Dearest , welcome to your Moon Rites email this new moon.
A lot is going on at Disorient this month. My intensive mentorship program, Wayfinders, is enrolling until August 31. It’s an opportunity to work in an intimate collective for a whole year to bring forth a dream book, course, or research project. It costs $1,111 a month or $13,332 for the year. You need to know this before I go on to talk about compassion fatigue in this email. You can learn more about my program here: https://disorient.co/wayfinders/.
A few years ago, I met a PhD candidate studying at a top institution in my city. She came from a humble background and had exercised extraordinary determination to get there. We shared multiple marginalizations and I could see how she was undervalued and undermined at her institution because of them. I was desperate to shield her from the brutalities of the white patriarchal academy and spare her some of the suffering I sustained.
Fresh out of my PhD, I was in love with the idea of becoming a mentor to her. There was more than a little vanity on my part. I spent years admiring the eminent scholars of my field and liked the idea that I might become the one admired.
I offered to be a formal mentor to her in the final year of her PhD. We met for long coffees where we had beautiful rambling discussions about leadership theory. We had maybe all but three meetings and something shifted.
Nothing had changed about her or our relationship.
Just one day, I could no longer summon the physical, mental, or emotional energy to give.
The briefest meetings, conversations, and social engagements left me drained. I grew distant and isolated from her and all my colleagues for months.
I was too in the thick of it to see I was burnt out. I just thought there was something deeply wrong with me.
“I should be caring for junior academics… how could I be so selfish?”, I kept chastising myself.
I see this guilt in so many scholar-activists around me, within and beyond the academy.
We know more than anyone else the treacherous waters in which we swim.
Even if we’re bone-tired and struggling to breathe, we see another scholar-activist and we so desperately want to rescue them too.
And sometimes, that means we both sink.
If you’re feeling exhausted and drained, dreading the prospect of bearing yet another weight, there is nothing wrong with you.
You’re not selfish for needing to rest. Only when we’re profoundly nourished can we care for others. Only when we defend our energetic boundaries can we sustain our scholar-activism.
And if you’re thinking that you can’t allow yourself to rest because nobody else in your institution will help marginalized folks, then my friend, you’re being double-billed for your oppression.
We simply cannot be responsible for saving other marginalized folks when we’re struggling to survive.
And those of us who are socialized as women have been conditioned to give care. Others come to expect us to nurture, sometimes even feeling entitled to our labor.
A graduate arrived at my colleague’s office one day, coffee and pastries in hand, waxing lyrical about her brilliance and beseeching her to coach and counsel him.
He wanted to meet with her every fortnight to help him with his career advancement while soothing his frustrations with professional setbacks.
She explained to him that as a researcher, she didn’t have the time, let alone the expertise and training, to provide the level of therapy and development he was asking of her.
A few months later, she found out that he took to Facebook after her rejection and tore her down in the most misogynistic terms.
Patriarchy, white supremacy, and neoliberalism leave terrible wounds.
We live in a state of perpetual scarcity. Fear and shame are constants. We continually question our worth.
When someone refuses us care, for any reason, it can surface awful beliefs about ourselves. We may think that they don’t believe we’re competent or capable. That we’re not inherently worthy of care. So in tearing them down, denouncing them as selfish and unkind, we can run away from those painful beliefs.
And for those of us on the other end enforcing those boundaries, we can experience anxiety and shame when it comes to defending our rest.
It’s not paranoia. It’s an instinct of the scorn we’ll receive, honed from our extensive lived experience of oppression.
We know that when we refuse to serve, we challenge the oppressive structures in place. We upset the gendered, racialized, and classed hierarchies in our society that say those of us at the bottom should stay at the bottom.
And yet, , that’s exactly why we have to resist.
When we burn out (as I learned), we serve no one.
Unless we defend our time, energy, rest, and joy, we cannot sustain our struggles for social justice.
When I launched my business last month, I took a stand about the value of my skills and expertise as a researcher, writer, editor, and a smasher of the patriarchy.
My fees make a plain statement about what I need to feel adequately resourced to provide mentoring outside of an institution.
Irrespective of your interest in Wayfinders, I invite you to reflect on how much your time, energy, skills, and expertise are worth. If you didn’t have any shame about asking to be remunerated, what would you need (monetary and non-monetary) to fill you up?
In a perfect world, all of us will be adequately resourced to provide care and all of us will feel adequately cared for.
But nobody is entitled to receive your care at your expense.
When you choose to give it, it is a privilege. And you should only give it to those who truly value your worth and want you to take radically good care of yourself first.
In defense of your rest and joy,
P.S. One way I’ll defend my own rest today is that I won’t be providing a tarot reading. If you value some spiritual guidance, my friend Valerie Louis is offering rich, insightful, trauma-informed tarot sessions for dedicated Seekers. Please explore her offering, prismatic compass readings, to help you find your way.