Working and not working

There always seem to be more jobs to do than there are hours in the day. I haven’t had a whole day off in months – not since I was with Tom, I think. I take odd hours here and there, half days… but there’s always something to do. What with the online work, the volunteering, house stuff and parenting (which sometimes feels more like work than others) I don’t get much down time. I am frequently doing non-restful, workish things for 12-14 hours a day.

I’m reflecting on this partly because of an accusation a few weeks ago that I don’t work. This was based on my not having a ‘proper’ job – not leaving the home to work and not having a regular income. Work is easier to measure when the hours are fixed by someone else, and the pay is predictable. As a culture we prioritise paid work, despite the huge economic and social usefulness of voluntary work, unpaid carers, and other folks whose contributions do not centre around obvious economic activity. Paid work with predictable wages is the traditional male domain. Unpaid work has largely fallen to women, and I believe still does, from what statistics I hear about women’s work in the home. So there’s a lot of culture, history and gender bias in the prioritising of paid work. Plus, conventional employment equals tax paid, and governments like that a lot and so encourage it.

I work very hard, for not much money. I would almost certainly have more money were I on benefits, but pride would not allow that. I’d have more money in conventional employment, but then my child would spend a lot of time in after school clubs, and that doesn’t sit well with me either. I live within my means, cheaply, using my energy and time to save money rather than earn more of it. This has the curious effect of also being a greener choice. I consume less than folks who earn a lot of money in order to buy convenient solutions for their lives – walking where I can, cooking from scratch, re-using etc.

It becomes harder to mark the work/not-work boundaries where your job is seen as enjoyable – always an issue for arty and creative folk. People who are not doing creative jobs tend to see it as play and not proper work, because it is so obviously fun. This is in part a consequence of tending to see the results of creativity, not the hours of work, study, perfecting of talent etc that underpins it. Yes, I love performing, but every song, every tune, has taken hours of dedicated work to learn and polish ready for performance. Yes, I love to write, and I enjoy the research, but it’s still mentally demanding, I get achy fingers, I go mad when I’m blocked, and  have to spend a lot of time out there selling my stories to readers, which is a whole other job.

Someone once said to an artist “Having your job would be like being on vacation all the time.” To which the response was “You habitually work until two in the morning on your vacations?”

Everyone should have job satisfaction. And equally, having job satisfaction should not in any way undermine, in other people’s minds, the fact that you are working and making a valid contribution, be the pay ever so erratic.

It might be more productive to spend some time contemplating what not working means – that is about being passive, doing nothing, coming away from the end of your time having made no discernable difference to yourself or the rest of the world. You may be using energy – watching television, surfing the net. You may be sleeping. It adds nothing to the world, nor does it enable you to grow as a person – that’s my definition of not-working. If you are learning, or developing a skill, then there is an element of work involved. Effort is made, you change, other things may change as a consequence. So yes, to someone who only understand work as leaving the house and being given money for whatever you do, it may not look like I work much. I’m not convinced that’s a measure I need to take seriously, however.