Tuesday, 8 December 2009

An epiphany or two - Warning: A very long post

So here I am in the New World of freelancing, hopping here and there between jobs and tasks. I have just been granted membership to The Guild of Food Writers which is an enormous step forward both for me and my job prospects, and them for starting to embrace the alien concept that is online food writing.

Having been off formal work for nearly 2 weeks now, I have, in the manner of one who perhaps has a tad too much time on her hands (but only a tad), had a few startled revelations; namely:

1. How in the world does anyone with a full-time job get anything done? I used to be that person, struggling womanfully on, doing all the household chores on a Saturday morning (or even on a Friday night if MCD was out - I know how to have a good time), shopping on a Sunday, cooking every night, working all day with a 3-hour commute to boot - how - how - did I fit it all in? And now it's this present-buying, list-making, freaking-panicking time of the year, it's even more of a conundrum.

These days I seem to be set to a go-slow option, where jobs and tasks and chores are achieved unaccompanied by the mild panic that it must be done and ticked off the list - it's made me realise just how stressed and screwed tight I was; just like every other working woman, I was juggling 14000 different things and surviving - not thriving. That's not to say there aren't hour-long moments of panic about just where my money is going to come from, or whether I'm spending my time fruitfully and in an applied and efficient manner, or whether my brain is simply going to wither away without external stimulation - just that life at a slightly slower pace is a life slightly better lived.

2. Working in the bookshop in Crystal Palace has started off a slightly peculiar train of thought. Back in the heady days of my youth, when I dreamt of being married to a poet and heading my own literary group and living in Paris or Cadiz (don't ask) wearing black polonecks and sipping brandy (probably not suited for both Paris and Cadiz, but you get the picture), Literature was my thing. I knew the new hot titles, the out-of-prints, the rare wanted-but-never-to-be-seen-again titles, books others would love; then I moved into the world of food and my broad love of writing narrowed to the subject in hand. In the last 7 or 8 years, my general literature range reduced as I read more and more about food and got lazy with other genres, stuck with tried and trusted favourite authors, only experimenting with new books when I went on holiday. I became someone I thought I never could be - a restricted reader (the horror). It's nice to know I have a specialised field, but nowadays I am left a little panicky about my lack of knowledge of literature generally.

Now in the shop I stand there behind the counter and think 'I used to know this stuff and now I don't.' This makes me slightly stressed - can I ever learn all this again? Where did all that knowledge go? Why am I so stupid? (As I said, a tad too much time on my hands...) I want to be erudite again. And at the moment, that feels decidedly not the case.

3. Being unemployed - or at least going from the 9-5 to the whatever-whenever - means that your mindset has to change completely and that can leave you out of step with the person you live with. When you're both working full-time, you have something in common, be it the stresses of the commute, the same lack of time, the decisions of whether to spend the evening out with friends in order to catch up or in with your partner to catch up; either way someone is left out. But all the same, it is a common bond and one that means you are running, albeit slightly frenetically, on parallel tracks.

Once one of you loses your job/steps aways from the rat race, that common bond is dissolved. I experienced it myself this year when MCD got made redundant and was out of work for quite some time over the summer. I caught myself feeling a near-constant low-level simmer of resentment that he was off work throughout the summer and I couldn't have a holiday, or that I still somehow had to fit in at least half the housework and all of the shopping (Bless him, he did his bit but why must men require a detailed list of chores after nearly 6 years of living together?) When he went back to work, it was a relief because then we understood each other again.

Now I am at home, I can see the other side of the story, albeit with a slight twist. I am not an ambitious workaholic - the thought of it makes me feel a little ill - so working from home with its flexible time suits me down to the ground. I enjoy pottering and the structure working in the bookshop brings for a few hours at a time, I enjoy household chores and doing bits and pieces here and there. But the common working bond has gone again. The working partner will never quite believe you haven't been sitting on your arse all day (see Point 1), but in your own head you've achieved an incredible amount and you're quite satisfied. I am getting my rest, you think.

I - and I accept this is purely our relationship dynamic - am still, in my head, responsible for making home life as wonderful and pleasant as possible for the disgruntled worker which entails using a certain amount of headspace and mental effort, effort which I rather need for myself right now looking for projects and work. That need to keep each other's spirits up is part of being in a relationship, but sometimes you need to step back for a second and take stock. Life is going to be very different from now on and we both need to adjust and maybe that means recognising that our former work bond must be replaced by something else, hopefully something a lot healthier and less mutually stressful.

Life is tricky, rushed, stressy enough. With a little effort it needn't be demoralising too.

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