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Museopunks Episode 20: An Ode to Self-Care

Category: Health

Episode 20: An Ode to Self-Care

Progressive museum work, particularly when focussed around community engagement, is often a form of emotion work that demands emotional labor. Museum professionals who are deeply engaged with the challenges of changing their institutions, negotiating a volatile political climate, or facilitating community work, can experience compassion fatigue, secondary traumatic stress, and burnout. So how can museum professionals look after themselves, in order to better care for their communities and colleagues?

In this episode, the Punks investigate the role of self-care in museum practice. Although the concept is often co-opted by marketing professionals as a kind of balm against open-ended anxiety, self-care first came to prominence alongside the rise of the women’s movement and the civil rights movement as radical, political act; a reclaiming of the body against a system that suggested it lacked value. Today, these ideas continue to resonate.


Seema Rao

Photo of Seema RaoSeema Rao is the Principal and CEO of Brilliant Idea Studio (BIS) helping museums, non-profits, and libraries bring their best ideas to light. BIS specializes in content development and strategy; change facilitation; and inclusive community building. With nearly 20 years of museum experience, Ms. Rao has extensive experience in interpretation and programming from leading content development for all audiences. She used many of these teaching and drawing skills to facilitate mean-making experiences in her recently published book, Self-care for #TheResistance: A Workbook for The Socially Conscious and/ or Stressed, available through Amazon. She is currently working on a follow-up book focused on self-care for Museum workers. Seema tweets @artlust.

Beck Tench

Photo of Beck TenchBeck Tench was formally trained as a designer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication and has spent her career helping people and organizations of all types embrace risk-taking, creativity, and change through technology and personal space-making. Her work has been mentioned in the New York Times, National Public Radio, Scientific American, and several books and blogs. Some of her favorite work was done in partnership with the Museum of Life and Science, Exploratorium, Michigan State University, Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, and Illinois State Library. In 2016, Beck began her studies as a PhD student at the University of Washington’s Information School, where she researches contemplative practice and information science.

Check out Beck’s website, or connect with her on Twitter.

Show Notes

Jeff’s new puppy, Buddy | Instagram

Museopunks Stickers!

Royal Ontario Museum’s T-Rex Teddy on Tinder

No App Required: Toward a Utilitarian Museum Mobile Experience

Brilliant Idea Studio

The Self-Care Guide for #TheResistance

Museopunks @ MCN2013: Communication Breakdown w/ Beck Tench

Mindfulness, Intention and Museums – CODE | WORDS: An Series of Epistolary Romances

Beck’s contemplative practice Slack experiment

We’d love to hear from you! How do you refocus and recenter when emotionally or physically exhausted? Hit us up on Twitter and share your best solutions with us.

Never miss an episode! Subscribe to Museopunks on iTunes or Stitcher

Read the Transcript

Suse Anderson: I’m gonna mute myself and go feed a cat.

Jeffrey Inscho: So, uh, did I tell you that I got um, that I, we got a new dog?

Suse: Ah, yeah, you did.

Jeffrey: And so, today’s his first day at doggie daycare. We’re trying it out ’cause we’re going on vacation this summer, and uh, they, the place that we take him has this uh, service, I guess, you can … This website you can go and watch like, the cam, on camera. (laughs)

Suse: Oh, that’s amazing.

Jeffrey: So I have like a tab open. I’m constantly just watching. Is Buddy okay? Is Buddy okay?

Suse: (laughs)

Jeffrey: (laughs)

Suse: That’s fantastic.

Jeffrey: Yeah. How’s you, how’s your cat doing?

Suse: (laughs) Ah, you know what, he really likes the house we moved into. ‘Cause now he … We moved into this spot, it’s got this amazing little courtyard in … Like in between all of the apartments and it attracts birds. So, he’s really excited ’cause he just gets to lay there all day and just watch birds.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Suse: It’s the, he’s the happiest he’s ever been.

Jeffrey: Cool. Pets are, pets are awesome.

Suse: (laughs)

Jeffrey: So, anyway we’re, we’re here. Suse, how you doing?

Suse: Good Jeff. How are you doing?

Jeffrey: I’m doing pretty, pretty well. Um, this is, uh, episode 20. Big uh, big milestone for us.

Suse: Hey, congratulations.

Jeffrey: Yeah, congratulations.

Suse: (laughs)

Jeffrey: We’re out of our teenage years and into, into our, uh, into our 20s, which uh, as anyone can say is a, probably a, a great time of life. (laughs)

Suse: Absolutely. Time for maturation.

Jeffrey: Right, right, right.

Suse: (laughs)

Jeffrey: Cool, so we have any, uh, any followup from the feed, from the last episode? I mean I think feedback’s been pretty awesome. Um, thanks everybody for listening.

Suse: Yeah, it’s been so nice. We, ah, I think people who follow us on Twitter would assume we put a call out for anyone who wanted a Museopunks sticker.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Suse: And we had so many people contact us. And a few people have started sending back photographs of them using their stickers on their laptops and things, which is so nice.

Jeffrey: Yeah, that’s awesome. Thanks to American Alliance of Museums for hooking us up with those stickers. We do have some more, um, and we have some shipments going out at intervals, so … I guess if anybody wants a sticker, just uh, shoot us a note on Twitter @museopunks and we’ll make sure to get, get one out to you. But, I think we should probably do something for like the most creative display.

Suse: (laughs) I like it.

Jeffrey: That’s not like vandalism, right. (laughs)

Suse: (laughs) I, I think that’s a great idea. So, uh, yeah, send us your photos and uh, if you don’t happen to have Twitter, that’s okay. We, there are gonna be other ways to contact us, I’m sure. Jeff, can people email us at Museopunks?

Jeffrey: Uh, they, they … When this airs they will be able to. So yes, we’ll set up something. Uh, just email

Suse: Fantastic.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Suse: Yes. (laughs)

Jeffrey: Um.

Suse: So what have you been up to for the last few weeks since we, since we started this show and since we last spoke?

Jeffrey: I’ve just been kind of checking out dinosaurs on Tinder really. (laughs)

Suse: (laughs)

Jeffrey: Really. Um, yeah, I don’t … No, um, things have been really busy. We’ve um, at work we’re, we’re working on this chat bot project which is pretty cool. Um, kind of breaking the mobile experience out of an app and into system level, um, um, functionality of, on our devices. So, it’s a year long project that we just kicked off. We’re really excited about it.

Suse: Yeah, and you’ve been doing some research into chat bots and things, haven’t you?

Jeffrey: Well, yeah, and it’s interesting ’cause the, the whole project um, is supported by the Knight Foundation and they supported a year of research, development, um, human-centered design. So, we’re starting right from the top, right. So we did um, we’re doing literature reviews. We’re doing kind of landscape analysis, and we’re doing um, you know, field studies of what our visitors actually want, right? (laughs) That’s one of those things that um, sometimes we don’t have time for. But, um, this project is nice ’cause it builds all that into it. So we’re taking uh, the first couple weeks, um, to, to really kind of dive deep into those things, yeah. Fortunate, yeah.

Suse: That’s … Really, really interesting. I think it might be something that we should revisit over the next coming months sort of what you’re finding out from that research. ‘Cause I think there is still this space for, for us to investigate further things like chat bots and how they work and what that response is, um, to a visitor, and those sorts of things. So, I’d love to hear more about this project as it, as it starts to come together.

