Rest is Not Resistance

the night my Gramma died.

I received a call around 11 p.m. the night my Gramma died. I immediately knew what the buzzing on my nightstand meant for my world from then on. That knowing prevented me from answering the phone. One, I wanted to hold onto my grandmother for one more night. Two, getting on the call meant that I would have to calculate how much time I could afford to take off without overdrafting the PTO I'd banked—one day for sure but two might be pushing it, I thought—which was a task that my spirit rejected outright.

That night, and in the days that followed, grief brought me face-to-face with the realization that what I needed after my Gramma's passing—time for myself, rest, connection to others, connection to nature, connection to ritual—had been severed at worst and rendered anemic by capitalism at best.

I did not choose not to rest. I was robbed of the possibility of even making that choice by a system that necessitates the maintenance of two things: my (return to) labor, and my perpetual exhaustion. Therein lies the problem.

"Why don't you take some time off?"

I was often asked, "Why don't you take some time off?" while I stumbled through the days that felt like hours and months that felt like minutes, following my Gramma's escape from this "fucked-up white boys' world," in the words of Audre Lorde.

The false choice of rest was presented to me as the salve I needed to heal the wounds of losing someone to cancer in the span of a year (diagnosis to death); someone who, to my recollection, had never even been sick before.

People weren't entirely wrong in suggesting "rest," and I know it came from a good place. But there were days when I literally could not remember how I got from Point A to Point B. I would leave our apartment and end up at work, with no conscious recollection of how I got there, of the weather, nor any familiar landmarks I passed along the way.

The days gradually folded into each other, like butter being cut into dough. My existence became the anecdotal evidence presented in research studies about how burnout and exhaustion can lead to neural changes in our prefrontal cortex, altering our planning, decision-making, and working memory.

The reality was there was no "time off" to take. I had used most of my PTO for emergencies in the months prior. Like the day my Mama and I drove two hours to our hometown, where I literally hoisted my Gramma out of her bed, over my shoulder and into my car. Then, we drove two hours back up the road to the hospital because she would not eat and was too weak to stand on her own. After that day, my Gramma would never return to her own house. The home she and my Granddad built—the place where she wanted to rest—was no longer safe for her because neither she, nor we, had the resources to make her home accessible and secure around-the-clock aide services in our absence.

It became apparent to me during my grandmother's last days, that our choice to rest is not only stolen from us in life, but also in where and how we die.

Grief, a (grand)mother tongue

Grief, a (grand)mother tongue

Love, loss, and the limits of language.

January 10, 2023

personal choices cannot upend oppression.

"Each of these emotions and experiences has vitality in it, and that is our work: to be alive and to be a good host to whoever arrives at the door of our house."

My therapist always tells me to focus on what I can control and to cope with what I cannot control. I believe in the utility of this practice. In the eight months since my Grandmother's passing, I cut back on my hours and now work four days of the week. I picked up some somatic practices that I use when I'm feeling particularly ungrounded. I am intentional about spending time with my friends and family, to the extent that COVID-19 will allow. I attend regular grief meetings via Zoom.

I am taking things day by day. In the words of Francis Weller, I am trying to be "a good host" to whatever visits me. I have structured my life—to the extent that I can—around rest and healing.

I wish I could say that the sum of these strategies have made things easier. To some degree, I'm sure they have. But no matter how hard I try, my personal choices cannot upend oppression. The exhaustion that I feel from navigating the loss of my Gramma has only been compounded by Israel's genocide of the Palestinian people, the ongoing mass displacement of the Sudanese and Congolese people, the hyper-vigilance required to navigate a "post-COVID" COVID-19 world, all while laboring under capitalism to ensure that my most basic human needs are met.

What my body-mind needs is not to make the choice to rest and to heal—it isn't a real choice to begin with. What my body-mind truly needs is the fall of empire.

Diana C.S. Becerra explains why personal choice is an incomplete response to oppression:

"Any political project based around 'choice' needs to critically question the options available to people, which for the majority are limited and outright oppressive. As we struggle to expand a person's fundamental right to make decisions about their lives, from the bedroom to the doctor's office and workplace, we have to recognize that institutionalized privilege grants some people more choices at the direct or indirect expense of others. Individual choice as the sole means of resistance will always be limited by hierarchical institutions that deny us or others meaningful choice."

Queering Anarchism

I do not think rest is resistance.

A while back, I unintentionally upset some folks on the site formerly known as Twitter for writing that I do not think rest is resistance.

deeply individualistic behaviors have become stand-ins for developing a sound political framework and praxis. These things are all necessary and valuable, but one thing they surely are not is "resistance."

Folks responded to me defending their "right to rest," as if to suggest that I was personally prying a nap from their hands. In reality, I was quoting many things, including Audre Lorde's A Burst of Light: "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." My fleeting thought, colored by eight months of perpetual exhaustion and grief, became proxy for folks' rightful-yet-misplaced rebuttals about the importance of rest.

I will never question the merits of rest. But in the hands of liberalism, rest and self-care has become highly individualized, reduced to a choice, which shifts the burden away from the very institutions that steal our time, energy, and resources in the first place, and onto the backs of the global majority. The choice to rest is a luxury few can actually afford, and I want to hold space and discontent for that.

As Peggy Kornegger states:

"[To] separate the process from the goals of revolution is to ensure the perpetuation of oppressive structure and style."

