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The Granada Chronicles: The allure of physical, psychological and emotional restoration in Spain

"she's strong, but she's tired."

- r.h. Sin


I am tired. I remember the first time I saw the quote above. It was in an Instagram post, attached to a photo of a black woman. I tried to search for that photo, but I wasn't able to find it to describe it to you.


I imagine we are all tired. The past couple of years have not been easy. For me personally, graduate school was tough. Functioning as the pandemic rages on is tough. Trying to re-establish a life amid the tumult of monumental change on a personal and global scale is tough. I currently have a friend in Granada, and I have definitely been guilty of living vicariously through that friend because traveling is not a possibility for me at this moment in time. And, being me, I had to think about why that might be. What does Granada have that New York City does not? One of those things, in my years-long relationship with Granada, and with Spain in general, is simply a better balance. I don't even want to call it a work-life balance. Just balance. It is still a fantastical idea for many that a person would not live to work. There are ideas, which I strongly believe are rooted in the States' slaving history, that if a person is not constantly working, then they are lazy and present a danger on various levels. Not being productive is shameful. God forbid you should not be constantly adding value to a person, organization, institution, group, or what have you through constant doing. As if we existed simply to enrich others. Don't get me wrong: I love nourishing relationships, but people are not for pure consumption.


This year, 2021, has been one in which I have repeatedly asked myself why I overwork. In years past, it was almost as if I preferred it. It seemed like a ticket to greater prosperity. And, given the field that I was working in, there didn't seem to be an alternative. Add to that the fact that I was a freelancer and was never sure when the next assignment would find me, overwork was a necessary evil to ensure my survival in a really expensive, and often unforgiving, city. But this year, I really started to look at the why behind my particular brand of overwork. Thinking in terms of intergenerational trauma, I really saw my parents for the first time. Growing up, why would they get so upset at us children when we would take a nap or sit down for too long? I realized that it had been passed down to us that resting was dangerous. In certain places, at certain times, it really was a life-threatening situation to be caught not working. And while that may no longer be the current reality for either me or my family, we still live as if it were.


The year 2021 was the year that I learned about "the burnout business model". In fact, I got to live it in real time and finally see it for what it is. In "Is burnout the best business model?" Christina Maslach, professor emerita of psychology and burnout researcher, talks about "organizations like Amazon that cultivate a start-up work environment because start-ups are supposed to be short-term, with the possibility of substantial pay-off for all who get in at the earliest stages. Personal-life and health sacrifices are also believed to be short-term. The excitement and adrenaline rush that come with a gung-ho and 'whatever it takes' culture appeal to workers who are convinced they are working for something great. But when the sprint turns into a marathon, long-term stress, physical exhaustion, sleep deprivation, disruptions of family life, and burnout are likely, debilitating consequences. These problems typically show up years later. There is no immediate feedback in the short-term, so workers persevere in this work environment because they don't realize what the health and psychological consequences are going to be."


In my case this looked like starting out as an intern at a well-known and well-respected organization with a great public relations department, happy and grateful for training and eventually happy and grateful to be asked to take on an ever-greater load of responsibility until the point where I, an intern, was training the paid professionals in the environment to take on work that I had been doing for free for a year. By the end of that internship, with a job offer on the table, I said no because I was already burned out, and I learned that that was the model: burning out the interns; the "best and the brightest" would make it through that crucial period and soldier on for the organization, usually burning out even further after a year and finally calling it quits and seeking work elsewhere. But having participated in the training of that year's interns, they had basically trained their replacements, and the cycle of burnout could continue without the organization having to take stock of how its business model was creating a culture of destruction.


The year 2021 has been the year where I have repeatedly tried to say no to overwork. There was the above situation and another in which a friend described the sudden death of a co-worker, probably due to overwork and its attendant stresses. I started to look at my own life and I thought "why? why am I doing this? what is the point?" "What for?" became my go-to question. "What am I doing this for?" "Because this is the way I've always done it" was no longer an acceptable answer.

So, this morning I had Granada on my mind because that is the place where I learned to sloooooooooow down. It was not easy to do that. With each trip, the psychological and physical shift took work, but the slowed pace was beneficial. Suddenly my life was open to many things. I still did work to earn money in most cases, especially if I was there for the length of my allotted visa, and I would dance for hours a day, but there was still time to enjoy life, and enjoyment felt accessible. Joy does not take much in Granada, and it does not ask for much. In my opinion, joy shouldn't require $200 per head to "pass go", and I lament the inescapable capitalist exploitation that consumes us through and through.


So I guess in these difficult times, when social safety nets have been gutted and support lacking in spite of the extraordinariness of the suffering all around, my dreaming of Granada is not merely escapist. In fact, I don't think it ever has been; it has been a telling coping skill. What I had been trying to get away from all this time was unbearable stress, unhuman productivity requirements, re-slaving, no sleep, deadlines. I was turning away from society's tendency to turn me into a consumable asset, away from my humanity. In Granada I always go back to being human, in all its feeling complexity. There, away from the clock, I rediscover the needs of a human, including companionship, community, good food – moving away from chaotic unconscious behaviors. In Granada, like with Flamenco, I can hear myself. Sometimes the voice is a disturbing roar for having been ignored for so long. The real question at this point is why I continue to oscillate between a life that drains and one that restores.


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So beautifully written, articulated, and highly relatable in my case. Thank you for sharing. I agree, Granada can be more than an escape or state of mind, it can be, at the very least, inspiration to help us imagine a better way, a better model of living and socializing. Granada is far from perfect but it has a lot to teach a modern world struggling to be connected (in the real way), healthy (in all the ways), and sustainable.

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Pájaro negro
Pájaro negro
Nov 28, 2021
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Thank you for reading and taking the time to respond! I agree with you and would love to connect when I'm next in Granada!

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