The other day I wrote, “Why do I always allow myself to let household duties, social obligations, or even crafting take precedence over the writing or painting I really want to be doing?” I concluded that (a) art-making is hard, (b) I don’t have familiar creative habits to fall into, and (c) non-creative habits seduce me with a false promise of productivity. I resolved to develop better creative habits.
However, the next day, in spite of making a couple of sketches, everything seemed so wrong that I started to feel irritable and then downright angry. I wasn’t sure, at first, about the cause of my anger. I went to my journal because I thought I was mad at Erik, but after writing a few pages about that, I realized I wasn’t. Several pages later, I discovered my fury came from a feeling of powerlessness. Why, though? I have more control over my situation than pretty much anyone I know. So why the feeling of impotence?
That same day, Tamara (you may know her in the comments as Tamgerines) sent me a cool essay by Paul Graham*, on what he calls “the maker’s schedule.” Basically, he says, there’s the manager’s schedule — lots of meetings, everything planned hour by hour, events can change quickly — and then there’s the maker’s schedule, which requires long stretches of uninterrupted time. Of course everyone is familiar with the manager’s schedule, because that’s the schedule of most of the world. I am also intensely familiar with the maker’s schedule, because that’s what Erik functions on, and he’s taught me to respect that he can’t work in any other way.
In sending me the Graham essay, Tamara wrote that she thought I would recognize the maker’s schedule from my creative work. And I do, but somehow more in the context of Erik than myself. Which is strange, because I have worked on the maker’s schedule; I know the feeling of disappearing into a project, of time ceasing to matter, and dinner being merely a necessary hurdle between me and getting back to my desk. But I don’t identify with this schedule, and I think that’s weird. And I think I know why.
The maker’s schedule, by necessity, requires that the maker tune out everything else while she is working. She can’t work if she worries about other things, so she ignores them, for days or weeks or months if she has to. This is great for writing software or drafting blueprints or composing symphonies, but it’s a pain otherwise, because the maker isn’t thinking about anything but her project — therefore someone else is picking up the pieces of, oh, everything. My dad is a maker (a mechanical engineer), and my mom is the one who deals with everything else. She’s good at it, and it’s a symbiotic relationship, but — as I know from living with Erik — being the “everything else” person can be rough. It can be lonely and thankless, especially because the “everything else” of life typically includes a lot of stupid stuff. What’s more, it’s not even a position one asks for in the first place.
When Tamara wrote me about the maker’s schedule, I realized that I’ve been reluctant to embrace it — and the type of focused work it encompasses — because I am all too aware that such a schedule is not kind to others. It places a burden on others in the maker’s household, and also on others in the maker’s network, because the maker lets an awful lot of things slide. At some point, either in my adolescence or more recently (or perhaps over and over throughout my life), I must have resolved never to be that kind of person. Society smiles on this, because it expects women to be the ones who keep track of details and deal with everything that men can’t worry about because they’re occupied with Important Things. In reading about the maker’s schedule, I realize that I’ve internalized that it is the responsible adult woman’s role to see to all these things, to keep herself available and responsive to others, and to maintain a regular schedule of meals, appointments, and housekeeping that will be kept up regardless of whether the maker (or anyone) requires it.
A common refrain among women is that they feel guilty or selfish for pursuing their own projects, because of the social pressure to focus exclusively on their family’s needs. I’ve never felt exactly that way, but clearly I still harbor some kind of block against throwing myself into my work the way the maker’s schedule demands. It’s a bit blunt to say that a maker’s schedule feels unfeminine to me, but on some level that’s true. Erik and I have had talks about this, mostly at times when I’ve become very frustrated with my balance of creative work and housework (and by “housework” I really mean “everything else”). He has offered — and I appreciate it — that if housework is keeping me from my work, we should outsource it; i.e., all the nonwork stuff that I worry about, we can pay someone else to do.** But I mostly refuse, partly because there are aspects of housework that I enjoy, but also because I feel I would be a failure as a woman/adult/partner if I let someone else cook our meals.***
So the takeaway lesson here (mmm, takeaway) is that yes, I have a hard time starting a work routine because it’s difficult and unfamiliar and less pleasant than looking at online cat photos — but also because my internalized gender ideals tell me that devoting myself to creative work means I will be inconsiderate, irresponsible, and possibly unfeminine as well.
And anyway, gender ideals aside, the questions remains: if Erik and I are both on a maker’s schedule, just who is going to take care of all the other stuff? And when?****
*Graham writes great, thoughtful essays that are mostly about programming and other vaguely tech-related topics. Erik has also sent me wonderful bits from his site.
