Things to do instead of working…

One of my friends posted a photo album in Facebook with this title last week.  She displayed all the amazing things she has been doing to avoid working on her English PhD dissertation.  A master procrastinator myself, it made me realise that I left procrastination out of my musings on what people get up to when they are not working.  I was in awe of the fabulous and worthy things my friend had been doing in order to avoid what she ‘should’ be doing.  Crafty, earthy and really very impressive.  All things I would count myself lucky to have achieved in the past six months!

This also made me realise that since having Kazuo, there is really little room for procrastinating about the things that ‘should’ be done for him… which are the things that fill my days… if I don’t wash/sterilise/fill his bottles, he goes hungry and I know all about it… if I don’t get the washing done, well, nappies and clothes and burp cloths et al are daily necessities… and if meals are not on the table, well, we all get hungry and grumpy… and I would be extra exhausted if I had to stay up later to do these things after he went to bed just because I had dillied about during the day in my previous fashion…

As someone who carried about an enormous box and a huge pile of guilt over major marking procrastination (I know… the worst kind of teacher, one who insists on work being handed in on time… and then takes ages to get it back… I hated me too!), there is something quite amazing about not getting to the end of each day and feeling overwhelmed about how much I did NOT get done today.  Even when the tasks themselves seem dull and repetitive.

Thus, it seems, that having a baby has cured my insomnia (who has time to lie awake all night when they are already exhausted from getting baby-induced broken sleep?), turned me from a night-owl into someone who sleeps between 10pm-6am, and rises daily with the birds, and re-ordered my priorities so that I have to get the important jobs done every day or I would not hear the end of it from the tiny one.  What a feat!

Working a Little

OK, so it seems that even when one is not working, there is still plenty to do that makes the days fly by… was it October I started this?

Not a good start.

One of the groups I seemed to miss from the previous post, were those who are not working because their working life is over… they have retired and earned the right to be supported by the rest of us, and by the fruits of their own labour. At the rate I am going, I will not be entering this group until my 70’s… hopefully I will remain as energetic and spritely as my own mother, who doesn’t show any sign of slowing down in her 60’s.

So what have I been doing in my not-working-ness?

Well, incubating has taken up a load of time, and given me lots of little money-saving projects to pursue. I have reverted to my crafty homemaker roots and kitted out the house for a newcomer.

I spent a few nights a week teaching a Bosnian woman English… she made excellent progress, so it was hard to have to say goodbye to her at Christmas time, but the 18-mile round trip to her house seemed a bit foolhardy as I got increasingly bigger and the weather increasingly treacherous. I hope they find her someone new and friendly in the New Year.

I still managed to go into the local community arts centre once or twice a week to help with office work and usher at shows and help with special events. This has kept me sane… being in a work environment, interacting with other adults and feeling a sense of contribution to a creative community were all good for the soul. These are the things we gain from work. I was pleasantly surprised this year to discover that I could still gain all of these same satisfactions from voluntary work (not that this the the first foray into volunteerism, I was involved in volunteer community work for all of my 20’s in NZ). The main things that were missing were the remuneration (and how I miss that!) and the sense of obligation that creates.

Finally, I did gain a work permit… and by early December, began some gainful employment. Ironically, at about the time some women start to take maternity leave! But it was only freelance contracting work that I could do from home, sort of on my own terms. It was fairly repetitive work that I was slow at… and so I did feel quite pressured by deadlines and that aforementioned sense of obligation. And without the comaraderie of a workplace environment, it was not as satisfying as I had hoped. But to be contributing, even a little, financially, to the family coffers is a good feeling. Though it now appears that the imminent emergence of the baby will put paid to that endeavour for the time being.

So, technically, back to not working again…

Some people seem to find the days stretch out before them with nothing to do but watch TV and DVDs when they are not working. Boredom quickly sets in, and so does even a mild form of depression. Although I am a slothful sort (I do love to lounge around in my PJs if given half a chance), I am never short of things to do, places to go, people to see. I think life is too short not to fill it with some kind of practical activity. Of course, many things cost money… but it is still possible to have a good time without spending much, if anything. (Quite a key consideration when one is not earning anything!)

So even a not-worker like me can end up feeling a sense of ‘busy-ness’ that seems to be a modern stress-inducer. Though I will be first to admit that having most of your days at your own discretion means that you can limit the stress impact by just not doing things if you run out of time… no one will care! If only work were this relaxing… my last job was 24hrs a day, 5.5 days a week and the pressure was sometimes overwhelming. Finding a balance between these two extremes is one of my future goals!

Not everything that isn’t working is broken…

For the first time in my life, I have just spent 6 months not working. A curious experience… and one that is not coming to an end in the forseeable future. It has recently gotten me thinking about all the people/things in the world that don’t ‘work’ and what that might mean…

When things don’t work, they are usually a source of frustration – and are often discarded, or put in a pile to be mended or altered. But what about people? And what are the reasons why they sometimes don’t work?

I’m not broken. I’m just in limbo… we are living in the USA for a while since my husband is working here, and I am waiting for a Work Permit to allow me to work… but I am filling in the time incubating a baby, which will probably mitigate most of my attempts to find paid employment once the permit arrives. I’m not alone, the city I live in, for example, is populated with a silent minority of aliens like me who are accompanying scholarly partners and are thus temporarily unable to contribute to society in the conventional manner.

And there are many women (and a small – but happily growing – minority of men) who elect to leave work to raise their families – and their contribution to society is huge, if economically unquantified.

There are some who do not work because work seems to have excluded them… the unemployed, who may have been employed once, but our tough economic times has shut them out of the workforce, or who may never have acquired the skills to enter the workforce in the first place.

There are people who are not working because health limits their capacity for employment, and people who do not work because they are able to subsist on meagre savings and find other ways to contribute to the world around them. And of course there are those who are so wealthy that they do not need to work…

But working defines us in many ways… and not being able to identify myself with a fixed role in society has sometimes made me feel like something important about my place in the world might get broken if this not working thing goes on for too long… So over the next wee while I am going to spend some time here considering what I AM contributing to society and looking at those other hidden people who do not work, but are not really broken either.