Home Audio Transcription Napped: Podcast Transcript | WUNC

Napped: Podcast Transcript | WUNC

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Anita Rao
If you’re a history buff or just someone that likes a great story — I have a podcast recommendation for you. It is called Sidedoor. It’s a podcast hosted by Lizzie Peabody, and she sneaks you through the Smithsonian’s side door to discover stories that can’t be found anywhere else. There are more than 154 million treasures that fill the Smithsonian’s vaults, and each of them hides a story. You’re going to hear about everything from robots that could learn to tell the stories of our ancestors to blood sucking worms that paved the way for modern medicine — even, maybe how you could get away with murder in the Arctic. You can listen to Sidedoor wherever you get your podcasts. Just search for Sidedoor. It’s all one word, or find it online at si.edu/sidedoor.

Productivity and I need to go into couples therapy. Our relationship is really messed up. I alternate back and forth between feeling like I should just accept that I’m going to follow in my dad’s workaholic footsteps and thinking there’s probably a healthier way of being — and it’s not just about WORK work. The impulse to maximize my time shows up everywhere. A potentially peaceful walk, too often, turns into three types of multitasking on my phone and then nearly dropping it in a pile of freshly evacuated dog poop.

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I’ve got a productivity problem, but so do a lot of us. Capitalism has schooled us in the belief that our value comes from what we produce. What’s really not valuable in that framework? Rest.

Who experiences the right to rest? And what does claiming that right do for our brains and our bodies?

This is Embodied — our show about sex, relationships and health. I’m Anita Rao.

I know my issues with productivity and rest come from a lot of cultural messaging and expectations — pushing our limits until we drop is embedded in our language.

Gabrielle Zhuang-Estrin
One of the most frequently used euphemisms for rest is used as ‘rest in peace.’ So the implication to me is it’s not until we’ve left our bodies that we’re authorized or deemed able arrest.

Anita Rao
That’s Gabrielle Zhuang-Estrin. She’s a clinical social worker and psychotherapist in California. She started internalizing messages about productivity and rest pretty early.

Gabrielle Zhuang-Estrin
I found my way into the hustle through the experience of being a Chinese-American immigrant and child of immigrants. And my relationship to rest, or the absence of rest, has been to the degree to which I’ve been learning about survival. So not really having any models growing up of rest — not seeing my mother or father resting, and quite the opposite in their seeking of stability — the success within the American dream — and it’s one of the themes that I think really undergirds our culture. That unless we are hustling and being productive, we won’t make it, we won’t survive — and we certainly won’t succeed.

Anita Rao
Gabrielle’s relationship to rest has evolved over time, but like many of us — she didn’t start to change things up until after she hit a wall.

Gabrielle Zhuang-Estrin
I’ve experienced the consequences of non-rest, chronic stress and fatigue, which can lead to compassion fatigue, decision-making fatigue and burnout. And so my journey towards rest and resting really began about seven years into my career and seeing 14 clients a day. I was working with veterans who had dual diagnoses with addiction, mental illness and who are houseless — but interestingly enough, it wasn’t this group of folks that were stimulating the secondary trauma or this fatigue — it was really the institution, the unsupportive institution that was highly competitive. Often shaming if we didn’t soldier up or have like a spine of steel, we were like highly commodified, had high rates of responsibility, and low rates of control, and a sense of guilt of not doing enough.

And so, you know, really stepping away — having to step away and begin to do the self-assessment of: Wow, my body is actually really tired — What do I really need right now? And so is this practice of self-compassion that I begin to make a bridge to be able to slow down, and I realized how much I had the stories around self-harshness of not being satisfied or settled with myself.

Anita Rao
The conundrum we all know is that once you realize you need more rest, it’s not as easy as just, well — taking a rest. Maybe you work multiple jobs, have caretaking and community commitments. Whatever it is — it can be hard to actually slow down.

Gabrielle Zhuang-Estrin
I like to try and make it really accessible. What are we are already doing that is allowing us to take a moment? And so there’s nothing that’s prescriptive on what rest can look like. It may be setting boundaries. It’s okay to disappoint people. Sometimes that can allow us to rest more — can be drinking water, it can be feeling your heart beating, washing your face. The more that we allow these moments of pause, we’re actually re-stitching in our nervous system and these neurons, reconditioning our somatic body to lean into that rest.

