Monday, March 15, 2010

Joys of Working and Not Working

The idea of a perfect day is something I’ll need to ponder a while. Certainly a good day involves a good chat with a close friend or family member, sunshine, and something absolutely scrumptious to eat. As Anna pointed out, work does tend to take time away from other things that are important to us, but for most of us, it’s hard to get away from, whatever form it takes.

Some years back I came across a book called Endangered Pleasures, by Barbara Holland. The book is full of short essays about simple joys: from baths and showers to the morning paper, naps, and pets, to mail and bare feet. Two essays that stood out to me were on “Working” and “Not Working.” Oh, the joys of working. Getting a paycheck. Leaving a desk at night and coming back the next day to find everything in exactly the same way you left it (unless you have an ambitious custodial crew). The authors says it nicely:

“The human mind, bewildered by imagination and free will and anxiety and other purely human problems, longs for order. The job supplies it. Perhaps we work for lunatics in a state of constant chaos, but still employment expects us to be in a set place at a set time and concentrate on a set job. The chaos tends to be predictable, even for those in erratically crisis-prone jobs, like firefighters or budget directors.

“At home, especially with a family around us, anything can happen and all of it’s our responsibility. The ceiling falls into the bathtub, the gerbil bites the baby, the baby drinks the Windex, the pipes freeze, there’s a bat in the bedroom or a dead mouse in the oven or a burglar in the living room, the bank threatens to foreclose on the mortgage, and we’re expected to cope. At work, most of us can pass the buck, or some of the bucks. Even the CEO can hand it to the board of directors, who can hand it to the stockholders.

“On the job, we know what we’re supposed to be doing at any given moment. At home we rarely do, and if we did, there’s still no way to organize the priorities. Even while we’re gathering up the trash the dog spread over the kitchen floor, we wonder if we ought to be paying bills instead, while at that very moment the children have found a ladder and are preparing to maroon the baby on the roof. Usually, at work, someone has set limits on what can happen; in the anarchy of home, the worst-case scenario changes hourly.”

I’d love to quote the whole article but I’ll restrain myself. Even though I don’t have children, I share my home with other living beings and I know the chaos and the neverendingness of work at home. My various kinds of work and pleasures involve lots of paper—teaching, editing, writing, genealogy—and in spite of computers, the paper piles keep growing. And while the people in my house mostly take care of themselves (except for the dishes), I have several cats—12, for those who wonder—and while they mostly get along, once in a while, someone walks too close to someone else, someone pokes someone else, or gets into another’s space. And of course, there are mealtimes and cleanup. I know most people can't relate to my lifestyle ,and I can understand how people with children see pets as one more family member to clean up after, but for those who have a full house already, picture your life if you’d never married or had children, and how you would fill that space that your family currently occupies. It's a big space, isn't it?

But back to the subject of working outside of the home. I like many things about working. I love having an office or a workplace, a computer, printer, copy machine, vending machines. I like paychecks and bonuses. I even like meetings. I like the feeling of accomplishment that comes from finishing a project and doing a tough job well. I like not having to be around dishes that need doing or a floor that needs mopping or vacuuming, and even, sometimes, not being around cats who climb all over my keyboard or my shoulders while I’m working on my computer at home.

As for not working, Barbara Holland offers some things to appreciate, regardless of the reason for staying at home (although the reason can make all the difference, whether it's illness, unemployment, or winning the lottery). Consider the pleasure of wearing pajamas or sweats until you feel like getting dressed. Or staying home and drinking hot chocolate on a snowy day when others are slowly making their way to work, slush and ice under their spinning tires. Listening to traffic reports and knowing the only “jam” you’ll encounter that day is on your toast. Not working means you can busy yourself around the house, indoors, where it’s warm on a frigid day, or outside in the garden when it’s beautiful outdoors and everyone who works is stuck indoors (frequently with an overactive air conditioner).

Whatever we do, there are pleasures to be found. And when we’ve had our fill, it may be time to try the grass on the other side of the fence.

1 comment:

Jennie said...

Since I've worked away from home and been a stay at home mom both, I can relate to everything you said--except the cats. I love cats, but I'm glad there aren't any in our house.