Jeffrey: Yeah, definitely. We’re gonna be kind of documenting the process in real time. So, happy to chat about all that. How about you? The semesters have done, right?

Suse: Semester is done. Uh, you know what, I … So, this might seem very strange.

Jeffrey: Are you just all like margaritas and bon bons this summer then? (laughs)

Suse: (laughs) Ba, basically. I mean more mocktails than cocktails, but sure. (laughs)

Jeffrey: Right, right. Oh that’s right, yeah, yeah, yeah. No, no margaritas for you.

Suse: No margaritas for me. No, you know, one of the nicest things. I had never been through a graduation with my own students. This was the first time I went through that. And something that might seem really weird since I have been to university so much myself is I avoided all of my own graduations. Um, I’m not quite sure what it is. I just have always found this certain awkwardness in graduating. And so, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel having to sort of be on stage and watch my, my students graduate. And I cannot tell you how moving it is to see people have reached a point of accomplishment and uh, to really know your students and to have seen their journeys through learning. And then actually be able to see them graduate. I, I was really shocked by how meaningful it was for me seeing, yeah, seeing my students actually-

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Suse: All graduate.

Jeffrey: I, you know, I can only imagine, you know just kind of having invested that much time and that much um, you know, um, uh, just dedication to, to seeing them through and seeing their progress, and then that final kind of like culmination point I’m sure has to be, um, uh, moving for them and, and you as kind of the one who is their, been their fearless leader. Or one of their fearless leaders.

Suse: (laughs) One, one of many. But yeah, I think I was really surprised by how, uh, impactful. How, how well you really do get to know students when you are working with them full time.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Suse: It’s quite different from other times that I had taught, where I’d really had a lot, uh, different level of investment. And then seeing that go through. And it really got me thinking, in fact, about today’s topic we’re talking a lot about self-care, that I was thinking about community care and the role of, role of mentors.

Jeffrey: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse: And how much, uh, having a group of peers or a, a group of colleagues or, you know, the, the importance of the communities that you surround yourself with, and how much that makes a difference when we’re starting to talk about things like self-care and just, (sighs) valuing yourself as well as your colleagues and your communities. And how, how much of a difference that makes in your, in your world.

Jeffrey: Yeah. So, you know, self-care is something that is very important and I’m really excited to kind of dive into that, um, this episode. But, I’m wondering Suse, do you, I mean, we all get overwhelmed. And I’m wondering if you have any, um, methods for kind of dealing with that, um, you know. We, we get overwhelmed with work or family or, um, you know, commitments, over-commitments sometimes. I’m just wondering if you have any ways that you personally kind of, uh, deal with that?

Suse: Yeah, so, many years ago, about a decade ago I got so overwhelmed that I effectively had a, a little breakdown.

Jeffrey: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse: I could not cope with anything. And it was, I think the first significant time that I had really understood um, what can happen to you physically, mentally, emotionally when everything builds up and you have not been making time and space for yourself. And when you have not been prioritizing what you need. Uh, that was the greatest thing to happen to me professionally in some ways. ‘Cause it made me much more aware of what, what my endpoints are.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Suse: So I think, the biggest thing that I do now is just pay much more attention when I can start to feel those, um, the warning signs that hey.

Jeffrey: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse: I’ve gotta stop saying no to things. You have to stop uh, adding things to what you’re doing. So, so, saying no has become, uh, I think the biggest thing for me. But it’s not something I do naturally or easily. It’s something I do once I start already pushing those, those boundaries.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Suse: What about yourself?

Jeffrey: Yeah, I um, you know. Something over, over-commitment is something that I struggle with, um. You know especially I think kind of working in the areas of technology and innovation, um, you know, it’s so fast. It’s so, moves so fast that I feel like you know, constantly have to stay up to date and constantly have to pay attention, and.

Suse: Yeah.

Jeffrey: Um, it’s part of what I love about it. But, it’s also part of what contributes to, um, being over, becoming overwhelmed really quickly. Um. And I also think that you know, you, you and I and many of the people listening work in this space. Museums or non-profits, libraries, whatever, because we’re passionate about them.

Suse: Yeah.

Jeffrey: Because we believe in them. And so, um, we tend to go that extra mile for them. Um, which is again, part of you know, why we do this. Right. But, um, the, their, a, you know. I, I definitely struggle with, with going the extra mile and, and being kind of over-committed overwhelmed, and so some of the things that I do, um, on a tactical level to kind of like reset myself you know. I, I, I step away from the computer. (laughs)

Suse: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Jeffrey: You know, I move away from screens a lot. Um, you know, phone, I put the phone down. Sometimes I want to throw my phone in the ocean.

Suse: (laughs)

Jeffrey: Play guit, I play guitar. I, uh, you know, go out in the yard with the kids. Walk the dog, um. You know, that type of kind of just stepping away from the environment. Um, the, the, the digital environment, the screen based environment, does a lot for me. Uh.

Suse: Yeah. I definitely understand that. I think there are some, a number of times when I would really like to step away from social media.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Suse: But as someone who teaches on that, I don’t feel that I can.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Suse: And so there’s these, there’s these tensions that I think we’re constantly fighting against. One thing, uh, being pregnant has actually made me much better with my self-care. It turns out that knowing that my self-care is going to directly impact the health of someone else.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Suse: Has really, significantly changed how, uh, how I eat, how deliberate I am with, um.

Jeffrey: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse: You know, things like taking vitamins and really sort of simple things. But their things that you, I certainly don’t prioritize for myself, uh, a lot of the time. And now, I have a reason to do that. And it has definitely helped sort of overall. And it’s been, it’s been such an interesting, uh, experience for me.

Jeffrey: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse: To be putting someone else first in looking after my own self.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Suse: But actually to have that have a real impact.

Jeffrey: Yeah, yeah. That’s an interesting take on self-care. You know, it’s self, it’s self care for like the next couple months. (laughs)

Suse: (laughs) Yeah.

Jeffrey: Um, anyway. So we’re talking with um, some interesting people, uh, related to this topic. Um, we’re gonna talk with Seema, who is with Brilliant Ideas Studio. She has some interesting ideas around the politics of self-care. And then, we’re welcoming back, uh, Beck who, um, was a guest on Season One, uh, one of the live shows at MCN in 2013. But we’re a, we’re asking her back to dive a little bit deeper into mindfulness and intention and, and caring for, for oneself when they’re … Kind of potentially overwhelmed or, or over-committed.

Suse: Seema is the principle and CEO of Brilliant Ideas Studio, helping museums, non-profits and libraries bring their best ideas to light. Brilliant Ideas Studio specializes in content development and strategy, change facilitation and inclusive community building. With nearly 20 years of museum experience M. Rao has extensive experience in interpretation and programming for leading content development for all audiences. She’s used many of these teaching and drawing skills to facilitate meaning-making experiences. In her recently published book, Self-Care for the Resistance, a Workbook for the Socially Conscious and/or Stressed, available now through Amazon. And she’s currently working on a followup book focused on self-care for museum workers. Seema, welcome to Museopunks.