Anita Rao
Could you tell me just a little bit more about that resting state and what it does for creativity, in particular, on a somatic level? If you allow your body in those small spaces to go into a different place, to go into a deeper breathing state — What does that allow for our brains to be able to do?

Gabrielle Zhuang-Estrin
Yeah, there’s this amazing part of our brain that’s part of the frontal lobe called the default mode network. And what this area does is it’s active when we’re not in our sympathetic nervous system, that fight or flight state. And what it allows us to do — it plays a really important role in focusing inward on ourselves. It activates our memories. It allows us to have a sense of creativity. It’s what we attribute to self-reflection — reminiscing of the past or imagining our future. So this network depends upon our level of flow down this or quiet. And also to activate this default mode network is this practice of reveling, and so we may be on our inner space, indoors or outdoors — and we’re looking at something really simple. Maybe it’s the grass, maybe it’s a flower, maybe it’s our child, and we’re just resting our eyes — our occipital lobe on that object of attention. And we’re really resting our attention, so that can actually slow down our whole system and allow us to activate this default mode network.

Anita Rao
Figuring out how to be in a resting state while our bodies are still active — that’s the game changer. And it’s something that’s long been on the mind of community organizer, Dom Chatterjee.

Dom Chatterjee
I think about how to bring rest into any activity, so there’s not this binary of laying down is restful, or going for a walk outside is restful, but working on a creative project can be or something like that. And I think that’s helped me a lot because I don’t want to separate out: I only get to rest an hour a day. By inviting rest into any relationship I have with any aspect of my life, I’m able to potentially have a day that looks highly productive. That because of my own relationship to anxiety, myself, everything else can actually have these restful moments built in, and it might not be the entire time — but I really resist that compartmentalization in our contemporary culture.

Anita Rao
Dom wears a lot of hats. They’re a yoga and meditation teacher of South Asian descent, a writer and an editor. One of their projects is Rest for Resistance, a platform for sharing art, writing and mental health resources for people of color. The platform lifts up the idea that having community both virtually and in-person is an important part of being able to rest.

Dom Chatterjee
If people don’t have the space to process, not only trauma, but just personal challenges, difficulties — especially as they relate to identities that may be ostracized, marginalized, silenced — that becomes a personal burden that somebody is carrying. And you may not be able to see that, so the more that people have space to just be recognized and witnessed, it takes away some of the healing alone. For me, sometimes I’ll find myself in those moments, replaying conversations that I’ve had with people in the past, so I feel like even if I met them briefly years ago — maybe they just left one comment on social media that stayed with me. I’m still able to get that support from them. And that’s a form of rest. Knowing that I can let go of actively worrying about my own healing needs and that those struggles, those concerns, are being carried by other people. Whether we’re together in community, in the moment or not, we’ve still had that conversation. We’ve still connected over it, and they’re somewhere carrying their own side of that difficulty, that struggle.

Anita Rao
That’s so beautifully put. The idea that the ability to rest mentally comes from knowing that there is this net — there’s this web of other folks that are there supporting you, whether or not you are with them physically in that moment or not. And that brings me to a question I have for you Gabrielle about parenting — an experience that can feel really isolating for folks, and can be this massive transition of so many more responsibilities, so many more things to do. I’d love to know about how becoming a parent, especially in this country, where there’s not a ton of structural support for parents, has changed your own relationship to rest?

Gabrielle Zhuang-Estrin
Yes, the rest in my relationship to sleep certainly changed. It was rest when you could any small slivers worth taking, and so as we became parents, my husband and I, we’ve been — we’re both clinicians and recognizing the co-regulation, so when our child needed something — expressed a need — we were regulating with him. And in order to do that, we had to be as rested as possible, as alert as possible, to tune in. No longer needed to earn rest. I recognized I have an inheritance. I get to have it, I deeply need it.

