Monday 6 April 2015

In celebration of resting space

When I packed up my home kitchen five months ago, it was with a sense of wonder at the number of relationships embodied in the jars stached around the space. A rich map of food chain explorations were laid out there, and although it was a little messy and overwhelming, it provided a concrete illustration of how vividly my days are packed with building and maintaining relationships with people who do interesting things with food and society. Food is something that’s constantly demanding, though – people always need to eat, and food and society organizations always are doing interesting things, and being engaged in such a broad topic definitely puts one at risk of succumbing to the syndrome of being too busy. My busy refrigerator, despite being planted squarely in my kitchen, was a portrait of being pulled across a lot of relational space.

Today, as I take a break to let the kitchen floor in Dunedin dry after mopping it and look through the emptied out, wiped down cabinets, the emotion that bellies out behind my sternum and keeps me feeling as if this is something beyond just a normal day is a feeling more specific to this space. It’s a feeling not unlike what I felt clearing out my office last autumn, as well, although books confer another layer of feeling, perhaps something more outward directed in the way the food collection in my home kitchen felt. Here, the foods that taste like this place—the pohutukawa honey, the apricots—are coming with me, and it is just the space I am leaving behind.   

But a space isn’t an empty hull. One day traveling along University Avenue in St. Paul a few years back, I was struck sharply by a sign that said “Cocoon House,” advertising clothing for women. For a tantalizing moment, in the part of attention that notices and spins things out into fanciful detail before the appraising eye pays more rational attention and trims back the imagination, I saw that place as a silky luxuriant nest, filled with lounging women resting on the cocooning environment of the space they had built. As I scrub its corners and shoo out the myriad moths and grasshoppers who have wandered in over a summer of open doors and windows, this space has these layers, of the months of meals cooked and cooked for me, the exercises done, the pages written, the movies watched, games of cards played, even conversations home over the long internet cable under the Pacific Ocean anchored all from this room.

In both the academic and artistic communities in which I have been trained, there is a strong emphasis on the sabbatical space: the moving away from the ordinary, and finding a regular time away. The distance from the everyday task has been emphasized, and I have been curious about what one now finds in an away space, given the ubiquity of these internet cables that tie us to our working communications. There is the “I am not checking my mail this sabbatical” method, and someday I would like to try that. But there is also something far more prosaic in the way that a retreat to a simplified version of the same kind of day allows one to rest and reflect on the construction of that day.

Toward the beginning of this time, I wrote about my appreciation for the supportive material tasks that it can be hard to properly incorporate when one’s schedule has gotten too full: being able to enjoy hanging out the laundry, luxuriate in making breakfast, write an exploratory page while the mopped floor dries. I am taking the time to document this layer of experience because I see that most of my colleagues are as bad as I am at practicing sabbatical time. With the urgency of the social organizing work we do, reflective time is hard to take, even when we know how useful it is. But perhaps for those of us for whom the traditional “day off” or “vacation weeks” tend not to be a move away from work, per se, we can still take some of the blessing of sabbatical practices by incorporating them into the rhythm of what we do.

Make the space sacred, revel in its richness – and do everything in your power to make sure everyone else can do the same.

Step out of franticness, if only to watch it from a more restful space and try to pick it up again more purposefully. Pay your employees for time spent reflecting on what they have done (/don’t pile more work on them than they can do in the time – if necessary, see what you might glean from some of their reflection time to organize their tasks to meet what satisfies them, but do not only incorporate the enjoyment of rest for its productive purposes). Not all people will enjoy the space the way I do. But pay attention to see whether you might, because a space that reinforces your refresh button makes everything more enjoyable.

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