**I’ve even learned, via Erik, that you can pay someone else to do pretty much anything. The world of personal chefs and personal assistants boggles my mind.
***And yes, I realize how ridiculously fortunate we are that these options are available to us. Which just goes to show that you can put up mental blocks about anything, regardless of how smoothly your path is paved.
****Erik is actually quite good about carving out time to deal with some of the “everything else,” and I guess I could learn that too.
I completely understand. We’re very deeply ingrained with the ideal that the woman takes care of the household/”everything else” because that’s our house. But I think there’s a biological reason for it too. I’m not trying to say to give up on finding balance but I think this may be something you’re always going to grapple with as long as you plan to have kids. The woman just can’t achieve the same level of freedom to work. This is not a good thing or a bad thing. It just IS. If a woman want kids, she has to take the time to be pregnant, give birth, and recover, even if she outsourced the mothering work to a nanny later. Or she could have a surrogate have her child but that’s not really the point. I’m not as good at explaining myself as you are but hopefully you understand. 🙂 When it comes to the differences between gender, I don’t think one necessarily has a disadvantage or advantage over the other, sometimes we’re just different. This is why people like to pair up. You build a life together and for all your strengths and weaknesses, you balance each other out. So while you’re justified in feeling frustrated in your work-life balance right now, where does this stand in the grand scheme of your life? Given the opportunity, would you want to throw yourself fully into your work? On one hand, I would guess that maybe you would not because then you would miss out on so many other things. But then again, you have always seen the trees while I see the forest. 🙂 I hope this has given you a bit to think about. I would love to talk to you more about this sometime. ❤
I should note that I’m not trying to trivialize your work – I just think it’s something you’re going to be thinking about a lot throughout your life because there isn’t really a solution. You’ll just have to figure out what works for you.
BTW I always appreciate it when you comment on my posts. 🙂 We don’t get enough chances to talk even now that we’re both in the Bay Area, so it’s always nice to hear what you think. ❤
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Shra! I didn’t reply for so long because I wanted to think about what you said, and my own feelings when I wrote my post.
I often think there’s a biological basis for gender differences too, but then I get mad because I don’t want biology dictating my life. Maybe that’s a futile fight, but I think it’s worth always thinking about… for men as well as women. The thing is, our innate differences may be neutral (neither is good/bad), but the world’s power structures and attitudes are largely created by — and enforced by — men. That is to say, regardless of whether there is active oppression going on, we tend to think of a male (and white, and Western) perspective as the default. This is so ingrained that we often don’t even realize there’s a bias in our thinking, just as we often don’t notice that some movie or TV show has a completely white cast. (Similarly, after my time in Japan, I started to realize that many of my thoughts come from a “default” attitude that is individualistic, whereas Asians often default to communal values. This comes up in our conflicts with the parents, actually, and I never fully appreciated that before.)
That’s why it’s really useful to think about how our own thoughts are gendered. At the risk of sounding like a cheesy New Age bumper sticker, change starts in the mind. A lot of my work frustration dissipated after I wrote this post, because it was so helpful even just to recognize that I resisted long creative sessions because my unconscious had classified them as unfeminine. Now that I know that, I’m no longer fighting against my own unconscious beliefs, and that makes a big big difference.
Make sense? 🙂 ❤
I think your sister is right, Lisa. And, as she says, if children come into the equation it will be even more difficult. I recently watched an interview that Marlo Thomas did with Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love). One of the questions that she was asked was about balance. How do you live a balanced life with so many things needing your attention? Her answer is that balance is kind of a myth. If you really are passionate about your work, then what you have to do is to dig in your heels and become fiercely stubborn. You are saying “This is what I have to do, and this is the time I will need to do it.” Of course, this is what Erik does, and she acknowledges that women are the ones that have the hardest time with this. Are you that passionate about creating/writing/painting? Can you put on your big girl boots and trounce all over the gender roles and expectations, and get down to work. I’ve seen this in myself too, and I know that that level of passion is missing. But I’m okay with that and have had fun with it anyway. As Sarah says, there are so many things you would miss if you were that single minded. Remember, you are a polymath:)
Thank you for your thoughts, Sherry! As I wrote to Shra above, I didn’t reply to these comments for awhile because I wanted to think about them and what I meant when I wrote this post. I do think balance is a myth, in that it’s impossible to achieve some magical perfect equilibrium where I have 8 hours every day to spend on each of the things that calls to me. (Sighhhhhh.) But I also think there is a personal balance that is, I hope, sustainably achievable, and that will look different for every person, but I think we can feel it when we don’t have it. My frustration before I wrote this post — the frustration that prompted me to write this post — came from knowing that I was out of balance creatively, actually having the time to address that, yet somehow not feeling able to. And it turned out that the not feeling able to, came out of unconsciously believing that spending lots of time on creative work is somehow inappropriate for a woman. After writing the post, I’ve felt a lot better — and also gotten a lot of work done!
