On starting a work routine, part 2: Gender and the maker’s schedule

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?

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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.

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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?****

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*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.