These days, Americans lucky enough to have jobs in this dreadful economy are working long days, taking little vacation, and retiring late in life, if at all. To make matters worse, many employers are requiring employees to be connected to the workplace outside of the office: checking work email at home, using personal Twitter accounts and Facebook pages to further their professional profiles, and responding to work-related phone calls on the weekend and after-hours. Employers often require these additional duties without providing any increase in pay or job security.
Under these circumstances at work, there is little time left to engage in the activities that make up the “life” part of the work-life balance equation: raising families, maintaining intimate relationships, and participating in hobbies… Oh, and sleeping and doing household chores, but I don’t know anyone who still has much time for either of those.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American (gender neutral) between the ages of 25 and 54 with children has only 2.5 hours a day of so-called leisure time, which is hardly enough for the unlucky writer who isn’t able to quit his or her day job. For these folks, writing isn’t just a hobby. It’s an investment in a future career; at least that’s the hope, even if the dream rarely becomes a reality. Considering the importance of having time to write, what is a writer to do when someone encroaches on the few hours of the day available to spend on their craft?
I’ve been thinking about this topic ever since this Google search led someone to my blog: spouses who interfere with writing time.
I wonder whether the person who googled these six words has a selfish partner who takes up his or her precious writing time, or whether the googler is the selfish one because s/he lets their writing interfere with their household responsibilities, making the partner pick up the slack. In either case, it’s tough to fit in family life and household responsibilities when (presumably) working a day job and writing (with the hope that it will pay off down the line).
This topic reminded me of an amusing “contract” between Kurt Vonnegut and his first wife, Jane Cox Vonnegut, from 1947, a time when few women worked outside of the home and few men were expected to perform household responsibilities (the balance remains uneven in many households today). I’m not sure to what extent Kurt, if I may call him by his first name, was writing at this point in his life — I believe he was still an Anthropology grad student — but this letter suggests his willingness to engage in household matters under certain circumstances. While his wife was expecting their first child, Kurt agreed, if his wife promised not to “nag, heckle, and otherwise disturb [him],” to:
Scrub the bathroom and kitchen floors once a week, on a day and hour of my own choosing. Not only that, but I will do a good and thorough job, [which means] I will get under the bathtub, behind the toilet, under the sink, under the icebox, into the corners… [and] while I am undertaking these tasks I will refrain from indulging in such remarks as ‘Shit,’ ‘Goddamn sonofabitch,’ and similar vulgarities, as such language is nervewracking to have around the house when nothing more drastic is taking place than the facing of Necessity… [among other chores]
The editor’s note to this contract in Kurt Vonnegut: Letters indicates that Jane took on a supportive role in her husband’s writing career, including editing his manuscripts. While their marriage didn’t last the duration of the Vonneguts’ lives, at least in the early years, it seems they had worked out a pretty good work-life balance for themselves.
In my case, I’m lucky to have a flexible full-time job, support from my extended family, and, most importantly, an extremely supportive husband who also works full-time while shouldering an equal share (and sometimes more) of the parenting and household responsibilities. Insomnia and caffeine help, too.
For those of you who are writers, how are you balancing work, life, and writing? (for those of you in other countries, I’m curious to know whether my description of the American work-life (im)balance fits your country, too).
*Today, over at Litigation and Trial, Max has written about employer encroachment into our personal time in When an Employer’s Social Media “Encouragement” Becomes an Overtime Wage Violation.