What You Know ‘Bout That Burnout Life?

“Yeah, so I don’t know. I guess they found me on Instagram and thought I would be a good fit for this topic. I mean, I am an LMFT when I’m not doing the whole yoga instructor/influencer thing so…” 

“And you’d never written anything before?” asked the blasé interviewer, a mid-30s ginger who patently seemed to be talking to this woman solely because he was told to by whatever small local rag employed him. 

She confirmed, “No, never. It was a super interesting exercise.”

Evidently, whoever her agent or manager was didn’t inform her that calling writing a “super interesting exercise” might invoke the torches and pitchforks of actual writers who spent their whole lives trying to gain enough notice to get some kind of book deal. Even if only from a minuscule press that could barely afford to pay the author any of the money earned from the scant few copies they could sell. Or shit, even just getting an essay in some esoteric print magazine. But this woman, this “writer,” seemed to be getting all the stops pulled out for her, regardless of how small the press in question might have been. That much was indicated not just by the interviewer’s presence, but the fact that there was also a photographer named Lisa clicking away in that annoying old school fashion where the shutter goes off a mile a minute. As though this LMFT/yoga instructor/influencer-turned-“writer extraordinaire” was the most important person in town. 

Lisa was a tall, blonde woman who looked as though she could have been in front of the camera instead, but, as was the case with “hot people” today, she likely took this on as a cute little pastime to prove, in some way, how well-rounded her “talents” were. Or maybe she was a friend of Sarah’s, asked to perform this petite favor as a means to solidify Sarah’s Importance with a capital I. Sarah Morton. That was her generic name. That was the kind of name that lands a book deal, thought Ione Kapadopolous as she increasingly lost concentration in the corner chair she had commandeered in the once quiet bookshop. But no, Sarah (or her handlers) seemed to think this would be the perfect place to conduct a Serious Interview. The kind of interview and photo session that was sure to indicate to anyone reading the article that Sarah was a Legitimate Writer. Just look at all the accoutrements—the tableau to prove it. What more evidence could be needed? Certainly not, oh, authority or even “decent” writing itself. Whoever had “scouted” her by the amount of followers she had and the “correct” hashtags implemented had decided that was all the evidence needed. And they weren’t wrong. This was what the twenty-first century realm of “writing” had digressed to. There were, of course, the people who loved to defend the devolution. To say that all they were doing was making reading more palatable to those minds who had never known a world without screens. And that we needed to perform this sort of “candy for the kids” method of promotion (not to mention a dumbing down of content) in order to keep the medium alive at all. 

Ione wanted to scream that this so-called “method” was precisely what was decimating any final trace of the pure written word. The kind that wasn’t written solely for the benefit of “marketability” and, worse still, “Instagramabiliy” (ah yes, and then there was TikTokability as well). But here Sarah Morton was, prattling on about how she was qualified to tell others how to cope with burnout. From her perch in this small seaside California town. She was so blissfully unaware of how unfamiliar she actually was with the topic of burnout that she had the gall to freely admit to her interviewer. “Yeah, so I spend half my time here and the the other half in New York.” The interviewer arched his brow and returned, “Oh. So that’s how you cope with burnout.” She tittered. “I guess that’s one way, yeah.” Her glimmer of rightful shame was quick to melt away, however, when she proceeded to discuss that it was one of the topics that came up most during her counseling sessions (mostly done via “telehealth” even before the pandemic hit), and that she felt she had been able to assist many people in dealing with the all-too-common issue in this overly “always on” era. 

The interviewer, who was ostensibly less tapped into the matrix than she was, appeared to be growing wary of her claims. Ironically, you might say he was suffering from burnout himself as a result of this entire affair, since we classify the phenomenon as not only related to workplace trauma, but as “a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” He might have been wondering when this would all be over so that he could get back to writing his own book that would never be published, just as Ione was trying to do in the corner while Lisa clicked away on her goddamn camera without so much as an apology to Ione for very blatantly infecting her space. 

She thought about leaving but refused. That was precisely what they wanted—all while not even registering someone like Ione on the Richter scale of existence. They wanted her to fade out fully. It would allow them to never be reminded at all of a time when there was such a thing as “real writers.” In the present, everyone was a writer, and it made it icky for them to think about an era when writing was something you didn’t merely fall into, but were born with the inclination toward. Now, it was just another aspect of “good marketing.” Ione suddenly got the urge to vomit as Sarah Morton continued to discuss the endemic nature of burnout in America. Meanwhile, she would probably go soak herself in her private outdoor hot tub after this. That surely must help with all the burnout. Ione, in contrast, would likely sob at the bus stop while she waited for the “chariot” that would never come—or if it did, would be at least twenty minutes behind schedule. 

Ione really wanted to believe the interview would end soon. But it felt as though they had already been there an hour, with no signs of Sarah Morton letting up on her candid discussion about nothing. The entire reason Ione had come here—to work on her own “little project” a.k.a. a writing endeavor that would never be read—had been utterly foiled. A brief break in Sarah Morton’s motor-mouthing activity led Ione to believe it was over. The ceaseless conversation that could’ve been summed up with the one-sentence quote from Sarah Morton touting, “I’m awesome.” But no, it was not actually over. It was just a pause for Sarah Morton to get some coffee (complimentary, of course—this was such “great publicity” for the bookstore, after all) from the small outpost in the corner of the shop. It also gave Lisa a chance to take more photos, both “candid” and posed.

Sarah Morton couldn’t even be bothered to feign some sense of embarrassment. Not just for monopolizing and distracting the entire place, but for her gall in making the assertion that she was a writer merely because she was published by some entity with “capital.” That was another word Sarah Morton liked to use a lot. But as far as Ione knew, people who suffered from burnout did not themselves have a lot of “capital.” That was part of why they were burned out. Why they were: Burning At Both Ends. Yes, that was what Sarah Morton’s publisher had advised her to call the book (and no, she wasn’t shy about admitting she didn’t come up with it). 

When Sarah Morton sat down again, in that dainty way that only wisps or holograms of people can, Ione decided she couldn’t take it anymore. She was going to leave. She had been chased out, at last—a literal conclusion to mirror how all actual writers had been metaphorically chased out of writing (as an “industry”) by the non-ones. The ones who thought, “Oh sure, I’ll take a crack at it. How hard could it be?” Turned out, not very. Not for the likes of them, so effortlessly plugged into the matrix. The more plugged in you were, in fact, the less likely were you to suffer from burnout. So it was that as Ione exited the store, she shouted at Sarah Morton, “What you know ‘bout that burnout life?”

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