Seema Rao: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Suse: It is so, so great to have you hear. So, we’re talking today about self-care. But, if we’re going to discuss this big topic, we should probably start with a, a bit of a definition. What is self-care? What do we mean by this term, and how do we practice it?

Seema: So, I think it’s an interesting question, um, because it should be defined by your self. So, you, you might have a different definition in self-care. Part of it is knowing what makes you feel like you’re a little, feeling a little bit better. So, I, um, might have a very definition, very different definition than the both of you. I would guess if I asked you right now what makes you feel a little bit rejuvenated, each of the three of us would have a different definition.

Jeffrey: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Seema: Um, and so, for, for me in the book I was sort of, and in all the writing I’ve been doing, in all the things I’ve been thinking about, um, particularly it came out of my own stress, uh, I guess since November. During political seasons, I’ve always been really political. I had to figure out what it meant to make me feel better. And so not, um, and my definition is, for example, different than my husband’s. You know, I might really enjoy reading. And for me that is, that’s what it is. So, both of us looked internally. I guess self-care, a good definition would be, you look internally. You think a little about what you think makes you feel better. You try it. Um, and then, then you try it again. And as you get, um, better at being able to check your emotions and understand how you feel, then you yourself build your best definition of it.

I don’t know does that make sense? Am I sort of talking around it?

Jeffrey: Yeah, no. I, I think it does. Um, Seema. So, how, how do you realize or identify when, when you’re in fact in need of self-care?

Seema: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I would say, um … So, I was raised a Hindu, and I don’t usually think a lot about faith. But one of the things that, that um, that my parents used to say is that um, suffering is partly because you, you need to realize that you’re suffering. And you’re suffering because you have desire. And so, while I’m not terribly religious, I think one of the things I realized is that like, hey, I don’t feel really good, and it’s not physical. You know, like I was just constantly agitated. I couldn’t read the news. Um, my husband and I, this sort of … Actually the book grew out of this fact that my husband and I decided that we, in November, we wouldn’t listen to any media for 30 days.

Suse: Wow.

Seema: Anything. No Facebook.

Jeffrey: Yeah, yeah.

Seema: No Twitter, nothing.

Jeffrey: Wow.

Seema: And it was because we felt like our, I felt like I was gonna crack. Like, you know, and I think that, the thing about self-care, thinking about your emotions as your emotions and your physical self are so connected. And so, you often have physical manifestations to me that make me feel bad. And for some people it’s different. I mean, I, you know, we’re all different human beings. We deal with things differently. So, you just figure out if it’s either that your brain feels a little fried. I read this thing recently about self-care that involved um, this great graphic. And that, that you felt like your brain, the, um, ideas in your brain were tipping out. Like it was truly full, like a cookie, you know like a cookie jar was full. Um, and it could be that.

Or you could physically, for me it felt like I was … I felt like I was constantly holding all this stress in my um, neck and in my shoulders. So, I would say, to answer your question Jeff, you would have to answer when you feel sort of like something is off.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Suse: Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. Ah, I, I know recently I’ve been going through just some stressful things with some personal changes in my life.

Seema: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse: And it’s, I get snappy. It, it’s the time when I just know that I, suddenly don’t have room in my self to be generous anymore. And that’s where I start to notice that, oh, hang on, something is out of whack here. The, you know, the force is out of balance within me. So, I think um.

Seema: Balance is a great word. Not, sorry, not to interrupt you.

Suse: No.

Seema: It’s always hard when you can’t see the person. But, um, balance is a great word. I think it’s like when you know what your best you is, and if you’re out of balance you need to put yourself back towards your best you. So, it could be for some people exercising more. In fact, I’ve been walking the dog, and I’m not really an exercise person. But I’ve been doing that, not because I wanted exercise, but because I wanted to be outside. Because I used to be outside more. Not, and so it’s not, it wasn’t that I needed the exercise, it’s that I used to be outside more. Or whatever it is. And so it’s balance, I think that’s maybe … Self-care may be is when you take yourself to a point where you feel balanced again. Maybe that’s a good definition.

Suse: So, you were talking about how, you know, the book started to come about. And I know that a lot of the really influential work around self-care has come out of marginalized communities which consider sort of looking after the self and the body, uh, when it’s under attack from various forces as a political act. And in your own book, you do talk about this relationship between taking care of the mind and the body and honing political action. So, I’d love for you to talk a little bit more about this relationship between politics and self-care and what that meant for you. But also what it means for other people.

Seema: Um, so I think that’s a, a great question. And it’s interesting because self-care has become like a real, um, kind of buzz word right now. And I, I probably, because so many people are you know, and I’m, I was actually very careful, and I will say this even generally. When, when, when I … I used to work in a museum for, you know, almost 20 years, and I don’t personally want to take a political stance in my public work job. You know, you have, everyone has their own political stance. And so the book even doesn’t take a decision on which, you know, what politics, what things in political life are the right things. Because, again, it goes back to you defining yourself.

Um, but for me, and I think that the thing about any activist, and there’s you know, a number of great quotes by people who are activists. And I pulled a few for the book, but I have a like a whole slew of them, um, that I just sort of look at every once in a while. Anybody who wants to make a change in the world can only do it if they’re at their best. And so, for me, I realized you know, I have two young daughters, and I wanted them to raise, be raised. My family had, I grew up in a very political family for generations, and my par, my grandparents were raised during a colonial state, and so that, that …

There was always this belief that you have to make the best of the world. You have to do something good. But in order to do it, you have to basically be able to stand up. If you’re so incapable, so upset, so emotional, you won’t be able to do that. And so, in order to make the best in the world, you have to be the best you. And so that’s sort of where a lot of my ideas grew out of and, you know, like I, I’ve made sure that my daughters understand and are able to articulate the best them. That’s something that I think self-care also says. It’s not about, um, you know, jammie time on the weekends. That could be your self-care, but that’s not the only thing. You have to be able to articulate and be able to act in ways that make you feel like you’re doing the best things you should do. And for me, that happens to be political.

Um, and political in the broadest sense of things. You know, I think in some ways working in museums is a political act. Because we, we’re … Politics in that you’re making a stand for arts. And I do, that’s an important part of, you know, my beliefs that I believe in museums. I believe in cultural good. And so, to be the best at doing that, that means that I have to not be burned out and um, in fact, I think I went to, um, working in a different kind of, part of the museum world and the consultant world partly because I knew I could make a better good if I was in a better place. And that, that’s sort of how I think of it. I think of any act that you do to make the world better is political.

Jeffrey: Yeah. And hearing you talk about politics and hearing you talk about being hon, kind of open and honest about the, the buzz word.

Seema: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeffrey: Nature of, of um, self-care. Do you think that it’s recently emerged around this idea of politics. I mean, I, I, I think about after the election. Like I kind of, I like you, I took 30 days, 45 days.

Seema: Nice.

Jeffrey: And just took, tuned out, you know. Um, it, it … Does this political nature feed into, um, how self-care has become such a dominant public idea?

Seema: You know, I’m like … I’m terribly suggestible. Like, if you said to me right now, we’re not in the same room. But, if we were in the same room, and you said, you know, I have a cold. I would definitely feel like I had a cold. So, I don’t know. But I think that there is something about that. That people are very, humans are social and we’re suggestible. And I think that negativity breeds negativity. And a lot of political situations, um, you know, starting in November, but even before that. You know, the, the … There’s so much media about the election and afterwards. And I all, so I think that there was a huge number of people who felt negative.