As to the passion question you bring up, though, that’s something I think about a lot. As you say, I’m a polymath with lots of passions, and I often wonder if none of those passions runs as deep and single-minded as in people who have fewer of them. And that may be a gendered thing too; I don’t know. But yes — how will my non-domestic passions hold up after/if we have kids? It’s a big question and one I suppose I will be have to learn the answer to sometime in the next few years, if you get my drift. 😉
Lisa, this really resonates with me. I have a lot of thoughts on this, but am currently taking a break from trying to fit in my research stuff in between the “everything else” stuff that takes up so much of my time and mental energy. I think you are definitely on to something with the gender issues.
Really, this is a great post. I will have to come back and read it again later.
Oh thank you for taking the time to comment, Alejna!!! When you get the chance to come back, you might take a look at my response to my sister above — I clarified some of my ideas there, as a result of the things she and Sherry said. 🙂
Speaking of research, have you seen the latest on the “baby penalty” for female academics? 😐 Grrrrrrr!
I’m making a face knowing very well, this is my own matter too. The sad thing is I don’t have anyone to be taking care of or be responsible to. So the blocks…they are plenty! lol
Thanks for joining the discussion, my dear! I know what you mean — so much of this stuff is in our heads, and I mean that in the most non-derogatory way possible. I don’t really have to take care of Erik, but I definitely feel like I do, and it’s a source of such internal conflict when I want to find time to work but feel like I can’t because I need to be “on call” to do domestic things. I suppose it’s good that I’m thinking about this before kids come into the picture (if they ever do).
Oh, this really resonates with me! I, too, resist the maker’s schedule (though I’d never heard of it until reading your post!). I don’t have someone at home to take care of the “everything else” of my life, and I have a full time job that gets in the way of the uninterrupted focus I’d need to be a “real” maker. But even when I have the time and the freedom, I tend to put up roadblocks. And only occasionally because of the excellent array of cat videos available online!
I have to think about this some more. When I went on my writing retreat last year, I was full-on in maker mode. I barely came up for air for the full two weeks. Yes, I was removed from my real life — didn’t have to go to work or feed the cats or think about anything but myself and the words I was putting on the page — but it’s interesting to see how singularly focused I could be for such a sustained time. How do I bring some of that into my real world?
Thank you so much for commenting, Stacie! Exactly — we block ourselves even when there’s no real need, and it’s useful to think about why and how we do that. Heh. Cat videos are only one answer… compelling as they are. 😉
Speaking of writing retreats, when I was at VONA in 2010 I was surprised at how much writing I managed to get done — how much I managed to make it a priority. I haven’t repeated that kind of singleminded focus since then (maaaaaybe when I was finishing up the Tisha book or the chickens story?) and it definitely makes me think about what’s required for us to do that. But anyway — at the time I asked Evelina whether professional writers maintain that level of focus on a regular basis. She asked, “What do you think?” and I replied that I honestly didn’t know. She said, “Of course not! This is an intensive!” I didn’t know whether the answer reassured or disappointed me. Likewise, when I was taking writing for sequential art through UCLA extension, a comics writer came to talk to our class (since I’m not into mainstream comics, I don’t remember who it was, but I think he was famous) and he mentioned that he rents an office and goes there 8-5 every day to do his writing, treating it just like any other job. We were all very impressed. The following week (or so) another well-known comics editor came to talk to us, and said he doesn’t care what you do as long as you get the work done. When someone brought up the other guy’s 8-5 schedule he said, “Don’t listen to him! He’s a maniac!” This made us all feel better, but at the same time, I felt a bit of regret that this all-day-special-office-for-writing thing wasn’t going to be the outcome for all of us who managed to become writers. ;b It’s like the dream of the ivory tower, or something.
Looks like I have to come back here with some time to stay for awhile
Stay as long as you like. I’ll put on a pot of tea. Or maybe iced tea in this season. 😉