Anita Rao
This right to rest is something we can work on manifesting in our own lives, but it also requires structural support — Portugal recently passed a series of rules dubbed the right to rest, which institute fines for employers who contact employees outside of work hours, and provisions that make it easier for folks with younger kids to work remotely. I am so curious to see how it pans out, and it turns out that so is Dom.

Dom Chatterjee
It’s so interesting you bring that up because I’m working — doing a communications contract right now with a small tech company — and this came up. Because part of the company culture, they’re a fully remote team, and part of the culture is trying to not even have this hierarchy of bosses in the first place and build a different kind of relationship as teams solving problems together. And to me, I think that while that may support some people, that’s never going to support everybody. And a lot of those ideas of what is the status quo need to rest, they don’t build in a lot of flexibility for people who naturally gravitate towards another schedule, another way of working. And I think that there are absolutely people who thrive within a structure, and maybe the nine to five boundaries work really well for them, and they want that support.

But I really think that in this time, as we’re shifting to another way of working together, maybe outside of this traditional office culture, there’s this opportunity for people to set their own boundaries — and say: I understand there might be some morning meetings involved, but that’s not my best time to work, and I often work better having a couple evenings where I just sit down and get things done, and I want that to be respected. But I’m really hoping that we can start to have realistic conversations, in all forms of relationships, not just within work. I’m hoping that we can embrace that kind of communication as we move forward, as opposed to assuming everybody can live and work and rest within the same structure of society.

Anita Rao
Self-advocacy can go a long way when it comes to starting those conversations about our work and rest needs. Take this story from Cameron, for instance, a listener and friend who recently gave herself permission to take four days off work to recover from a cold.

Cameron
So for maybe the first time in my entire life, I took as much time as I needed and did not get back to being productive until I felt completely better. It sounds so obvious, but it really felt revolutionary to realize that once I got back to work, and felt so rejuvenated and so much better, it was quite simply because I had taken the real amount of time that I felt like I needed to feel better and to feel rested and focused. You can only push through and keep going for so long before your body is going to make it clear that you really need some recovery time. And so I plan to work this guiltless leisure into my lifestyle more because the results were so real. As a culture, we are very obsessed with productivity and meeting expectations. And that makes guiltlessly taking time to recharge feel like a radical act, but something as simple as taking four days off really has shown me how vital it is.

Anita Rao
Resting to recover from sickness or just daily life can mean looking head on at why guilt emerges so frequently when we let ourselves relax. Several people share their guilty feelings with us, including Audrey. Earlier this year, she was diagnosed with narcolepsy. And that illness has changed her own relationship with sleep and rest.

Audrey
Rest and sleep are basic human needs. Even if like me, you live in a body that needs more or different kinds of rest than other bodies — but what’s definitely a kind of resistance, in my opinion, is our attitudes and commitments that we make in relation to sleep and rest. So for example, the ways I try to normalize and prioritize my need for good rest — when I treat my afternoon nap like any other task on my daily schedule and refuse to feel guilty about it. Like, when I choose to be open with people about my experience with sleep disorders as a way to combat stereotypes about what it means to be, quote unquote, lazy. In other words, when I honor my body’s need for good and guilt-free rest, I am resisting capitalism, ableism, fatphobia, other societal injustices. And the idea that my productivity is in, any way, an indicator of my worth.

Anita Rao
What Audrey brings up here is how often messages that call resting people idle or lazy target those whose bodies have been historically marginalized, like people with disabilities and people of color. And those messages have a real and serious consequences. Study show that Black Americans are more sleep deprived than white Americans. We’ve talked about this sleep gap before on the podcast, and if you want to get to the roots of this sleep gap, take a look at the folklore behind a popular horror movie Monster.

Dawn of the Dead (Movie Clip)

Still here. They’re after us. They know we’re still in here. They’re after the place. They don’t know why they just remember. Remember that they want to be in here. What the hell are they? There us, that’s all. There’s no more room in hell. What? Something my granddaddy used to tell us. You know macumba? Voodoo. Granddad was a priest in Trinidad. Used to tell us: When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.

Anita Rao
The 1978 movie Dawn of the Dead features modern depictions of the zombie, but zombie folklore originates in Haiti, and the horrors faced by the enslaved people there. It’s a story that artist Fannie Sosa knows well.

