Josen Masangkay Diaz, Emily Hue, Davorn Sisavath
Thinking and talking together, caring for and caring about each other, and finding joy as acts of preservation frame what it means to write and work in friendship in the time of COVID-19. A practice that sustains our commitment to engage with each other’s work, even when the present crisis makes it impossible to ignore the structural, racialized, and gendered violence that affects Black, Indigenous, and people of color disproportionately. We watched tragedy unfold in real-time and dealt with uncertainty over employment, relationships, and physical and mental health. Feeling stress and anxious, the endless “what-ifs” and worst-case scenarios consumed our daily life in 2020. While finding ways to adjust during the pandemic and continue academic “productivity,” we connect with each other to check-in and identify our needs (from a distance, we collectively share what we can control: where to get hand sanitizers and gloves, how to make masks, and tips to work and teach virturally). We listen to each other even when we need to pause in our conversations. And we suggest YouTube videos of puppies and cats to deal with insomnia or excessive worries. How do we find the motivation to work when we are tired, scared, sad, and socially isolated? How do we write and maintain research during these unsettling times? Writing in the time of COVID-19 means we see value in elements of laziness and slowing down, even when we know the conditions set forth by the neoliberal university measure productivity in the numbers of papers published. As The Nap Ministry reminds us, “Rest is a form of resistance because it disrupts and pushes back against capitalism and white supremacy.”
In a conversation between Céline Condorelli and Avery Gordon, Condorelli explains that “working in friendship” is a relationship wherein “one of the main things being developed is the friendship itself, a form of life that cannot be totally capitalized upon and is therefore slightly in excess of the work as we know it.” Gordon responds that “working in friendship also produces the friendship” and that “working in friendship could be a way to work outside of productivity demands.” Our particular formation draws on a decade plus of friendship scaffolded by collective memory, intellectual exchange, and writing collaborations that allows for these moments of respite that tie us together beyond the university. Much of what we have built together in the past year is reminiscent of these conversations. Our practice emerged from the materiality of the conditions in which we work. As untenured faculty, much of our days focus on teaching, service committee meetings, and other university labor even as our jobs often depend upon the production of individual scholarship. In the past year, we have carved time to write alongside each other, to think out loud, to finish old projects, and imagine new ones. Yet, this practice was also a response to a pandemic that aggravated the conditions of our work. In this way, our time together has also allowed us to be with each other during periods of distance and isolation. It helps us generate intermittent time-spaces of non-productivity that remind us of the importance of developing different relationships to the university.
In our research and activist pursuits, we also happen to push up against contexts of empire, militarism, authoritarianism, Southeast Asia and the Philippine Islands as part of shared commitments to the interdisciplinary field of American Studies. Pre-pandemic these aspects of our work and camaraderie were cultivated through lovingly shared in-person meals, at conferences, and in both virtual and online “dates” to write when separated by physical distance. Amidst the pandemic, like for many, affirmations of our shared commitments have fueled a desire to preserve and adapt the aspects that can continue to work. Logistically, this has meant intentionally carving out pockets of time on Zoom twice a week for 2 hours each, that we pre-agree to each semester or quarter. At times, this means alternating between “saying no” and “saying yes” to different types of labor while everyone we know is dealing with burnout and wildly overblown work schedules in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, political unrest, and emboldened white masculinist supremacy. We set up goals each term. We begin each session with our cameras on, an earnest “hello and how are you” check in, and share what we are working on for the day or the week more broadly. We keep our cameras on throughout the session, leaving our respective work spaces for bio breaks as needed, and return to see each other’s faces sitting “across” the table. When our timers ding one of us usually says “Hey, how did it go?” Rinse. Repeat. On more somber days throughout this time, we acknowledge when the “hello and how are you” needs more time. In this moment it seems imperative to safely “commune” when and where we can and honor the rituals of writing and rest. “Working in Friendship,” then, is a practice of care, respect, and enjoyment of each other.