And so, my hope is that it’s not just, you know, a buzz word, but actually that all collective, a huge number of people thought, wait a second, we’re all out of whack. And we all have to do this better. Um, so, I, I think it does grow out of it. I also think it probably grows out of other things like, um, the fact that uh, so many, there’s sort of the backlash about being, you know, on so much social media. I love social media. But then you also feel yourself isolated. And again, I think people put themselves in, trying to find balance from these factors. So, politics or social isolation. And self-care is sort of the natural growth of it because people, I …

I mean, we want, we want to be the best us, you know. And I don’t know if, it’s sort of … I’m trying to talk around it because I don’t want anyone who … I’m not answering your question kind of on purpose, um.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Seema: Because.

Jeffrey: No. No.

Seema: Because, because I don’t want people who aren’t feeling political but also feel like they need to have self-care to feel like they can’t. Because the thing about this book and about sort of in the, the sort of feeling I’ve been in since the, since about January. Since the march actually. Is that I want people to feel open arms. And for me, self-care is incredibly open. And so for me it was political. And for me, and a lot of my friends who were using these, before I put it into a book, my husband, my kids, my you know, friends. I was giving them these sheets of paper and these practices that, um, it was political for them. But somebody might come to this book and not have been political. And I don’t want them to feel like, um, then this is not for me. You know, and I’ve had people say, you know, there are people who want to opt out of politics. And I might personally not be able to do that, but I don’t want them to feel like this is not a good idea for them. Because self-care is a good idea for anybody. But, certainly if you’re somebody who’s political you’re gonna feel, um, stressed and need it. Does that answer it?

Suse: Yeah. I think that makes a lot of sense. I think one of the things that I’m hearing you saying when I, when I read about self-cares, one of the ideas … There’s often a relationship between self-care and empathy. And when I hear you.

Seema: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse: Sort of say, oh, if we were sitting in the same room, and I knew you had a cold I would feel like I had a cold. That’s sense that, um, there’s constantly a giving, uh, of ourselves to other people and one of the ideas that this starts to bring up, pref, uh, sp, specifically in a professional capacity is this idea of compassion fatigue. So this notion that you are, um, particularly if you’re doing say, work that’s community focused and you’re, you’re constantly seeking to, uh, work with others and put yourself in the position of other people. Uh, we get this, this notion, whether it’s personally or professionally, of this sort of compassion fatigue from witnessing, uh, the pain of others. From participating in the work of changing institutions. So, even when it’s not explicitly political, there is still this opportunity for exhaustion.

So, I guess, that’s then, starts to make me wonder how we care for other people and make room for the needs of others. So, it’s whether we work with them or interact with them, those in our museums and coming into our museums, even when we’re actually feeling quite exhausted.

Seema: Oh, this is such a hard question. Um, yeah, I know. And this is what I, I’ve been reading a lot of sort of the literature of empathy. I think in some ways, um, to go back to the previous question about politics. Self-care is in some ways easier. Because you are yourself. I mean, admittedly, like you could be somebody who really has a lot of denial issues and you might (laughs) have a really hard time figuring out what makes you happy. Um, or what makes you feel centered. And you know, you have to work through all those. But, you are with yourself all the time, right? So you eventually either do or don’t.

But, empathy and learning to connect to other people, and then also being able to connect to them is so much harder. Because, you know, I can, you know … I think about people who maybe you want to be empathetic to, but they have so many barriers. You know, they just are so prickly and they’re just so difficult. And you, and you know, it’s hard for some people like I would say for me. You know, we all have our personal failings. I would say for one of my personal failings is that while I try to be empathetic, sometimes I can’t be empathetic without putting it through my filter. And a lot of people, humans have this failing.

So, I don’t think I’m alone, but, you know, learning to try to um, not own other people’s grief. Not own other people’s histories. You know, we all have things that make us, whatever it is that makes, makes your family, makes you, makes your experience, um, feel somewhere in society. Maybe marginalized. Maybe you don’t feel marginalized but maybe you feel empathetic to marginalized people. Whatever it is. And so I don’t know exactly the answer. I would say though the, the one thing I’ve been sort of thinking a lot about is, where, where do send, how do you put yourself in that position? Where do you put yourself in next to that person? Do you put yourself behind them? Do you put them, yourself … Do you center yourself in the conversation? Is it all about you? Do you put yourself to the side? You know, those kinds of things that where you’re basically reflecting on your actions are a good place to start.

Um, I, I think that empathy … A lot of people think that they’re empathetic and they’re in fact sympathetic.

Jeffrey: Hearing you talk about exhaustion and you know, knowing the importance of balance on our lives … And, and I’m gonna speak generally here. But I kinda get, I kind of feel like museums are really good at, at being additive.

Suse: Yes.

Jeffrey: At adding things on on top of other things, and you know. But we can’t always do more, uh, because our resources aren’t additive. So, in, when we think about self-care, in your opinion, how can we strategically begin to start to take some things off of our plate?

Seema: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I will say that um, I don’t know that I’m wonderful at saying no. I’ve tried to teach myself that, and um, one of the things … But I, I think that the first thing you need to do is be like … Well, you have to do what I said. You have to say to yourself, okay. So this is not a strong suit. Some people are very good at saying no. And really bad at saying yes. And that’s also has its downsides. So you start by saying, okay this is where I am on the no/yes boundary situation. This is where I am on, um, deciding on where priorities are. Because I think that’s what you’re sort of talking about.

Like in a museum, every bit, if you … Especially if you’re in a big comprehensive museum, and I know that at least the three of us have worked there. You know, lots of people who are listening obviously work on that. Your audience is everybody. And if you work an institution that has the name of the city in it, then that is your audience. You know, if you think about it. Or if you have a website, then the whole world is your audience. (chuckles) You could, you could be as expansive as people in, in the world are.

And so, then what you need to do is first as a person, teach yourself, um, to try to think systematically. Like, where can you do the best? Where is it that you probably aren’t needed? Where is it that your department isn’t needed? You know. And I say this, it sounds very cavalier, right, because I have … I don’t, um. There’s probably people listening who are the lowest. You know, you’re the person who doesn’t get to make any decisions. And so then, that’s … You know, it’s easier when you can make decisions. But, actually when you’re not making decisions, it’s your self-care and your decisions matter more. I always think that institutions, um, the people who have the most face time with the visitors. You know, like visitor experience, and guards, they are actually making the experience the people know. More than any, almost, you know, even, they … The directors don’t see the visitors as much as the guards do, usually.

Jeffrey: Right, exactly.

Seema: And so, their decisions really matter. And so what they can do, for example, is um, they can say yes to having a positive moment there. They can say yes to, um, just being in the moment and not checking their email at that moment. You know, it’s sort of like instead of saying no to things, where can you say yes to? You know, it’s like a code switching. And that’s what I’ve been working a lot on, just personally, to make myself feel a little bit less out of control. And when I, when I … I just left the museum, my museum job in February. So, you know, just striving to say, well, okay I’m saying yes to this really good experience for our visitors. And no to these bad ones.