Fannie Sosa
The zombie illuminates the Black Atlantic resistance, and in specifically, I would say the Haitian and Afro-Caribbean resistance in the plantations. At the beginning of the story, the zombie was a way to explain possession. Possession of literal people in destinies and lives by the white colonizers, and how they would be able to possess you and possess you through sleep deprivation, which would make you someone that is physically alive, but their spirit is not all there. And so the zombie explains someone who can be controlled by other forces as well. Someone who does not have free will of their own right. And when we know that sleep deprivation was — quite literally, they would make people sleep two or three or four or five hours a night, and then there will be a whole very precise, meticulous research about how to wake folks up. About how to create disruptive, sort of day to day, in which folks would be working at the field and in a plantation, and be so sleep deprivated that they will not even be able to think about escaping. So we’re talking about a really, really heavy control and possession of bodies, and of people and of destinies in our lives that has this common denominator of sleep deprivation being the tool that was used to break people’s wills.

Anita Rao
The story of the zombie-inherited sleep deprivation and the sleep gap all come together in a sculptural installation co-created by Sosa and artist Navild Acosta called Black Power Naps. The installation interweaves sleep technologies, vibrations and sound to create unique physical spaces for people of color to experience and reclaim rest. The two artists created the installation during a residency in Spain, which was appropriate for the theme given one of the country’s most popular cultural practices, the siesta. But what Navild observed about siesta culture further emphasizes the messages of their artistic work.

Navild Acosta
Spanish culture is known for having the siesta, as we know, and while some people get to rest — there are other people still needing to keep the city churning, right. Like there are people who are in service, they’re opening the shops or cleaning up, their cooking. Even within the household itself often you would also see this pretty archaic setup where the man is really the one taking the nap, and the woman is literally taking care of the children, creating the meals. So I think that it goes a long way to really focus in on who gets to sleep here, and who gets to sleep on the backs of whose labor — and that really starts to become apparent, especially with this example within the Spanish culture itself.

Anita Rao
Sosa and Navild wanted to create spaces where Black people felt safe to reconnect with rest. The installation features seven restful spaces. There’s a waterbed that adjusts to your body, hammocks that increase airflow for deep breathing, and even a gigantic pool filled with dried black beans designed to suit the effects of a panic attack. One thread through several of the designs: an artful manipulation of sound.

Fannie Sosa
In many ways, we try to research different avenues that create the feeling of breast and rejuvenation and reparation — both in the body and in the psyche. And so one of the things, for example, that we researched is sound and how obviously there’s a lot of frequencies in cities that are very discordant and very disruptive to the waves that we’re on. And we’ve called it noise-ocracy. We live in a noise-ocracy where only affluent people sort of can afford more soothing sounds and silence, and folks that are actually situated in different positions of society live with very disruptive sounds. This noise-ocracy is because Black people often live in more dangerous, quote unquote, neighborhoods with more police presence. The noise that comes with all of that, the lights that come with all of them, and it’s just simply harder to achieve the same type of reparative and regenerative type of sleep that people in a more, you know, wealthy neighborhood would have.

Anita Rao
Totally, and there’s also — I mean that the spaces and public that do exist where folks could, in theory, rest are also designed in ways that prevent Black folks from resting a lot of the time, which is something that’s not immediately clear to everyone upon looking at a bus stop, for example. So take me into that, and Navild, and you all are kind of trying to create a map of spaces to decriminalize rest, to push back against that. So talk to me about that juxtaposition.

Navild Acosta
This is something that we would call hostile architecture and hostile outside spaces. It carries an anti-homeless sentiment to build benches, but then put dividers, so no one can actually lay their body across the bench. I think most people in big cities are pretty familiar with this kind of architecture. It’s all 90 degree angles, you know, cut into segments and into unrealistic segments as well because not everyone is shaped the same. Attending to rest is something that is deeply criminalized, as we saw in a case where a Yale student was asleep in a common area, and another student called the police on them. And this is a common happening, you know, where Black folks, racialized folks, are literally taking up space, and that is deeply criminalized. So much about what we’re proposing with Black Power Naps is a public intervention where we can exceed to spaces that are meant to welcome everybody and be more accessible, and not always about producing and going somewhere and skateboarding.

