Snail CC-BY 2.0 image by Flickr user fdecomite

On keeping your antenna up

Hello, world! It’s been awhile!

Almost a month ago, I hit an important professional milestone. The job I’d come to the Peabody Essex Museum to do–work on the creation of new permanent galleries and the reinstallation of all the galleries–hit it’s first major milestone with the opening of our new building and its three new permanent installations and several other smaller installations. Exciting and daunting to see something so long a dream turn into a place people could walk through. You should come visit!

Over the past few months, as opening day drew inexorably nearer, I hunkered down, both physically and emotionally. Extracurriculars dropped off, and then the research on my book started to suffer as it took more and more energy just to get through the workday and impending Armageddon of Opening Night. Twitter became a thing to look at, but not devote much energy to. The blog lay dormant. If I got in a half hour of book research, I felt like I’d won a battle.

I had been going full blast on all fronts for months, and was starting to feel like too little butter spread on too much bread. Then, in mid-Summer, I had a little epiphany. Well, two epiphanies. First, I realized I needed to give myself permission to focus on the one big thing; the building. Until that was done, other commitments were going to have to occupy less mental and emotional space. Giving myself permission to say painful things like, “The book is going to slow down until October comes” was a huge gift and instant relief. And I was able to cut down my outside commitments substantially, but not entirely.

The second and more important epiphany was that those other commitments I couldn’t duck or defer turned out to be real lifesavers. I needed to remain anchored to the larger discourses going on in the field. Fighting the urge to pull my antenna in, and only work and think about the task at hand was a real challenge. But I found that every time I did engage, that change of perspective, new subject matter, and different partners energized my work at work. No matter how far off-course, behind schedule, and dream crushing the building got, there were those faint signals coming in from afar, offering some relief and nourishment.

Chief among them has been working on the Museopunks podcast with my dear friend and serial collaborator, Suse Anderson. The conversations we have had since I started cohosting have been amazing. Decolonization, labor issues, what it means to be a museum–heady stuff! If you haven’t listened in yet, do give us a whirl! Suse has built an unparalleled archive of who’s pushing the field ahead, and I’m so chuffed to be the new punk on the block!

Getting to talk to so many passionate, interesting people doing hard, important work to help the sector progress would be a gift any time, but in the midst of crushing deadlines, they were a real lifeline. And since the opening, I’ve been in more than a few conversations that wound their way to topics that related to the few distractions from the day job I allowed myself. Had I completely withdrawn, I wouldn’t have had anything to add, and been that much poorer for having missed those opportunities.

So if you’re feeling beleaguered and overwhelmed by the work, consider this a vote in favor of cutting yourself some slack if you need it. But it’s also a plea to not get so sucked into whatever that it takes up all your time and energy. OK?