize the remaining 2-3 just to crush your soul.
End of story: I got a ton of work done on my day in the ‘Lum, and I realize that I don’t have to compartmentalize my “work self.” I believe that my work benefits rather than suffers when I give myself permission to bring my core values — joy, curiosity, and hedonism — to the work that I do.