Anita Rao
Black Power Naps started out as a physical installation that the two artists showcased internationally at several different artistic institutions. But lately, Sosa and Navild have been working on some digital projects to get more sleep resources to folks who need them.

Navild Acosta
Basically, Sosa and I have been up to a few things. A lot of our energy has been going towards creating a digital home for all of our sleep related blog posts. Last year, we created a film, which is a documentary film about essentially liberating a space for Black Power Naps at a white institution and what process that was. And we have also been working toward creating ultimately AI consciousness because we realize that creating the work also came with the labor of giving answers to all of the big questions, which is like: Why do Black people deserve rest? And, you know, other very intimate questions about why this work needs to happen. And this can cause like emotional labor for Black and brown people that often falls on us anyway, and so we’re trying to create a bot that ultimately has the answers and is very non-judgmental. Is very happy to answer any question no matter the question. And this bot, her name is Emotion. And we’re currently working on a beta version of launching an app called Map. That’s where Emotion will live, as well as other aspects of our research. For example, on that Map we are partnering with institutions to make pledges to create spaces of decriminalized rest for Black and brown people. And so once people pledge, they get a spot on the map. And wherever you are in the world, you can use the map to see who you can go in. For example, get some water from a water fountain, use a toilet, sit in, charge your device, sit for a while and have a meal. This is something that obviously is a big project, but one piece at a time we are building it, and I’m excited to share that when it comes out.

Anita Rao
I am also super excited about the projects Navild described, and the inventive ways he and Sosa are embodying a culture of rest. But building and fighting for these spaces, involves long hours and grueling work. So the two of them seek out their own rights to rest on a smaller scale in the day to day.

Fannie Sosa
I like to have fun. I try to have fun as much as I can, actually. And that, for me is the most rest, or one of the most restful activities I can do. And I think rest is like the love languages. You know, there’s several different love languages, and we all have sort of rest languages — that it’s about having different types of focus, using your focus and your attention in different ways that perhaps are not as productive or perhaps are not as corporate or monetized and how that can also be a way of resting. And so we have a saying that we always say which is: attunement before task. So that’s how I have fun and that’s how I recharge. I always try to create a culture where we attune before we do any task.

Anita Rao
Navild? How about you?

Navild Acosta
Reclaiming my time, and reclaiming rest and leisure, and really quality time to myself is something that is so important and basically my life depends on it as a Black trans queer person. I ultimately am on the frontlines of creating these kinds of movements just by existing — by existing and going towards things that I desire and want to see in the world. And so for me, taking rest for myself and being able to craft that is the basis from which I’m able to create this work. I think, like Sosa says, fun is such a essential part of the rest that I seek and desire and ultimately heal from. And I would add that, you know, connecting is a part of my artwork. Creating art is connecting, and connecting is a part of my vitality. It’s what keeps my engine going and also reminds me of what my purpose is and what I’m here to do. I am looking for those relationships that hold me as someone who is marginal and is living outside of the dominant culture.

Anita Rao
Embodied is a production of North Carolina public radio WUNC, a listener supported station. If you want to lend your support to this podcast and WUNC’s other shows on demand, consider a contribution at wunc.org. Now, incredible storytelling like you hear on Embodied is only possible because of listeners like you. Kaia Findlay produced the show. Amanda Magnus is our editor. Jenni Lawson is our sound engineer, and Lindsay Foster Thomas is WUNC’s director of content. Quilla wrote our theme music. The show is supported by Weaver Street Market, a worker and consumer owned cooperative selling organic and local food at four triangle locations in North Carolina. Now featuring online shopping with next day pickup, weaverstreetmarket.coop.

And just a reminder, that in addition to being in your podcast feed, we’re also on social media. Find us at @embodiedwunc on Twitter and Instagram. Go ahead and say hi, while you’re at it. We’d love to hear from you, and hear the things you want us to talk about on this show. Until next time, I’m Anita Rao — taking on the taboo with you.





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