Listen up young people, you go out and have too much fun too often. You leave your detached home, your retirement fund, and your 2.4 children and go out and party without a mask all the time. You drive around getting COVID by choice and I’m sick of it! Millenials have had it way too easy with cheap housing, high wages, inexpensive education, and a functioning politics for TOO LONG. It’s time to grow up and deal with this pandemic our way: go to work, then go home and watch
. GET WITH IT, YOUNGS.
“Cried. Let it out.”
This is the “free” center square in the Self-Care Bingo Card, shared on Twitter by the Government of British Columbia in February 2021. It was deemed "insulting to everybody" in the words of one community advocate. Was the state really encouraging crying? Had it come to this?
Clearly, the dashed-off infographic didn’t match the scale and seriousness of the COVID-19 crisis. Nearly a year into the pandemic, people knew that more material supports were required rather than lifestyle advice. Other bingo squares suggested reading a book or making a blanket fort, useless tips for those putting working hours into the service economy or, worse still, living in tents.
This misguided move at least warranted a public conversation. Fewer opportunities for feedback present themselves, however, as self-care steadily seeps into workplaces, leisure spaces, social media, and pop culture, used to sell personal products, services, classes, and books. Ubiquitous almost to the point of meaninglessness, the term/concept has leapt out of the leftwing activist realm, where it was once contained, to seemingly everywhere else.
“Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health” according to PsychCentral. This definition is broad enough to encompass the stereotypical candles and yoga approach plus the World Health Organization’s emphasis on maintaining physical health “with or without the support of a healthcare provider.”
For many situations, it’s assumed to be “without”. As in the B.C. example, self-care is the frontline response in places where most folks know, deep down, it shouldn’t necessarily be. After all, a political leader, public health officer, or manager telling you to relax and work out your own issues might not engender the grateful feelings they expect. Practices purported to comfort us, strengthen us, and unlock our best, individual selves feel forced, arbitrary, and generic offered in place of substantial improvements.
Sometimes, self-care is simply a lie. Is the mandatory “wellness seminar” actually a performance review? An invitation to snitch on colleagues? Can recommending “inner work” become an easy way out? Cynical takes are well warranted.
The thing is, self-care falls down when taken on its own merits too. Much as mindfulness can be wrestled from corporate control and used to consider the world around us with its complex contradictions, redirecting our time and attention can put us back in touch with one another and our full range of needs and capacities.
In 2019’s How To Do Nothing, Jenny Odell writes, “It is with acts of attention that we decide who to hear, who to see, and who in our world has agency. In this way, attention forms the ground not just for love, but for ethics.” Odell sees value not in small acts of self-indulgence (usually involving shopping or others’ labour) but in genuinely not being “productive” in the sense that hustle culture would have it. It’s sufficient, sometimes, to be present.
Odell’s calls for awareness bring to mind the work of Andre Lorde, the black lesbian feminist whose second cancer diagnosis in the late 1980s spurred her to define self-care as a radical act. To her, self-care was “self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” This sentiment led to self-care’s widespread adoption in activist circles in the ‘80s, persevering into the current decade.
There’s a key distinction between the pervasiveness of self-care among leftists and its popularity in mainstream society. Self-care was originally meant to counter activist burnout and get one back in the fight — the fight to change mainstream society into something less difficult, cruel, and alienating to live in.
In 2020’s Comrade, Jodi Dean writes that self-care might not have been truly serving leftist goals well either. “The discipline of collective work on behalf of a shared goal has been replaced by an individualist rhetoric of comfort and self-care.” Comrade, an extended essay printed as a slim hardcover volume, points the way to understanding each other as, well, comrades, a relationship distinct from friends, family, or neighbours.
That’s good to hear since, in Western Canada, most types of relationships now seem vaguely defined and strained. In the early pandemic days, and into the summer of 2020, narratives around neighbourliness abounded, pushed by public health agencies. Designated “cohorts” or “bubbles” kept one safer than associating with strangers. Yet from November onwards, banned “indoor gatherings” include visits from anyone outside your home, for those not living alone. The formula keeps sites of commerce humming while private lives wither. You can see your boss and coworkers, but not friends or family: an economic rationality applied to relationships.
A key insight in self-care is distinguishing between what’s not within your control, and what is. In “normal” circumstances this still leaves individuals little room to maneuver, since you usually don’t have control in your workplaces or the actions of governments and companies, let alone other people. In the circumstances of COVID-19, what’s under your control seems to change and diminish, daily or weekly. Choices you have to make, you wish you didn’t: judging whether or not public locations are safe, whether an activity is necessary or optional, whether leaving the house lifts your mood, or causes more stress and anxiety.
