A Cautionary Tale

This morning, I was listening to The Sporkful while weeding and planting autumn crocus bulbs. I really like the combo that I’ve discovered this year, of podcast + garden. It gets me exercising lightly, it makes otherwise tedious weeding tasks fly by, often I learn something. It’s funny, though — in this episode, I’m listening to David Chang being interviewed about his memoir, _Eat a Peach_, and a piece of it is about being a workaholic, and yes, I recognize some of myself in there.

Recently I’ve discovered that Spoonflower’s weekly contests get me making art more regularly, and that is great, because I’ve always vaguely wished I could draw, and never managed to sit down and practice enough to actually get better at it. Now I’m practicing, and it’s turning into products (with Kavi’s help) that are actually things I might even want to use myself or sell (pictured, some fabric that we drew together, I think I’m turning it into napkins, and yes, of course I will blog that process), and that is great.

It’s relaxing, half-watching TV and drawing, and it’s satisfying, finding something productive that I can do while watching TV, because obviously, writing and watching TV don’t actually go together, a great flaw in my chosen primary career. So that’s another productivity win. (Three movies I really liked that I watched on TV in the last few days: Tortilla Soup, East Side Sushi, Enola Holmes. All on Netflix, I think.)

I love efficiencies. Podcast + gardening. Drawing + TV. Life is short, and getting to do more of what you love is good. Efficiencies are satisfying.

But there’s a dark side.

The positive side to turning domestic work into part of my career — cooking, then writing about cooking, for example — is that a good part of the domestic stuff I need to do, like help feed my family, ends up also doing double duty, as productive career-work. That’s a HUGE positive — it helps make this impossible capitalistic system manageable for me, even in the midst of a pandemic. I can take care of my family and still be working at something that will produce income.

That is honestly so valuable, and makes me wish that everyone who is struggling to manage household labor and a day job and supporting their kids’ e-learning and all the stresses of a pandemic had this option.

If we had basic income, maybe many more people could make that shift, take 5-10 years while their kids are small, or while they have eldercare responsibilities, or while they’re dealing with their own health issues, and let the domestic sphere be their primary one without money worries. Then come back to the secretarial work or the lawyering or whatever later, when they’re not so intensely working at other things too, and thereby not drive themselves into an early grave. That part, obviously, is super valuable to me.

(I’m a little worried that writing this out, it ends up sounds like ‘poor little rich girl,’ but oh well, here it is.)

The negative part is that I’ve gotten SO GOOD at working all the time, that it’s incredibly difficult for me to find anything to do that’s purely relaxing, that isn’t work. I said this to Kevin a week or so ago, that I’m kind of working ALL THE TIME, morning to night.

– if I’m making myself a snack, I usually photograph it and post it to Facebook, and my social media team propagate it outward to Instagram, Twitter, my cooking blog

– if I’m puttering in the garden, I’m pausing to take photos, and then ditto on the posting; I’ll often write up notes along with them, and there’s a tentative garden book in the works that these all go towards (I think about creating a garden from scratch, and all the decisions and missteps that go into that)

– if I’m reading a book or magazine, well, reading is basically always research for me; ditto watching TV or movies. I mean, if I read something that’s WAY outside my subject matter, then maybe it doesn’t feel like work, but I almost can’t do it, because I feel so guilty about the huge stack of relevant books that I should be reading, that I do actually enjoy, like Benjamin Rosenbaum’s about-to-come-out novel, _The Unravelling_, that I’m supposed to blurb, or David Chang’s memoir, which will help me with food writing and memoir writing, etc.

I’m not complaining, exactly? I have a great, great life, and have managed to get paid for doing what I love, we should all be so lucky. But at the same time, I HAVE to do what I love A LOT, in order to get paid and support my family, and there’s a weird tension there. We could cut back and slow down in various ways — Kevin would support me in that. Stop buying stuff, stop getting takeout at all — we might even, just barely, be able to afford to let me stop teaching.

But I don’t really want to stop teaching. I love teaching. I love my students. I love taking photos and posting them here, I love doing sketches and writing little notes about the plants and flowers, I love developing and sharing recipes, etc.

I think I just need to figure out some more ways to do things without immediately turning to ‘how can I make this productive?’ Maybe I need to sing more. I’m not a good singer, I’m never going to be a great singer, a professional singer, but I do love singing, and I don’t see any way I can professionalize it, so maybe I can keep that for relaxation? Playing the piano, ditto.

In pre-pandemic times, I might’ve gone for a massage, but we’re still sheltering-in-place pretty strictly here, so that’s not happening. Massages do let me shut off my brain for an hour, because all I’m supposed to do is lie there and let them work.

Heh. Maybe this long ramble is really just the product of not having taken any vacation this summer, due to pandemic. Usually we spend a few weeks in California, visiting Kevin’s family (plus Jed and Alex and other old friends), and there’s a lot of sitting around, chatting, eating, playing board games.

I was working on my novel revision right up to the last minute before the semester ended, and even though we’d talked about taking a few days in the woods in late August, the novel just ate up all that time, and then it was diving into the semester and e-learning so there wasn’t much of a chance to catch a breath.

We did say we might take a vacation a little later in the semester, once things calmed down. The kids can do e-learning mid-week from a cabin in the woods, and maybe I can actually take a few days off. (Do you have a cabin in the woods you want to rent me? Must be dog-friendly, ideally within 3 hours drive of Oak Park, with a lake we can kayak on, and good WiFi.)

Honestly, I’m not sure what ‘off’ really looks like. If I’m reading, or drawing, or cooking, I’m still working. I dunno. I had stopped seeing my therapist that I was talking to over the summer, because it seemed like I was doing okay. But maybe workaholic is something I should be talking to her about?

It’s weird. If I am a workaholic, the main consequence of that is doing well at my career, which is, you know, a good thing? I don’t want to stop. If I can just figure out how to ramp down a LITTLE.

I’ll be announcing the Kickstarter for the new podcast with Ben in a few days, and a Patreon for a comic I’m doing with Margaret Treanor Frey, and then there’s the magazine I’m supposed to start with Rosa María Quiñones, and there are various other things in the works. Ramping down doesn’t seem to be on the agenda…

I leave you with no conclusions. That memoir sounds pretty good, though. I probably should read it. A cautionary tale, perhaps.

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