I’ve been thinking about different modes of work, lately. Before S. and I went out of town, a lot of frustration was building up on both of our ends in terms of work, the work we do to earn a living, the work we do for personal fulfillment and the work maintaining our household entails. S. works during the day, goes to law school at night, and is part of both law review and moot court. Between work meetings, parties, school meetings and study groups he is rarely able to contribute to the household work. Quite frankly, he leaves something of a storm in his wake. Mostly I don’t mind this, being something of a control freak, but recently, during the job change and trying to do my own writing I spouted some badly-formed feminist language at him, along the lines of “I am trying to write, and I have to do it around working hours, too, and the household work is just.not.equitably.distributed.”
To his credit, S. agreed but admitted he didn’t really know what he could do about it. And while some of my closer friends are appalled by this (he should clean! It’s his house too! Hang him, hang him high!) I don’t feel anger or resentment towards him…I feel…like quitting the life we’ve started here. Oh, I don’t want S. to drop out of school and I don’t want to stop working…I don’t have much of the escapist in me at all, but once he graduates I think I would like to withdraw from the way I see our lives heading and find a way to balance the work we need to do, the work we want to do, and the work of a household.
Certainly there are a lot of folks out there who could tell me to relax…that so and so can go without a wedding present and clogged air filters never hurt anybody, but that advice cuts across the core of who I am and isn’t helpful. I buy wedding presents. I write thank you notes. I grocery shop because if I didn’t, S. never would and we would eat cheeseburgers and pizza and cookies. I believe in the healing power of green vegetables.
Ever since I left Pittsburgh I’ve found myself feeling envious of my brother and his girlfriend, which feels weird…I’m not particularly jealous of other people, being of the “my life is all gravy and grasshoppers” lot. D. co-owns an Italian restaurant and his girlfriend waitresses there. She used to have an office job but she quit because “it was too, too awful.” Currently they live above the restaurant but are hoping to get a rehabilitation loan for one of the crumbling old bungalows in the neighborhood and together they will restore the house, camping out in the living room in sleeping bags. To me, this all seems terribly romantic.
Of course, I recognize they work over eighty hours a week. For them, there is no weekend excursion to shop and eat and play together. They don’t have health insurance. The safety nets S. and I have set up for ourselves, like retirement accounts and Christmas clubs and primary care physicians, are luxuries they would probably like to have. And I can’t imagine for one instant either S. or I sleeping on the floor of a cold old home with years of work before us. It isn’t who we are, innately. But sometimes part of me wishes I didn’t want to write, that S. didn’t want to save the world from environmental destruction, that we could spend our days together, endlessly.
It’s the work that gets to us, after all. The work we do to support ourselves, and the work we both do in our off hours, to achieve our dreams, to say nothing of the laundry and dentist appointments and car maintenance. The work we do to achieve our dreams sometimes feels like an awful lot and I want to shout “Stop this train, I want to get off!”
Last night at dinner K. asked me if I had any big reflections on turning 30, since she would miss the blog posts while she’s in Uganda (working for the betterment of others). Mostly, I told her, I’m happy and not too obsessed with my upcoming birthday, but what I do feel is an overwhelming urge to simplify wherever possible. While friends of mine are buying homes and better cars and planning elaborate vacations, I feel nothing so strongly as the desire to rid myself of everything getting in the way of the peace I sense as a possibility. I want to stop measuring myself against others and work not for the accumulation of things and instead work for the joy of working. I once imagined myself with a beautiful house with a lush garden and beautiful place settings for guests to dine on luscious meals I would prepare for them. Now, I think if I had to mow the grass instead of working on my novel tonight, I would end up crying in the bathroom again. Fortunately, I don’t have to make that choice.
With all of this work, I guess what S. and I are striving for is balance. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about balance quite a bit in Eat, Pray, Love – and she manages to find a delicate balance between her competing desires. I think everybody has competing desires to be the kind of person they can feel comfortable being – for me, shedding the expectations I always had…of being someone important (and by this I mean, like, a political pundit or president), with a grand home and sparkling social life and instead practicing gratefulness for all I do have, good friends to share dinners with, joy in my job and joy in my writing, seems critical. I hope that if S. and I both follow our inner-most callings – his to effect environmental changes and mine to write, the other things that muddy our waters will fall away.
At (nearly) 30 – I want less than I did at 20, and I’m looking gleefully forward to the next decade, with this realization under my belt. It feels like the whole wide world is open to us, now. And in the mean time, tonight I don’t think I’ll change the laundry, but I will pick up my contact prescription. That feels like an okay balance to me.
Postscript – it’s snowing outside. It is April and it is snowing. There are no words.