You know, like you, you just sort of trying to think, okay, it’s um … Maybe imagine a, um, uh, a scale. You know, and you’re thinking okay, well, we could have 25 mediocre experiences or five really good ones. I could say no to five really terrible things and yes to two really wonderful things. You know like as you think about your life and your choices, um, like I could have chosen to not be on this podcast. Or I could chose to be on this podcast. And for me, it was a really great choice. ‘Cause I get to talk to really, you know, I was thinking. I get to talk to two really cool people. And I get, you know, get to talk about things I really like. And so, instead of um, thinking no to something, I was thinking what is the positive and what is the negative?

Jeffrey: We’re happy you said yes, Seema.

Seema: Thank you, thank you.

Suse: (laughs)

Seema: I am too. I am too. But, I mean you know, I mean, I’m thinking you guys. I mean you guys, we all make choices. And you know, you lead people, you teach people, and you know, you, if you think about all the times you’re saying no, often. Or, and I said no, certainly. Um, every time that you’ve probably said no in a thoughtful way you probably made a really good choice. You know, like you’ve got to a certain place in your careers. You’ve obviously made a lot of good choices. I bet that the nos really came out of something very thoughtful.

Suse: Ha, it’s funny you say that. Before I mentioned that I think when, ah, the way that I know that my, uh, that I’m out of balance is that I stop being generous. I become much better at saying no at that moment. So, I think my natural impulse is to say yes to things. And yet, it’s only once I start finding myself, um, stressed and unable to imagine how I can fit this thing I’d like to say yes to into my life. That’s when I get really good at saying no, so, it, it’s funny. I’m still not sure that then my balance is correct. Um, because it’s not until I’m under pressure and under stress that I start to figure out when exactly to start saying no. So I don’t know whether I need to be more deliberate earlier or, uh, whether actually that is my way of being in balance.

Seema: But, it’s true right. Like the yes and no, it’s, it’s hard. You know, it’s hard because … It’s like and I, I’m trying to think of other analogies other than a roller coaster. But, you know, that there are so many experiences in life where if you’re paying attention to it, then you’re probably not at the best moment. Like, you know, you’re just … It’s like when you’re writing about love, or you know, you’re just … You’re not, you’re not really in it. And it’s when you’re really in it that you don’t even realize it. So, you know, like, I was saying that when you go up the roller coaster, you’re noticing you’re going up the roller coaster. When you go down you know you’re going down. But, it’s at that peak moment that you’re not paying attention. And you’re just in the moment. And that’s sort of yes and no. Like if you know that you’re saying a lot of yes, that means you’re kind of conscious.

And so self-care is a lot about it is, like the book or any of these books. And I mean I like my book, but I think there’s lots of good ways to do it. Um, but, but you know, like I’ve been um, doing different activities every day at noon, and I’ve been tweeting them, um, when they’re fun. And I think it’s like, I’m teaching myself. And so when you’re teaching yourself you’re very conscious of it.

Jeffrey: Sure.

Seema: Like you’re teaching yourself to say no or to say yes. And once you are actually doing it, you sort of not notice that you’re now good at it.

Jeffrey: Yeah. So, Seema I’ve, I know you’re working on a book about self-care specifically for museum professionals. Can you give us any tidbits there, or leave us with any top tips maybe for, uh, for museum professionals that you’ve, that you’ve, will be included in the book?

Seema: Well, um, it’s interesting. I’ve been talking to a lot of people. I’ve been doing a lot of interviews with people. I don’t know if I’m gonna be using them or not in there. I’m kinda figuring out how to do it. Just to hear about other people’s experiences, so that it’s not just all about me. Um, and so some of the things that I really like that the people were saying … And it’s in- I’m not sure how I’m gonna take this. It sort of goes back to, um, some of the things we’re talking about. That like humor, and you were saying snapping, but sarcasm is for a lot of a … I mean I talked to a lot of museum people. I’m somewhat sarcastic. You know, humor, those are the kinds of things, um, people have been sort of talking about that sarcasm is sometimes a powerful tool for humor. So that’s one thing I’m sort of thinking about.

But at the same time, it’s sort of, I’m trying to be very open to that. So, I, because I’m taking other people’s advice. I’m trying to be open to all of them, you know, empathetic and thoughtful. Um, so that’s one. A bigger thing that I’ve been working a lot about is, um, kind of taking the, the tactics of appreciative inquiry, which is one of the sort of strategies people use for, um, strategic planning for example. And it.

Jeffrey: Hmm.

Seema: What it does is it starts with and what I really like, and actually, I’m hoping to um, try it out with some people, uh, before I write the book. I’m gonna do more case studies. I’m gonna have people try these tactics. More than just me. But, so I’m hoping to try it out this upcoming month. But, um, you start by kind of diagnosing a positive core. So, in an institution what you do is you work collectively and you all talk about what’s best about your institution. And um, I’m guessing many people have been through strategic planning. Often you start with what’s wrong with your institution. Um, and so appreciative inquiry flips that.

And so I’ve been thinking a lot about this for self-care, and I’ve been trying to find x, experiences that I could um … The book it will be like my previous book in that it has drawings and it’s sort of like a workbook. It’s an active experience. So, I’m trying to figure out ways to frame this. Where you would start with your positive core. And kind of talk about what you’re best at in visual and in text and in, you know, trying different ways of getting people at, understanding what they’re good at. And then after that, then you take a path that goes through um, your goals. And then, then sort of future-casting. So, you know, if it’s good for an institution, and I did do a little bit about this, um in the first book. I asked people to write their own personal mission statement, it’s those political people.

Um, but you know, even museum people, we, we, we all have such great ambition. And my goal for the book is that you’re able … That I want people to be able to find out what’s best about themselves, um, away from just the mission. Because one of the, the reasons I wanted to write the book is that so many of us, and I would say myself included, that we often um, devalue ourselves for the mission of the institution we’re working for. And that, you know, and just in small ways. You know, like I would say to my husband you know on a Sunday. I had to work on a Sunday. The girls had music. And you know, I can’t go to their music lesson, I have to work.

Well, do I have to work? I mean you know, and … I mean have to work … I mean obviously we all have to make incomes. But I also was choosing it. And you think about all these choices that you make. And I think I want people to feel, if they have … If they want to do that that’s okay. You know, if you want to overwork, that’s your choice. Um, I want to make sure that people are making that choice consciously. That they know when they’re choosing the mission, and they know why they’re doing it.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Suse: Yeah. I think that’s a super interesting, uh, way to, to even think about what the choices that we make. And the priorities that you put forward. That actually we are often, you know, coming from mission driven places. And that can be really hard when you care about the mission. But you also care about the people in your life, and you care about yourself. And you care about your community. And if, in choosing one thing it means sacrificing some of those other things, whether deliberately or not.

Seema: You know, I think also for you, as a teach, as a professor, but also a teacher. You’re, you’re profess, you’re obviously, you know, at a university level, but you are their connection to the field. It’s so important for … And I was an educator. That for us, in those positions, you know, what you just said, it’s so true. That we have to be conscious of our choices. Because we’re not just making our own choices. We’re sort of modeling this for other people. Um, and that, that’s a big part of it for me too. That, that so many of the educators are the ones who are real burned out. And we’re the ones who are really interacting with people and you know, we want to make sure that the field is, is healthy. And so being healthy as teachers is really important.

