IF WE STOP (1) // Zahra Dallilah & Julie Tomlin
Updated: Sep 23
In a series of numbered written dialogues Call Centre correspondents Zahra Dallilah and Julie Tomlin respond to their own prompt: If we stop: Flourishing. Nourishment. Lockdown.
What if we stopped? Flourishing. Nourishment. Lockdown
The machine that drives us.
The system we live in requires us to work and to consume. What are our options for doing otherwise? When lockdown happened, we found out that the system could stop. What had been construed for so many years as common sense, as unavoidably logical and unstoppable was necessarily halted.
An addiction revealed itself too, as two weeks without tapping plastic on pointless purchases, we (in my house) started getting itchy fingers, ordering all kinds of foolishness off the internet to pass the time.
True, it required people to adapt, typically overriding the true impacts of fear, stress, the sheer length of time it takes to build, rebuild and keep rebuilding the infrastructure of our lives, to create new routines.
I sat down on it and did some box breathing.
Camille says that's good for the anxiety.
In for 4. Hold for 4. Out for 4. Hold for 4. In for 4.
We discovered too that the work of our lives, the work that we fitted in as a second job, the work of cooking, cleaning, buying food, washing clothes, can sprawl into a whole days’ work.
Childcare was brought into the home, and people tried to work remotely in the midst of this activity that had conveniently been sectioned off, devalued and derided. A nuisance to the heroic working man, the world the 1950s housewife was told to hide under red lipstick, the interior, domestic realm, spilled out onto the screens, pyjama legs and sagging nappied children suddenly in the picture.
Work and home, its repetition and drudgery as well as its deeper joys all piled into one.
What do we do with this tangled life that has revealed itself to us, as the walls of falsely constructed divisions have become transparent, flaking and decayed?
Work is often portrayed as heroism, as domination, as overcoming and subduing the forces that swirl around, even if it is just the flu. Those ads warning that if you don’t make it into work then someone else could get your job.
If someone else is doing your job, that means you're not.
And if you're not doing your job, sooner or later you won't have one.
And even though work for so many involves sitting at laptops, it was still possible to detect, as people spoke into mobile phones the hint of fantasy; of commanding a ship, directing a regiment, being in charge and doing something really important.
But, wind back through the centuries in Europe and we discover that the myth of the working man, of work as moral expression, was deeply entrenched in the collective psyche purposefully and intentionally, because capitalism needed labour power.
Is this perhaps the trauma at the root of it all, the beginning of capitalism that saw people forced off the land, from connected, indigenous ways, and programmed through violence to work for wages?
Such questions don’t require some idealised past, but in this stopping, the secret that it can be stopped is out. And though now, as we grope our way back to a disrupted and clunky performance of normality, is there an inkling that as there was a before and during, that we could be looking for a different kind of ‘after’ to live by?
After the fact, it took a couple of weeks of ‘back to work’ to remember that I had seen the less-threatening face of capitalism, poor baby.
In this stopping, the secret that it can be stopped is out.
And knowing its fallibility I became powerful in the face of it.
Image: Andrew Wilson