On being a citizen of the arts in Napa County
Over the last few years I’ve been giving a lot of thought to a concept popularly called “emotional labor” (though in sociological circles what I’m referring to is called “emotion work,” at least according to the experts at Wikipedia.)
Emotional labor are the acts done to sustain a relationship: The act of texting a friend to invite them to an art gallery opening. The act of cleaning your beard hair out of the bathroom sink you share with your roommates. The act of pouring a glass of wine for your partner after a long day. The act of sending an old friend a note when their grandpa dies.
In our personal and intimate relationships, there’s often an imbalance—maybe one friend is always the one to invite the other out. Or maybe one bearded roommate always leaves his trimmings for the next bathroomer to sweep. Or maybe one partner always serves themselves a glass of wine before thinking about the other. Or maybe one just doesn’t think to send a note to their old friend in times of sadness. I’m simplifying—there’s a lot to it.
Sometimes the imbalance comes from social norms, which have taught us how to behave based on our gender—I remember once my sister telling me, “Jeremy, when we’re adults I don’t want to be the one who has to keep our family together.” I knew what she meant without anyone explaining it. (And now I write her, and my brothers, letters, and call them to talk.)
But the imbalance is also because we’re all different, each with a unique personal history, with individualized personalities. We have different strengths, different weaknesses. And sometimes we’re just blinded by our own emotional heaviness to empathize with a neighbor.
Slowly, imperfectly, I’ve been trying to correct my deficiencies of emotional labor. I call and text far-away friends. When a friend is under the weather or has a new baby, I cook for them. I’m terrible when it comes to loved ones expressing their sadness at a public figure’s passing—I’m working on that. I have a lot of work to do.
We can apply this emotional labor lens to our artistic and creative communities, too. We all know someone who stopped organizing the thing because they were “tired of being the only one organizing it all the time.” We all know the clubs begging their members to take a turn on the board. We all know about trying to fill the seats at our event one week but debating between Netflix and their event the next.
Like a relationship between two people, which works best when the emotional labor is shared between the pair, a community of artists is most healthy when all of its members are investing their time and energy into the larger group. One bee goes out to gather, one bee cleans the hive, one bee builds a comb, one bee feeds the larvae, and the next day they rotate.
I've been thinking of ways I can lift more of the weight in our artistic community. I’m coming up with things like: saying thanks to organizers of events I enjoyed. Buying art, and recommending artists to others. Sharing events on Facebook, even if I won’t be able to go.