Tuesday, July 28

The Third Shift

My mother once told me I should marry rich. Alas, alas; instead, I married an artist.

I have tended to think of Beckett’s artistic ambitions both as in conflict with my own and as a financial burden on our relationship. However, I've been reading Kidding Ourselves, by Rhona Mahony, and am now reconsidering many of my assumptions about my unconventional life. Although marrying an artist has thus far resulted in high financial costs for me, it has also given me unusually good bargaining power, which I am probably not yet fully wielding exploiting using.

But, more on bargaining power later, I hope. I started to write a post about it this weekend, and some 750+ words later I realized that I needed to think things through more thoroughly before posting any conclusions. Meanwhile, I've learned that about a month ago at a conference on human resources, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch bluntly stated, "There's no such thing as work-life balance." Hem. Really? Maybe not if you want to be a CEO, but what about the rest of us? Are we all supposed to work as though nothing really matters but the job? I could say more on this angle, but much has already been said on other blogs, such as The Daily Dish (with Conor Friedersdorf filling in for Andrew Sullivan), 11D, and GeekyMom.

My take on this topic is a little different. First, let's be clear that the term "work-life balance" is a misnomer. Actually, what needs to be kept in balance is the time devoted to paid labor—one's vocation or job—and unpaid labor—homemaking and child care, or the "second shift" that falls disproportionately to women. So plenty of work is being done at home, and really the whole thing is one's life—paid labor, unpaid labor, and, one hopes, some time for leisure. Except that in my case (and in Beckett's case, too) the time for leisure is the time to take care of the "third shift": the artistic work. And so I tend to feel that discussions of work-life balance—or job-home balance, or whatever—don't satisfactorily address my situation. I imagine that I'm not the only woman who feels as I do. For one thing, whereas these discussions tend to assume that one's ambitions lie in the realm of paid work, for me, my job is really just a job. My ambitions lie elsewhere. And for another thing, the balance I must find is between not just the time and attention my job requires and the time and care the Critter and our home require, but also the time and care my writing requires.

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