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.

4 thoughts on “Working and not working”

  1. Another fine, thought-provoking article Brynneth.
    A lot of people do tend to consider something to be work only if they can see a clear correlation between hours spent on it vs money gained from it.
    I myself work very long hours, 12-16 hour days, but because I don’t have a “real job” which requires me to leave the house to earn money I can’t help but think some people must view me as being lazy and living some kind of spectacular permanent vacation, which is not the case at all.

    Its a shame that the society we live in is a meritocracy where earning money is the Most Important Priority. But this is how it is for most people, as most people don’t have much of an imagination. I think a lot of non-creative types only see the finished creative product, and don’t truly consider the time and energy spent on creating a song or a story or a drawing etc, and can therefore not truly understand the effort put into such creative products.

    Its similar to how I can’t really appreciate a plumber’s job as I have never worked as a plumber. People who don’t write and draw comics like I do don’t really have a good grasp on the sheer amount of work required in such an endeavour unless they have a go at doing it themselves.

    Hopefully I don’t come across as being up myself when I say this, but many non-creatives simply don’t have a clue what it takes to be a creative sort. What do non-creatives do when they get home from work? They watch TV, go out for meals, spend time with their kids of they have any, etc.
    Whereas when I had a day job I’d come home from that and work on creative stuff until I dropped dead from exhaustion. I’d have a few hours sleep and go back to my day job. Every day.

    My choice to put my energies into creative things doesn’t garner me much in the way of financial gain, but at least I have the courage to follow my dreams and use and develop the talent I have been bestowed in this life, rather than settling for a life of non-creative work where for me it would make me better off in a pecuniary sense, but would leave me hollow inside.

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  2. As a home schooling family, we can well appriciate where your post is coming from, Bryn.

    Doubly so when my husband and I both have contracted, high-paying jobs part of the year. This year, after a long bout of struggling to ‘do the right thing’, which meant the kids spent over half their time at my mother’s while we both worked outside the home, Hubs and i sat down, talked, and decided he should quit. He’s now the full time parent and home schooler. I work my contracts when they come in and spend the rest of my time writing.

    I now have happier kids, a happier husband, support for the occupation (writing) that means the most to me, and a slew of reletives harping and recriminating our choices as being unrealistic and foolish.

    Bulloks.

    It isn’t just about being a creative type. it’s about being true to who we are as individuals adn as a family unit. A great deal of our days are spent occupied, as you say, by saving money (and resources) rather than earning them, and we’re happy, fulfilled, and never a day goes by we don’t learn something.

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  3. Well said Bryn

    I think there is a lot of pressure to conform to the norm and this is both overt and covert. People see working from home as not having a proper job and being lazy and self indulgent. I decided to follow my ‘dreams’ for three years trying to make my art and acting work as a means of income but failed miserably, on the financial side. Dissillusioned I returned to nursing with an agency. I worked part time to allow me time to still work on what I really wanted to do. Unfortunately, there is no flexibility in agency work any more and many full time staff see you as somehow inferior. The contract was only for seven months and since then I have not been able to obtain part time work. The pressure is on to take full time work even in areas where I have no speciality.

    In lots of ways it is much easier for me to go and work as a nurse, we are financially better off, there is no pressure to work beyond the set hours, in the conventional sense, except that I hate it. I dread every moment. I have tried a number of ways of supporting myself at home to give me a clear means of being able to give up nursing altogether.

    However, I think previously my mind set was wrong . I was concentrating on making money and felt pressured to produce results – in the financial arena. This of course took the joy out of creating for me and left me feeling very empty. Alot of that pressure was my own internal pressure and still is.Reading all the posts has been both pertinent for me and encouraging. Like all things that are counter to the social norm it requires conviction and the ability to work on those areas within our own psyche that inhibit our growth and change.

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