I imagine this title will turn a lot of people off since we are living through a global pandemic, a labor revolution, witnessing the collapse of Western democracy, etc. etc. etc. Everyone has experienced loss, burnout, exhaustion and cynicism this year. However as the saying goes, although we are all in the same storm, we’re in different boats. This one goes out to those of us who are in boats with adequate provisions and a below-deck shelter – idk? I don’t know anything about what makes a boat good. I’m not a hot ship nerd. One of the primary objectives for Museum Drip is to learn to balance fighting for change and imagining better with being grateful for what is good. I am able to work on this, because I am in a secure boat.
Because I am in a secure boat, it seems like a waste of time for me to do anything but move forward. During one of my more taxing months of this year, when I enlisted my mom to throw me a pity party and was describing a failure at work, she told me I was like Leslie Knope.
I talk a lot about imagining an otherwise, so while Leslie Knope is obviously not someone to strive to be like in real life, she presents a fictional ideal that can serve as inspiration. As we move towards museums unionizing and workers standing up for their rights across many industries, we are talking a lot about boundaries. Often there is a divide between older and younger workers when it comes to willingness to prioritize work over personal life and I love that we are reclaiming our autonomy as people rather than cogs in a machine. My controversial take for today, though, is that I feel that those of us who get a satisfying sense of purpose from their work are being robbed of a Knope-ish love for the work when we are bound up in this conflict. That’s why I am patting myself on the back this year – because it would feel good to remember how it feels to be satisfied with the work.
My biggest challenge this year has been looking for the good and trying to figure out how to move forward productively instead of allowing myself to become recalcitrant. (Which, not to brag, but I am REALLY good at being recalcitrant.) I can be very cynical about people sharing their accomplishments because I’ve encountered too many professionals who expertly craft their elevator pitch and CV with statistics and jargon to advance their careers, but don’t have any heart. But just like it isn’t fair to let boundary-setting and fair work expectations take away all of our sense of pride and enjoyment in our work, it isn’t fair to let power-hungry, self-centered colleagues take away celebrating our accomplishments.
Plus y’all told me on Instagram you were down with end of the year round ups. So here goes!
In 2021 I….:
- Launched and co-facilitated a virtual, Slow-Art style wellness program. This took place in the early months of the year pre-vaccinations when isolation was still the name of the game, and the conversations were really meaningful and moving
- Spearheaded an initiative to create a cohesive, funded arts internship program in my region
- Managed a fully-virtual lecture series with dope speakers, and refused to compromise on featuring a young Black woman over an older, established candidate
- Wrote a fun, silly blog post and created the Museum Nerd Quiz which earned my page nearly 7,500 views in the month of April!!!!
- Participated in a community-wide initiative to recognize MMIW (which spurred the Leslie Knope comment due to many, many challenges)
- Had a friend create a super dope logo for Museum Drip so I could feel professional! (and one day make merch, we hope!)
- Collaboratively curated an INCREDIBLE immersive, interactive children’s exhibit with local artists and spent a very long week assisting with install, trying to hide my fear of power tools
- Learned how to make reels, created and posted half a dozen and increased my profile views, despite saying earlier in the year that I refused to learn new social media (#old)
- Had a very special opportunity to give a tour of the museum I work at to Not Your Momma’s History creator Cheyney Knight and her team and get to talk museum field transformation with people who are equally entrenched.
- Traveled for day job work again! Visited museums through the lens of Museum Drip for the first time! Visited two museums in one day again! She’s still got it
- Created & taught a 5-week (but really 10 week) course on American Art History. You all know this because I whined about it on Instagram a lot. It took a very long time.
- Helped revamp our exhibition process by advocating for a new standing meeting (the source of much crying because people don’t like change)
- Been instrumental in creating and participating in my institution’s DEI committee and initiatives, including attending monthly 3-hour workshops, leading reading group meetings, and learning how to manage the unhappy feelings that come along with this without giving up on it completely
- Was featured on EID Coaching’s blog!
- Applied and interviewed for a job outside of the museum field
- Learned how to create an audio tour and managed a grant-funded audio tour project including 6 writers and 4 narrators
- Advocated for and successfully received a part-time support position that will be hired at a living wage!
- I’m also planning a wedding, baked a fabulous rainbow pinata cake for my niece and nephew, continued to prioritize my friends and family, went back to being long distance from my partner, kept up on my physical health with doctor’s appointments and “graduated” (for now) from mental health counseling
Of course this is between all the day to day things and yes, I cried and told my supervisor that I had absolutely too much on my plate many times. But what I found this year is that things that might have been a breaking point for me in the past, like discovering our gallery guide binder empty because some weirdo took all the pages out and threw them away, were more of a shrug it off and chuckle scenario.
And the ones that were really bad, like our MMIW dresses being stolen by another weird character after they were first battered by one of those insane rain/wind storms, or the interpersonal conflicts that left me feeling worthless? For those, I channeled Leslie Knope after losing her first run for city council. And that’s the most important thing about today’s essay: you are 100% allowed to feel angry, sad, disappointed, and wallow in those feelings and lean on coping mechanisms, even when being optimistic and counting your blessings. You’re allowed to tell your supervisors that your workload is untenable and speak out when things are unfair. You’re allowed to push your hair washing day a little too far and still show up to work. This is what stops us from tipping over into toxic positivity which absolutely no one has time for.
I asked you guys on Instagram if you were in a position to feel proud this year or just glad you survived and the answer was pretty evenly split, which really feels about right to me. The best pieces of advice I got this year were to 1. Stop writing massive things like “make Art History course” on my to-do list and break things into manageable chunks and 2. Celebrate small wins. Last year I wrapped up the year by talking big-picture about what we learned in the field and this year, I think we owe it to ourselves to focus in on what we learned about ourselves. There’s a reason why I’m constantly collaborating with and talking about Watered Grass (I mean, besides that she’s one of my dearest and best friends). It’s because I actually believe that art, museums, choice-based learning and exploring collective history are healing and essential to being human, so I think mental health & museums are intertwined. (But y’all know I think literally everything and museums are intertwined. That’s kind of the whole deal.)
Because I’m cynical by nature, it’s my first time learning that listing accomplishments is a way to manage burnout. I think it always seemed to me that if you bragged about your accomplishments, people would be inclined to give you more work, which is the last thing you want if you are burned out. But here I think it’s useful for me to remember one of my all-time favorite Parks & Rec quotes – not from Leslie, but from Ron – “Don’t go chasing applause and acclaim. That way lies madness.” We’re only able to control what we put out into the world and how we react to what comes to us, nothing else. And while I’m in a secure boat, I can do my best to do work that makes me proud of myself and aligns with my own values. Applause is nice. 7,500 views on your website in one month is nice. But being able to be open, stubbornly optimistic and feel pride in things I care about? That’s the best.
All this being said…I still think I did ENOUGH in 2021 and will not be setting goals in 2022. Holla if you hear me.