"Anarchism: The Feminist Connection,"

Stated differently, if our goal is liberation, self-determination, and universal access to all the things that we need to thrive, then the process through which we achieve that end (resistance) cannot be characterized by the individual choice (to rest) that some folks simply do not have. Resistance must be centered around dismantling the systems that rob us of choice, while building care networks to ensure equitable access to choice.

praise the Lorde.

I bought Audre Lorde's essay collection A Burst of Light before boarding a flight to Phoenix to celebrate my wife's birthday. I was still thinking about folks' visceral reaction to my suggestion that rest, while essential and inextricably linked with resistance, was not itself resistance.

At the time, I did not know a lot about Audre Lorde aside from the fact that she and her writing are universally loved. But I had a suspicion that a Queer, Black, Disabled, Socialist, self-proclaimed "mother, warrior, poet," had a very different relationship with (and access to) rest than her decontextualized words about "self care," written during her fight with cancer, would seem to suggest.

If I'm honest, I was also angry. I wanted to consume Lorde's work so I could tell folks to take their Martin Luther King Jr. Day cherry-picking of her words and kiss my ass. I wanted to tell them that any self care and rest that my Grandmother received during her fight with Cancer was not simply because she chose it, but because my family coalesced around her to make that choice a possibility—in the absence of robust social safety nets for aging and disabled people. I wanted to tell them that rest is what we make possible through resistance to racialized capitalism, imperialism, cisheteronormativity, transphobia, fatphobia, and ableism.

But I could hear Ruth Wilson Gilmore's warning flashing brightly in my mind about the larger stories and contexts that we miss when we "read to extract." So I entered into the Lorde's sanctuary with anticipation instead, "prepared in my feelings to receive the shape that the poem puts to me, " as Gilmore puts it in Let This Radicalize You.

And, baby? Wow.

A Burst of Light.

When I settled into A Burst of Light, the stories that unfolded before me left me ugly-crying on a plane full of strangers.

Reading Lorde's journal entries from her three-year-long battle with Cancer made me—for the first time since losing her—sit with just how afraid my Gramma must have been when Cancer came for her. I've sat with and mulled over my own fear and acceptance of losing her a million times, but never how afraid she must've been while losing her independence, her home, her way of being and doing. My Gramma was so many things, but fearful? My mind had to stretch so far and wide to hold space for that.

Audre Lorde spoke so honestly about her own fear and denial, agency, unfinished business, stretching, survival, and building solidarities among Black women across the diaspora. I was struck by the frequency with which she spoke about responsibility: to the future and to her work (not about capitalist, exploitative work but reflexive, future-oriented, life-giving work).

Somehow, she continued to write and do speaking engagements, even as she traveled in and out of the country for Cancer treatments and labs, constantly awaiting results and prognoses, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting. That period of her life seemed to crystallize something for her, as she explains:

"I use the energy of dreams that are now impossible, not totally believing in them nor their power to become real, but recognizing them as templates for a future within which my labors can play a part. I am freer to choose what I will devote my energies toward and what I will leave for another lifetime, thanking the goddess for the strength to perceive that I can choose, despite obstacles."

The Color of Grief

The Color of Grief

by Justin Hardiman September 22, 2023

a chisel in one hand, care in the other.

I once heard it said that when we are confronted by the truths of this world and the fact that every aspect of our lives is a site of injustice, it leaves a gaping crack in our universe. And that if we don't fill that crack with people and ideas that can help us make sense of these new truths we've been confronted by, we will retreat back to what we know out of fear. We will fill that crack with old attitudes and beliefs and behaviors that do not serve us nor our hopes for the world.

The work of organizing involves holding a mirror up to this world, speaking truth to power, and inviting and empowering folks with cracks in their universe to become co-conspirators in "building the world that we cannot live without, as we dismantle the world we cannot live within."

I feared penning this essay because in suggesting that rest and resistance are not synonymous, but instead, complementary, there is a possibility that I will be perceived as a cis man (I am not, neither socially nor politically) leading with a chisel, rather than with care.

However, I realized in writing this that I arrive with both chisel and care in hand.

I want to challenge the popular notion of rest as a choice. I want to recognize rest as both a tool and an outcome of resistance. We need rest like we need grief and healing work, like we need love, like we need care, like we need tenderness and self-compassion. For without those things, we end up burning out in our pursuit of liberation. But we need liberation above all else. For without it, rest is only aspirational for most of us.

I don't want us to relinquish our pursuit of rest. I want us to merge it with responsibility. I want the two to become so intertwined as to become indistinguishable.

In the words of Audre Lorde:

"For me, living and the use of that living are inseparable, and I have a responsibility to put that privilege and that life to use. For me, living fully means living with maximum access to my experience and power, loving, and doing work in which I believe. It means writing my poems, telling my stories, and speaking out of my most urgent concerns and against the many forms of anti-life surrounding us.

The energies I gain from my work help me neutralize those implanted forces of negativity and self-destructiveness that is white America's way of making sure I keep whatever is powerful and creative within me unavailable, ineffective, and nonthreatening."

I don't know what the future holds, but I know that our existence within it is not guaranteed. Rest gives us space to dream of the future that we deserve. But when we rise, we are met with the responsibility to make it so.

Trey Washington is a curious and grief-stricken Black, Queer, rural-Southerner practicing community and world building alongside their comrades in so-called North Carolina. They are a firm believer in the possibility of radically different futures through the practice of hope, the anarchist-queering of relationships, abolition and community care. You can check out more of their work at or at