Visibility has been on my mind a lot lately.
It started when the woman friend I live with began reading Mel Robbins. On most mornings, something Robbins said would slip into our groggy conversations. It all blurs after a while. Yet, the most persistent theme in our banter is about the work women do that goes unseen.
Emotional labour aside, Robbins zeroes in on the workplace and the quantifiable actions women choose to take that result in their diminishing visibility. It could be as simple as how one positions themselves in a group photograph or where they choose to sit in a board meeting. Yes, you work hard and you’re excellent at what you do, but is anyone seeing you do the work?
More importantly, are the right people witnessing your efforts?
This got me thinking about the tasks I undertake. How much of it is invisible work, done quietly behind the scenes, immensely necessary work but the kind that never gets displayed during meetings. How much of my correspondence about said work is done in a private Slack channel, where the “important heads” of the company can’t see or acknowledge? Are my ideas credited or is my name missing from the minutes?
Robbins makes her case and offers fairly trite worded strategies in these snippets. Her advice isn’t revolutionary but she nails the point that folks, predominantly women, must quickly realize how much background work they do and how little it serves their progression. Her strategies are sound and infectious.
I began questioning the definition of visibility across various contexts. I began to count the things I do that no one knows about, but needs to be done. I began to evaluate what I portray on Instagram and what I leave out. Much of the work has to do with maintenance. Some things seem minuscule. Other things are assumed as responsibility. All are taken for granted.
And then, there is my artistic practice.
The rude awakening took place over post-show drinks with a group of residency artists. Keisha Thompson, the multi-hyphenate poet we had come to see began sharing about her thoughts on producing a show and the numerous hats one must wear in order to succeed. We mmhmm-ed in solidarity, because we poets/dancers/comedians/musicians/visual artists, had all been there, done that and bought the T-Shirt. Every one of us at the table had put on a show at varying scales and capacities. We knew what was demanded of us as independent artists.
Keisha asked a single question:
If you list out all the things you need to put on a show, how much of it is actually artistic?
It shook me. Bullet points pierced my temples as I silently listed out all the necessary work I do to produce a gig, be it an open mic or a panel. Approximately 85% of it has absolutely nothing to do with my ability to write and perform poetry. The unseen work looks like collecting entry fees, arranging the chairs, coordinating Zoom calls across multiple timezones. Nothing to do with art. No one is really paying attention because they do not have to. Because when this invisible work is done, chaos is averted and things appear as it should be: normal.
Normal is a thankless achievement. It is easily missed and at this very moment, I am wondering how do I uplift/reveal/announce/show the uninteresting work I have been doing to remind the world that I am still here.
But also, do I really need the world to know?
May you make new friends while holding on to the old,
On repeat this week
‘Always remember that 9 times out of 10, you probably aren’t having a full on nervous breakdown. You just need a cup of tea and a biscuit. You will be amazed how easily and repeatedly you can confuse the two. Get a big biscuit tin.’
“Now I’m Dead, Here’s My Letter Of Advice For You” by British journalist Caitlin Moran is a gift for every person.
When the house gets too quiet and feels empty, I enjoy playing “listenable” YouTube videos in the background. Linda Sun is one of the few fit-fluencers I’ve discovered who is a regular food-loving person who eats xiao long bao on camera as part of her diet. There is something comforting about witnessing the ups and downs and ups again fitness journey.
#DeisOfOurLives will now be a fortnightly newsletter. :)
My father said
“Maybe it’s because we are not happy, that is why we can’t do it.”