These highlights and notes are taken from Josh  Cohen’s article in The Economist, “Minds Turned to Ash”. I was moved by the piece.  I want you to read the piece. This is probably 80% stolen, but it’s 100% translated.

What I am trying to do is translate this into a poem, to do some emotional summing up that does justice to the undertow of feeling that characterizes ‘burnout’.

Do not mistake me for the character in the poem. I have felt ‘burnouty’ at times but have always avoided becoming a noun. The original essay made me feel.  It was in an unexpected place, The Economist.  It caught me off guard.  The work is derivative but also original.  Go out and rip off an article. Make it yours by making it a poem.  It feels very real to me.  A translation into a reality I have not fully owned. I feel like I do now.



In my dream

I was a shambling


only child

of a quarrelsome marriage

and fated from the gitgo

to be slotted into a rolehole 

on autopilot

sunk in strange reveries

yearning to go home 

and sleep.

The 5.30am alarm went off.


I looked down. 

My shirt was drenched in sweat.

I switched it off

and lay there, 

staring at the wall, 

certain only that I


be going 

to work.




Three months.


I am an inertial heap

doing nothing, 

seeing noone,


on the sofa

at the end of a long

urge to shut down

tugged by the edge

of ever longer to-do lists,

unread messages,

missed calls,

and sullen inertial plateaus

radiating a repulsive force

mishaptically vibrating 

Will I have to do anything ever again?


I plead


I have to do this?

I have to burn out?

I  find myself a zombie

taken over by this internal protest against all,

assailing and assailed,





tormented by

that thing which cannot be attained.

I have “come to the end of desire”

and endured

this state of weary indifference,

this wish for the world to disappear,

sans any feelings,

knowing the world’s demands are awaiting me, 

knowing the world will wait me out. 

I have exhausted all my inner resources

and cannot free myself.

Life won’t stop bothering me.

Life. Leave me the fuck alone. 



Just nervous compulsion left,

an irritable stasis,

that bloody nothing same-itude is all that’s left, 

a teen tortured by infinite Snapchat,

a child burnt by curriculum unto death,

a women spent by having it all.

Me. This.No time for anyone.



Ecclesiastical ‘vanity’. 




exhaustion and innervation 


with chronic overwork.



An eating disorder.

No respite from the job.

No walk in the country.

No week on the beach.

No sense of relief.

“Stalked” by that job

as work insinuates itself,

burrows into every corner

of every spare hour stolen to read a novel

or walk the dog 

or eat with my family.

Work contaminating every stray thought with looming deadlines.

Even during sleep.

No relent.

Even being mindful 

is just another task 

just another 



bantering and 

paintballing away of the days

of breakout rooms and bouncy castles

where the lines between work and leisure,

are simply blurred. 

And so much worse. 

My job wants it all 

with no physical or mental metes or bounds, 

the workplace chained tight to me,

Prometheus, bound by dueling dominatrices of email and Facebook.



 I am in the psychitrist’s anteroom, a pre-Hell,

where my self is defined  by

an unremiittent wail of 







and buys.

It’s a culture without an off switch

driven not by guilt and obedience, 


driven by what we want,

cursed by what we want 

even if what we want is a more proscriptive world, 

one which screams at us that we can’t have everything

because where the hell would you put it?

Choose to be a chimney sweep and you can’t be a concert pianist.  


In this inner circle of attainment society, 

we get to decide 

between 22 nearly identical brands of yoghurt. 

Fuck that.

Now I don’t even have that false dichotomy. 

“Have. It. All.” 

as you know, 

is no choice at all. 



A sudden, unexpected feeling, like a cloud shadow, 

sweeps over me

The life I live isn’t the life for me.

That old life is oddly inert

a paradox

of lifeless slotting-in

and a genuine force of habit,

an inertia which will not make a fresh choice,

never bothering to question what I’m been told.

I want to get up tomorrow, 

get back in the gym, 

find a new job, 

see people again.

I don’t want to be a loser.

And even as I say I’m gonna do all this, 

some voice in me says, 

‘No I’m not, no way am I doing that.”

Not depressed. Not relieved. 

And that leaves me… crazy.

My own desire is like a wasting muscle

My only job is to nurture it 

to train it to entertain simple choices

yet the longer I wait for this magical event

the more I’m not living my life,

that sad, “only one I’ve got” life

that exhausted,


retreated into,



filled with chronic insomnia, 

yearning for the opposite,

going home and sleeping, 

waking only for stretches of blissfully catatonic inactivity over uninterrupted, featureless weeks,

frozen by the suspicion there was always something else to choose,

shackled by the incapacity to choose at all,

burnout life



 Burnout is not just a symptom of working too hard.

It is a soul crying out

for a space freed 

from the incessant expectations

of targets to be met 

and achievements to be crossed off.

It is a soul crying out 

for a space 

where it can














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