Those in positions of authority love to pretend they’re just like us: doing their best and looking for anything to feel optimistic about, but utterly incapable of doing anything but sighing and wishing things were different. Alberta Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw had her own “bingo card” moment during the 2021 Easter weekend, tweeting about egg hunting with your household (the only in-person type of relationship left) and following restrictions as an “an act of kindness”. A fine filler tweet, if she hadn’t left Albetans hanging on details of a significant P.1 variant outbreak two days before.
Dr. Hinshaw and her colleagues in the six Canadian provinces that have yet to adopt “#CovidZero” policies must stop discussing “individual responsibility” and offer effective public solutions to public problems. Governments can act swiftly to actively suppress the virus — this is the humane act of "self-care” for society. There’s no “balance” to be had between the science and the fringe conspiracies, and it’s absurd to direct state resources to recommending dinky consumer-based responses as a placating trade-off. The tools to reach #CovidZero are ready to use: PPE, contact tracing, mass and rapid testing, streamlined vaccine distribution. Mental, emotional, and physical health remain impaired as long as deadly outbreaks continue.
Those in power need to take responsibility for our care. The rest of us simply need to decide how to spend our free time.
-Karen, Team Advantage
🕷Preacher dickhead tests behaviour that would get a person of colour shot by cops, does not get shot by cops.
🥃Nenshi is done with Calgary politics, and who can blame him. At first the high water mark of institutional progressivism in Calgary, the (good, smart, handsome) world passed him on the left as he realized the limitations of his activism from the mayoralty. The steel in his spine slowly dissolved by years of harassment from sprawl developers, he leaves as a cautionary tale about liberal electoralism - it’s working as intended, and if you want to change it significantly you misunderstood the job.
🦾Local man forced to conclude that contact tracing might have been a good idea.
🐱Facebook comment dorks always love to say “we didn’t just hand them a bag of cash, idiot” like tax breaks and removal of obligations isn’t some kind of subsidy.
🐬We’re just going to keep talking about vast Albertan unemployment for decades without preparing anything until it’s too late, eh?
🌝Ontario is now the Fury Road, Canada is becoming a planet-worst plague ship, people who stay at home and work are getting vaccines while people go into work as essential are forced to wait and die, stores are allowed to stay open if they stop selling crayons and sprinklers. It’s all going very well.
🐔Houses are for MONEY TO LIVE IN.
🏹If Jair Bolsonaro doesn’t face charges at The Hague there is no point to having The Hague.
🌟Large book advances are, I think, one of the things that protect a democracy. It’s very hard to do a conspiracy when the cash from the book deal is really high! You can just rat, be a hero, and collect the spoils. The trick is to kill people publicly and get the book deal before people notice.
🛸120 units per hour.
🥩Wanting to get sick and die usually means you love Hitler. I don’t make the rules.
🌶The proliferation of American militias can only be a good thing, right?
🍰Silicon Valley is absolutely going to get you evicted.
🥜Doing violence for America, then having violence done to you by America.
📽This is my “where’s the catch” face but hesitant support for a Toronto non-profit trying to keep a building affordable for 99 years.
📡Oh word if you pump public money into research you get unexpected positive benefits? Fucking crazy I am very surprised.
🥏The People Walker.
🎧Are NFTs good? Probably not, is what I say about everything new.
🔇Habibti Please talks about the probably dreadful NDP convention where all the contributions from the members will be ignored because lmao.
🎚️Harbinger Network is adding new shows and you can help! Check us out and grow Canadian left media.
🎲Edmonton folks should sign this BLM YEG petition to cut the police budget by the appropriate amount. Which turns out to be a lot!
🗿The bookstore at the University of Calgary is a good job for students and is well run and maintained. Naturally the gargoyles in management want to privatize it! Tell them to get fucked.
🚬Justin Trudeau will be remembered in history for his blinding stupidity at folding on electoral reform. Help Fair Vote remind him that he’s a wuss and an idiot.
✒️Boilermakers are still locked out at Cessco (not a weed store) in Edmonton. If you’re close by you should visit their pickets and bring them a coffee.
A Quick Note: if you want us to include an article, petition, link to an event, or just want to drop us a quick line, reply to this newsletter or reach us at albertaadvantagenewsletter [at] gmail [dot] com. We’d love to hear from you! If you want to send some old timey mail, grab those stamps and send tributes/cake/not anthrax to Alberta Advantage Podcast, PO Box 52167 Edmonton Trail, Calgary, AB, T2E 8K9.
Our editor is Clinton Hallahan. Newsletter subject lines are stolen from these songs.