Jeffrey: Yeah, definitely. Um, Seema, thanks so much for, for taking the time to chat with us today. If people wanted to keep in touch with you, or follow your work on progress on, on the books, um, where can they do that?

Seema: So, my blog is at BrilliantIdeasStudio/blog. And so that’s a good place to find me. I’m also on Twitter and I’m kind of obsessive about it. And I’m artlust.

Jeffrey: (laughs)

Seema: I’m (laughs). I know.

Jeffrey: Aren’t we all?

Seema: It’s horrible. But, um, I’m artlust A-R-T-L-U-S-T.

Jeffrey: Awesome. We will put links to, um, your Twitter and your website in the show notes. And Seema thanks again.

Seema: Thank you guys.

Jeffrey: We really enjoyed this.

Seema: Have a great day.

Jeffrey: Beck was formerly trained as a designer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and has spent her career helping people and organizations of all types embrace risk taking, creativity and change through technology and personal space making. Her work has been mentioned in the New York Times, National Public Radio, Scientific American, and several books and blogs. Some of her favorite work was done in partnership with the Museum of Life and Science, the Exploratorium, Michigan State University, Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, and Illinois State Library. In 2016, Beck began her studies as a PhD student at the University of Washington’s Information School, where she researches contemplative practice and information science. Beck, welcome to Museopunks.

Beck Tench: Thank you. I’m so happy to be here.

Jeffrey: Well, we’re happy to have you back, actually. You were, ah, you were a guest at, ah, during our first season in one of the live shows at MCN.

Beck: That’s right.

Jeffrey: Montreal. Yeah.

Beck: That’s right.

Jeffrey: It was a great, great time. We’ll drop a link to that in the show notes. But, it’s so great to have you back on the show. And part of Season Two.

Beck: I’m glad that you’re back.

Jeffrey: (laughs) We are too. We are too.

Suse: Yeah, it’s nice to be back.

Beck: The museum world needs you.

Suse: (laughs)

Jeffrey: (laughs)

Beck: More of you. It has you, but more of you.

Suse: Hey, hey. Beck can I just say, because you are, I think our first repeat visitor, I’m gonna get to use the phrase friend of the pod for the first time ever. (laughs)

Jeffrey: (laughs)

Beck: (laughs) I’m so happy about that. And also just having that status. As the first repeat visitor is such an honor.

Jeffrey: Right on, right on. So, Beck, last summer in summer of 2016, um, you and I exchanged hand written letters kind of exploring the topic of mindfulness and intentionality in museums as part of the Code Words Essay Series. It was great. Um, and so much of that exchange was actually happening at a very turbulent time for me professionally, and, and … The simple act of kind of stopping to reflect in a mindful way, um, with you, really helped me kind of navigate that time in, in a productive way. So, first of all, thanks for, for being a part of that with me. Um.

Beck: Of course.

Jeffrey: And second of all, let’s start this discussion today kind of on the ground floor. So how did you personally begin down this path of mindfulness and intention?

Beck: Um, well, Jeff, actually I’d like to, to react for a second to what you just said to, um, to, to acknowledge that your decision to engage in that, um, that exchange that we had was, uh, I think a piece of wisdom on your part. And I, I just hope that you, I hope you see it that way too. That, that you needed that and you made that happen for yourself. Um.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Beck: And, and, that’s, I think, kind of partly my story.

Jeffrey: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Beck: It’s something that you can see in hindsight. Um, a lot of times I’m going along and, um, (laughs) and just absolutely full of doubt and questions. Uh, those doubts and questions are evidence of the real work that I need to be doing, and it just doesn’t often feel like, um, it doesn’t feel like it’s the right thing at the time. And, and I look back I can see that it, that it’s exactly what was needed and I just basically need to continue to trust myself to do the right thing. Make space for myself to do that work and, and, and it will happen.

Jeffrey: Hmm.

Beck: So, um, I think that what you, what you experienced with Code Words and what I experienced and how we were there for each other and not really understanding in the moment what was needed is, is very evocative of what contemplative practice actually is.

Jeffrey: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Beck: It’s a, it’s an openness and a trust.

Jeffrey: This kind of reflective practice, um, I, I, is it rooted in kind of intuition or following your gut, or um, learning from previous ah, experiences, or a combination of all of that. I mean how, like … How does it work for you?

Beck: Yeah, thank you for that, that qualifier, for me. Um, I think it absolutely is intuition. Um, you know, there’s something about what we’re cultured to believe is okay with regards to work, um, that is problematic. Um, and I think that, I, I’m seeing that in this new field of academia. Um, and it’s certainly the case here, where sort of rationality and science thinking and evidence and all of those sorts of things, um, are very important. And, and, and, um, and respected and you can’t really. You have to incorporate them in how you communicate otherwise you’re not really seen as, um, doing the right work. And I, I felt that way in the museum world too. It’s everywhere in our culture.

Um, and so whenever you, you, you do things … We say … When you make statements that make intuition real for example, (laughs) uh, you know, it’s something that we get and we know, and at the same time we don’t feel like we can say. So, I’m gonna, I’m gonna just flat out say, yes, it is intuitive and reflective. Um, and that, that time spent respecting those two states, state of intuition, state of reflection, is critical and important time. And it’s not critical and important because at the other end of it you will be smarter or more productive or more efficient. It’s critical and important because you’re a human being living a life. And we have to incorporate these things, and the more and more I study about it, the more sure I am of that. And the larger the forces at play convincing us that we shouldn’t seem.

Um, and so, I guess what I have to say about that right now is, no one listening to this should feel, um, guilty or ashamed or embarrassed that they don’t value and don’t make time for themselves. Because that’s sort of what we’re inculturated to do. And it’s an act of, um, resistance.

Jeffrey: Hmm.

Beck: An act of self-care and a very, very important thing for us to be figuring out ways that we can tell each other how we feel about that. And how we struggle with it. And help enable each other to make that time. Just like you and I did last summer.

Suse: Beck, I find this incredibly interesting, this idea that, um, sort of these embodied experiences, but also these really intentional and deliberate experiences, are not necessarily valued, and not valued in a lot of contemporary work places. But even, whole professions. Why do you think that is? Is it a lack of trust in the body? Is it that it can’t be rationalized in the same way? What do you think is at the root cause of this?

Beck: To be (laughs) really kind of frank and morbid, Suse, I think that the root cause of it is the fact that we walk around the planet aware that we’re gonna die. And we’ve …

Jeffrey: Hmm.

Beck: Want to do whatever we can to distract us from that. And um, to sit with our selves and to face … Because, you know, that’s the problem I think with a lot of this McMindfulness, is a nice phrase I’ve heard.

Jeffrey: Hmm. Yeah.

Beck: That gets kinda spread around is it does not honor the fact that when you truly go there, it’s hard. And, and it doesn’t necessarily feel good. And you really have to wrestle with truths. Which is why, at the beginning, I said that, that statement about how doubtfulness is sort of a sign that it’s working. Um, for me at least, because, ah, can, just being in a contemplative space really just means being with myself in that moment. Not distracting myself from, um, the reality of any given moment. That reality may be suffering and sadness. That reality may be boredom. That reality may be joy that I dont’ want to let go of, and want to keep on forever. You know, whatever it is, and uh, there’s just so many things in the world. Um, a lot of them exist on our phones. (laughs)

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Beck: That are just, just waving their hands ready to take us away from that reality, and allow us to not really deal with the harder, harder things in life.

