Imagine a professional world where you could mute the sounds of white supremacy. Consider a setting without the prying eyes of the patriarchy, where you could carry your brown feminine body without apology.
Muting and avoiding does not mean eradicating, but in a remote setting I have been able to create a working environment that serves me more than the institution I work for, one where I can still honor my commitment to the population I serve. Who am I when I shed the layers of capitalism and patriarchy? I invite you to enter my home and see.
Though working from home has come at a price — a reinvention of my living space and a loss of human connection — it also brought me back to myself in my sacred childhood space. I currently live in my family’s home that my parents bought ten years after immigrating to the U.S. and two months before I was born. Before the pandemic, este hogar that I regard fondly with complicated emotion had served as shelter to rest my weary limbs after an exhausting day of full-time work and a commute across the 405 freeway. My nights consisted of a brief recognition of cheek to pillow before my alarm would ring and I would do it all over again.
I remember battling the natural currents and energy flow of my body — waking up ahead of my internal clock to race to the commuter bus before traffic crowded the intersection. Just today, I saw a 50 year old Latino almost get hit by a car in a busy street of downtown Los Angeles because he was racing to catch the bus. Fifteen months ago, that was me — risking my body to fulfill an external expectation. All things considered, my mental health was intact, but the toll it had taken on my body only became apparent when we were ejected out of constant motion. Finally, I could justify shielding myself from the world, but at the cost of lost lives and livelihoods.
As we settled into a health crisis that would outlast the initial prediction of 2 weeks, I cherished the revolutionary bliss of resting, staying up too late, sleeping in until the last minute possible before clocking in, and sometimes waking up early to catch the sunrise instead of empty traffic lanes. I could choose how I wanted to react and deal with the loss, grief, confusion, and shock of the pandemic.
The most liberating aspect of working from home has been the freedom to mute the constraints of capitalism that bind me to my chair at work. In this virtual setting, it has been empowering to turn off my camera and walk away from a harmful conversation. By operating behind a screen, I no longer had to pretend to be happy or even content after a colleague expressed a microaggression — I could sit in my dark room with the anger glaring from my brown eyes to form dueling shadows on the wall. I no longer had to consider the impact on my career when I visibly react to a tone deaf or blatantly hurtful comment like “All Lives Matter” in a conversation about protest and racial inequalities in this country.
In my dark, cool room where I control the temperature, I am free to unleash the tropical fury of my ancestors. I am free to express myself in the brown body I inherited. I can cry, I can yell, I can curse, I can shut out the voices. I can sit in silence or in my pounding thoughts. I do not have to water down my resistance out of fear of repercussions. I can turn off the soundwaves of well-intentioned daggers and honor my need for distance. In my agony, I can still feel beautiful and whole in my skin. In my home, I am not a stoic well-oiled machine.
As we approach re-entry into our working spaces, my cynical side wonders if institutions and individuals want to drop us into our former spaces to police our expression. The stakes are higher for brown femme bodies when we are expected to dress and speak a certain way in order to be taken seriously, although they never take us seriously enough to pay us properly despite our best efforts to conform and flatten our natural curves. Perhaps they seek to steal the liberation we have found in managing our own time, ignoring the concrete evidence that we need not sit in front of a computer all day to perform. I tell myself, optimistically, that maybe I am reading into the situation too much. Definitely, I calm myself down to survive.
I know many communities have lacked adequate working conditions during the pandemic. I know my quarantined experience has been different from that of mothers, of students, of the elderly. I am aware that for some, working from home has caused a complete disruption of boundaries. I recognize this and I honor those needs and experiences, too — they should all be addressed. My point here is that we have witnessed different ways of operating and a return to “normalcy” feels like a form of gaslighting and a wasted opportunity to reform how we function as a society.
Personally, with the newfound option to disengage, I can pour myself into service by cutting out the noise of panicked requests. We have all learned to slow down whether we were willing, ready or not. In the tranquility of my pseudo office at home, I can prioritize tasks that are in alignment with our mission. When I am able to carry out objectives without unnecessary interruptions, I show up authentically and charged to make an impact at work. I am free to reserve my emotional labor for meaningful labor.
Pursuing my dreams is meaningful labor. Now that I have emotional energy to redirect, I am empowered to tackle limiting beliefs about my professional life. I have the bandwidth to think and dream beyond my paycheck. Sitting in my backyard during my lunch breaks, I am tempted to flee with the afternoon breeze. I am reminded that I am a free soul living in a capitalistic world. I am currently reconciling both realities by investing in myself professionally, spiritually, and financially so that I have the liberty to create my own schedule and work at my own pace. If the year 2020 has taught me anything, it is that life is too unpredictable and fleeting to live by anyone else’s timeline.
For once, I have the clarity and awareness to feed my ambition beyond the contract I have signed with my workplace. I step into my power everyday to build a community online for womxn. I allow myself to receive abundance in the form of side income from projects that nurture. These words you are reading now were born out of determination to create a writing practice for myself in a society that values consumption over expression. In short, I can meet my callings because I am not chained to the physical spaces of my labor. Today, more than before, I show up unapologetically, reserving more emotional energy for me, honoring the needs of my body, and facing the realities of this economy without turning my back to community.
For those of us returning to our offices and workplaces soon, the challenge will be to hold on to liberation and the right to express our resistance. I know with certainty that nothing will ever be the same — and that is precisely the goal.