Jeffrey: Yeah. So, Beck, um, one thing you wrote in the Code Words exchange that really hit a nerve with me, and along the lines of, of what we were just talking about is we need to stop elevating being busy and in demand and over-committed.

Beck: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeffrey: And especially in the museum/non-profit sector. You know, we pride ourselves on those things. Doing more with less, right? Less money, less staff, less time. What are some things that people can do to start to, you know, combat this culture of over-commitment for themselves? You know, are there any kind of, um, simple exercises or just maybe ways that we can flip our thinking a little bit to start to, um, honor, honor the need for more space?

Beck: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, you know, I, I think that the answers, whatever they are, and I don’t have them, um, but, but I have some ideas. I think that, that the answers reside in two domains. The one domain is the individual and the other domain is the collective. Um, and so I don’t think change is possible without both. And, and I think that there’s a starting point that’s easier, and that’s with the individual.

Jeffrey: Sure.

Beck: So, my, I guess my, my advice and my caution is that you cannot do it alone, and there is so much to be gained from having connection with others with regards to wrestling with making time. I mean we’re talking very bare bones. Like how do you even give yourself five minutes? It’s, it … Like that same culture that I was talking about before that sort of distracts us all the time it also gives us self-esteem. Um, and, and it, it helps us feel like we are part of something and that we’re important and that we belong in the world and that we’re needed. And, and those things aren’t entirely you know, Mr. Burns in some closet, or some boardroom you know, rubbing his hands together trying to convince us of things. It’s just like, we’re creating this for ourselves because we need to know that we’re okay.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Beck: And so, and so we, you know, whenever I quit working at the Museum of Life and Science and went on a two year exploration of what work would look like if I were more spacious about things, I really wrestled with not feeling like a valued and valuable member of society because I didn’t go to a work place every day, or wasn’t busy in the ways that I used to be busy. It’s very, um, like I said before with you know, engaging in contemplative practice, and it being kind of like a hard thing. Making time for yourself, um, and, and, and … And letting go just even for a few minutes of this identity we build around being very needed is hard work.

And um, and so, I, I recommend that um, I think that, that ritual is, is a very, very powerful thing we can borrow from some of the more successful religions of the world. Who use ritual and community very, um, very successfully. Um, you know, my rituals honestly are, are very coffee (laughs) focused. Like, I, I love coffee. Coffee, is something that brings me, you know, just, it feels like, um, such consistent, reliable happiness. And, and so, I take something that’s already … And I think for some people that might be, uh, a dog that they walk, or, or some you know, commute with, with on their bicycle or, or with their child, or whatever it is. But, you’ve got this sort of centerpiece that feels reliably good. And then I, I tack on a contemplative intention to either proceed or go after that experience.

So I, I ritualize things that are very easy to do.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Beck: In order to, to, to just, just bank a little time on one end or the other. Or a lot of time. Um, to, to enable myself a reliable space.

I also, you know, right now we were talking before we started recorded about the fact that I’m on Bainbridge. Well, Bainbridge is far away from the University of Washington. It’s a two hour door-to-door commute. That is, of course, with bicycling. I’m bicycling and taking a ferry instead of a, a bus or a train or whatever. Um, and I, I engage in this four hours a day. Um, and, and, and it is, um, it is my life. It is not my commute. It’s my life. And, and I think that that shift in thinking to, to realizing that what, what exists in that time is, is completely as valid an education and connection space and thinking space and being space as any other thing that I do. It’s not getting me to school. It is my life that I am living.

If we start looking at all these little like interstitial moments of our lives as, as potential possibilities to be open to connection, to be open to just noticing the world around us, there’s actually a lot of, I think, time available for us to make choices that are more intentional than just sort of, um, prescribing that this is an activity I do to get somewhere and so it no longer has value in, in, in kind of like a, edify me in any kind of way or allowing me some time and space.

Jeffrey: Yeah. You know, Beck, I’m, I’m gonna keep kinda pointing back to this Code Words essay from last year. And you know, I, I think one of the really interesting questions that came out of that for me was um, you know, this idea of … You know, what if our institutions matter a lot less than the individuals who are in relationship because of them? And we’ve been …

Beck: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeffrey: Talking a lot about internal experiences, right. The work, the workplace, and self-care, in that respect. But, you know, the reason that we work with museums is because of, of, of the impact it can have on the public and the visitors and the communities that our museums are a part of. So, I’m wondering if, you, you’ve noticed, um, ways that museums or museum practitioners could potentially create spaces that could contribute to the emotional wellbeing of visitors and communities and the public? Um, any interesting observations, you’re now kind of being out of the museum world, in academia, looking in from, from, from that view that you’re noticing?

Beck: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, um. So, feel free to scratch this and edit it out if you, if you find it’s a little too controversial, but uh, my reaction to that, uh, to that question is … What I begin to see in my observations of the museum world and also in my memories of my experiences working for museums, um … And this isn’t, you know, whole cloth, but it is, it is certainly there, is a, is a really strong growth mindset and always trying to figure out how to scale and, um, stay alive. And, and by staying alive make money. And I just, I feel like that, that sort of money driven, attention driven, um, perspective is … It’s, it’s … It needs to be questioned, and, and we have a bit of uh, we’re, it’s a bit at odds for, for, for what we’re trying to do.

I mean, I felt that way specifically about technology in the Science Museum. We pulled off some really cool projects. But we spent a lot of money and a lot of time trying to engage people in ways that just putting a table with some blocks (laughs) on it could have in some ways done a better job.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Beck: And, and I think that as we look at our institutions and our, um … Our motivations for how we interact with folks, we have to really, I think examine where is money and scale influencing and guiding what we’re trying to do? And really asking the question, what are the values that are informing that? Um, and being honest with the answers. I think that a lot of technology is built with really good intentions. And it manifests in the world problematically. And so, when we’re thinking about our role as museum practitioners, uh, I think that we need to basically play the doubting game with our own work.

We, we’re, we’re really good at playing the believing game. We’re really good at convincing ourselves that we are creating something for the public that will enrich their lives and we know better. And it wouldn’t, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for us to look at things from a different view, and say, you know, what if this didn’t exist? What could this person do with their time? And how can we enable that? Or does this really, you know, in all the ways that we can look at it, does it really ultimately end in what we think it ends in?

Um, it’s so hard to be a technologist right now. Technology just, it’s outta control. Like, when we put it into the world people do things with it that we would never imagine. And that’s in the best case (laughs). Like in a lot of cases, they don’t do anything with it at all.

Jeffrey: Right.

Beck: And, and so, I just, I think that the complexity of that picture is something that we need to be engaging with and be a little bit more critical and honest about, to be frank. And um, I say that because if we are, and we say we need to do less, then we have, um, more agility and, and, and more time to be thoughtful about how we do engage with people and we don’t just paint everything with this sort of magic that, uh, this magical tech, technology brush that uh, isn’t necessarily gonna, gonna do what we think it’s gonna do.

Suse: Yeah, it’s sort of, as you talk, it really reminds me of the importance of time and space and the, you know, there is … Everything we add into our institutions, everything that we add into, um, what we’re trying to do that we ourselves have been feeling this rush of busyness is also things that other people, that our audiences, that our visitors, need to fit into their lives.

Beck: Exactly, exactly.

Suse: So.

Beck: That’s exactly what I was trying to say, Suse.

Suse: Yeah, absolutely so we, we sort, we were just talking to, uh, Seema, and we were talking a little bit about balance and the importance of balancing your life. And, and saying yes and saying no and I think bringing this sort of back to the audience and to, to the choices that we make, you know … We, we’re sort of reaching a point where it’s so difficult to fence off areas of our life because there is this sort of professional and personal blurring. And there’s this public and private blurring. And so thinking about how we create, um, we actually simplify that for ourselves, but also for the people who are coming to us. How we give them maybe fewer choices but richer choices as opposed to just more and more choices. Whether that becomes a better use of sort of institutional time and resources. As opposed to, uh, trying to do everything and be everything for everyone. Looking at how and where we’re actually utilizing our resources, and how that brings a difference into their, into audiences lives and where we can be most useful and most beneficial.

Beck: Absolutely. And you know, I recently gave a talk at, uh, at a conference called Art Summit. It’s about creative place making. And I found myself wanting to really scaffold the talk. It was a workshop. Really scaffold it and provide as much, (laughs) kind of like, as much content as I could in those 90 minutes, you know. And then I, I kinda looked at what I had done and realized that in my experience of, of, of moments where I felt like I was in capable hands of a facilitator and teacher, there wasn’t … There was, there was an openness. There was not all this content totally structured and coming at me. There was a competency in the person sitting in front of me to handle whatever would come up, and then a big open invitation for that to occur. And, and so, I just scrapped all of it, and I went in with basically a really solid question. And then, had a great conversation over 90 minutes with people who were incredibly articulate and totally available to have a really good conversation. Because it was at the heart of, you know, what we’re all thinking about.

And, and I, and I think that all of our institutions have a mission that is at the heart of what it is to be human, frankly. It’s probably true for every single institution that is listening to this podcast. And that if we just trust people to show up and fill space that we provide, that space is so rare in life.

Jeffrey: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Beck: It may be, it may be a little awkward at first, but that awkwardness is beautiful. And if you just sit with it, I think that we have a lot to provide by just being open and trusting and providing space, and not filling it because we are scared that people won’t fill it for us. I mean, I think there’s really something to be said for that. And I really appreciate that comment, Suse.

Jeffrey: You know, Beck, I think we could talk forever to you about this. There’s so much to dive into and, and, and explore. But if listeners want to stay in touch, or follow your work, or um, you know, just kinda stay up to date with your, your thinking and your practice, where might they be able to, to do that?

Beck: Um, well, you know, I’m very Googleable. is sort of my, my, my online home. Um, and I have also started a (laughs), I’ve started a Slack channel, uh, or Slack group that is about contemplative practice. And it’s, it’s, it’s a real, um, it’s a real experiment. I very well may just scrap it one day because it’s so counterintuitive. (laughs) We, and that’s actually one of the, the, the primary conversations we’re having right now about, uh, on the Slack channel. It’s about (laughs) the irony of using Slack to do something like this. But, anyway, uh, so Contemplatives, that’s plural, um, uh, is a place to uh, to go to uh … I don’t know actually if … You may need to um, go to my website to get an invitation to it. Um, so, how about and I’ll do whatever I need to do to make sure that that works to a signup form. Um.

Jeffrey: Cool.

Beck: But uh, that’s also a play space to think together. Um, but you know, to be, to be real, I’m, I’m in this space where people are talking and publishing, and sometimes saying things when there’s nothing to be said.

Jeffrey: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Beck: We just, (laughs) to get something out there and so, I kind of you know, if you don’t hear from, from me online, not meaning like if you contact me, I’ll of course reply. But, I’m trying to actually listen more than speak these days and just, um, sit with my thoughts a little longer than I normally would. And be very intentional about when I publish and why. Just because of exactly what we’re talking about. The more that we, you know, kind of grope for attention, even if we think it’s for really good reason, the more we are filling, uh, a finite resource. What, what, what the human brain and senses can attend to has limits that, um, we’re, we’re approaching. (laughs)

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Beck: And, and so I, I kinda don’t want to contribute to that as much as possible. So, happy to meet up and you know, have conversations over email or Skype or whatever. And all that’s on my website. But, I’m trying to be a little bit more quiet these days.

Jeffrey: Well, we definitely appreciate you taking the time to speak and be unquiet with us today.

Beck: (laughs)

Jeffrey: Um.

Beck: Of course, of course.

Jeffrey: Beck, thank you so much.

Beck: I, I, I am happy to any time. I think the two of you are wonderful. I’m glad you’re doing this work, and I’m honored to be a part of it.

Suse: So, I don’t know about you Jeffrey but I feel really, relaxed and really good having had those conversations.

Jeffrey: (laughs) Yeah, definitely. Uh, you know, it’s uh, it a … Taking time to reflect and step back and, um, consider these things you know, always puts me in, in a, in a positive frame of mind. So, I’m glad that, I’m glad that it, it’s doing the same for you right now. (laughs)

Suse: Yeah, absolutely. And I think, there was a point that Beck made during her, her um, discussion where she said people often can tell that she brings mindfulness practices into her world because she is exceptionally mindful even in her conversation. And I do have that feeling just from talking to her of, ah, I can, I can take this time and just be a little bit more deliberate myself.

Jeffrey: Yeah. Definitely. There’s something, there’s value in slowing down. There’s value in, in being intentional. Um, so show notes for this episode uh, can be found at Um, and this episode of Museopunks is presented by the American Alliance of Museums. Thanks to AAM for the support. Suse, if somebody wants to stay in touch with us, or tweet us, where can they do that?

Suse: Yeah, on Twitter we are @museopunks, uh, and we would love to hear from you. As I say, having the response from people over the last month has been amazing. It’s so great to have so many people getting back in contact with us, and new people connecting with us for the first time. So we would really love to hear from you.

Jeffrey: Yeah, it’s amazing, those new people are great.

Suse: We’d love to hear, uh … Totally, absolutely, and it’s a … We would love to also just hear how you refocus, recenter, look after yourself when you’re feeling emotionally drained or physically drained or when work gets overwhelming, and if your museum has actually started to bring in any of these techniques. I know some museums have done.

Jeffrey: Yeah.

Suse: Yoga classes for their staff and those sorts of things. We would really, really love to hear about it.

Jeffrey: Yeah definitely. Tweet us @museopunks and just a reminder that you can subscribe in iTunes or Overcast or Stitcher or any other podcast, um, app, that uh, that is your podcast app of choice. And if you do enjoy the show, we’re really love, um, just taking a moment to rate because that does help, um, enormously with, with spreading the word. Um, Suse.

Suse: Yeah.

Jeffrey: Episode 20 in, in the bag.

Suse: In the bag. We are done. Ah, we will catch you again in a months time from now, and we cannot wait.

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