Balance

As I return to blogging with renewed gusto and a shiny new design (though with a few adjustments pending), I wanted to nut out a few things I’ve been mulling over lately regarding balance.

This year, (beyond recently recovering from [thankfully not catastrophic] computer meltdown, getting a cold, travelling around a lot – life happening, basically) I’ve had times where I had no job whatsoever, times where I was working volunteer roles I could throw myself into with varying levels of vigour, and periods where I was either working casually or swamped by working two jobs at once.

But now, I’m settled into one good, fairly steady, part-time job at the National Library of Australia. Which is awesome. It’s my first real, kinda grown-up job. Like, I get my own desk and everything. But thankfully I’m doing a lot of stuff that isn’t just deskwork too. Anyway, both my finances and my schedule have become a whole lot more regular, so that’s good!

So now, I’ve got four days a week where, from roughly 9 to 5, I (mostly) work at this job. But for the times when I am not at work, it’s almost as if the idea of “this time is mine” has been brought into starker relief.

As I’m sure many people know, after a day of work, it’s easy to just get home, blob on the couch, eat dinner in front of the TV, fart about on the internet, collapse into bed, repeat. I used to be a bit scathing of this kind of behavior, but I totally get the impulse. The full 9-5 can drain you, and I’m only just  breaking out of that lazy blob pattern.

So this brings me to what I’m pondering on. It begins with that old chestnut of ‘work/life balance’. I recently read an article by Damon Young  that talked about this, and he clarified the point that really, you’ve got be mindful of this balance, and you’ve got to realise it’s kind of a question of value.  It’s like “This is my time, so what do I want to do with it?”  It’s not like being at Uni, where you could always be studying, preparing more for a test or whatever. It’s not a casual job where you could be called up any day. And it’s not like unemployment, where you need to spend ages seeking and applying and preparing for jobs. Now, I’ve got my practicalities of money situation pretty sorted. I like my job. I’m not overworked. I don’t really take work home with me. So like I said, this time is mine. It’s a kind of freedom, a serious privilege, and it’s a weird, new feeling. After a year or two of post-study job-seeking flux, it feels like that part of my life is sorted and balanced for now.

Then there’s the rest of my life (the parts that aren’t work) to balance. For example, I need a good night’s sleep (I really do). I need quality time with my girlfriend and time for all the domestic practicalities. I want to write and I want to read. Those parts are easy. I know I value them (or value being on top of them, when it comes to the domesticals) but the more I think, the more I realise there’s so much more that I’m trying to balance, prioritise and find the right time for. Some seems almost essential, some desirable, some a luxury, some I’m not sure.  Let’s see what else there is: music, interwebbernauting, hanging with friends, TV, movies, video games, going for a walk, travelling, volunteering, baking a pie,  something else, anything else. I can’t do everything. So what do I want to make part of my daily/regular practice and what do I want to reduce or cut out entirely?

In my spare hours at work, beyond the realisation that a Word document can be well-disguised as important business (rather than a wobbly blog post),  I’ve realised I’m able to browse the interwebs, in the slow times, when there’s no other work waiting for me, and nobody minds.

One series of interlinked info holes I recently burrowed down into during my work hours was Samuel Cooney‘s slighty old (in internet time), but rather good bunch of guest posts on the Southerly Journal blog, including this post, which in turn links to a David Sedaris essay in the New Yorker. Here’s a quote at the core of all this that caught me. Imagine a four-burner stove:

” One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.’ The gist, she said, was that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two. “

I’d recommend checking out the links I posted for further pontification on those matters. But there’s an interesting thought here. What do I have to sacrifice for such a solitary pursuit as writing, or any work I value and pursue? Can you just turn down the other burners a little bit, rather than turning them off completely? Can you alternate? I tend to alternate in neglecting my friends and family, sometimes both. So there is a definite hermit scribe tendency there already. Still, I want to say this analogy is flawed and that you can balance everything and have it all. But really, I’m not so sure.

Anyway, on this note, I have amazed myself lately by becoming a morning person for the sake of cultivating a writing habit. My routine’s not perfect, but I am rising early, sitting down and writing most mornings, without too much distraction, for a good hour at least, before work, or longer on weekends.

I’m still trying to read more books. That’s what has really suffered lately. I read a good amount and variety of stuff online, from tweets to longform essays. But I know I need to carve out a book reading habit amongst it all too. And that the o-so-hard (and privileged) but necessary choice is: less TV and less farting around online in the evenings. I want those things too, but I value book reading more. So the next step is making my life reflect my values.

And that could get me into even broader questions of life, ethics and deep deep meanings,  but I need to get ready to go to Newcastle today, so I’m going to leave it at that. But I’m pretty sure my time with TiNA will be valuable and that I’ll have plenty to write about upon my return. Imma gonna give this blog the love it’s always deserved.

PS: Just after I finished writing this, someone else’s blog post, in a similar vein, came up in my newsfeed. Nice.

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4 comments on “Balance

  1. phill says:

    Nice post Duncan, and glad to see you back in shiny surrounds. I’ve recently been struggling with similar questions myself. I picked up an office job pretty directly after handing in my thesis, and the contrast between university ‘work’ and the 9-5, leave-it-at-the-desk-you-sit-at cube kind of screwed with me a bit. Whereas I would usually be in and out of streams of work/writing/reading/commenting/fucking around for an entire day, now there was a definite gap between doing work for a straight 8 hours and getting home and having this free time to myself.

    I was surprised to find that I did a whole heck of a lot less with that free time than before. I don’t think I wrote a single word for a good two and a half months. Instead I found that I was using all my time up with friends, family, girlfriend, playing video games. Not bad things, but also not precisely what I wanted to be doing. It took me a good while to realise what I was doing and start to reprioritise. But I think that if you are aware of what’s happening and how you want to spend that time, you can shift your activities to suit. And it sounds like you’re doing just that. So I guess the end result of this rambly comment is good luck with continuing the habit! 🙂

    Also, what the FUCK. We didn’t meet up at TiNA. :<

  2. Thanks Phill! I think I might change the background, but I’m glad to spruce up and get back to the blogging!

    First off ARG DAMMIT I KNOW. I didn’t get to meet several people I wanted to at TiNA, at ALL, and I missed a bunch of stuff I wanted to see. 2.5 days is not enough. Next year I have to go for the whole 5 days. Are you hoping to go next year? What did you end up checking out? I bet we were in the same crowded room at some point and didn’t even know it.

    Anyway, it’s nice to see this balance thing isn’t just something I’m grappling with. I’d say it’s probably pretty common for people with pursuits beyond their day job. I gotta say, if I ever have kids though…I dunno how I would be able to find any time for anything.

    TiNA gave me both inspiration and a cold, so hopefully the balance will swing towards the latter and I’ll keep up the good habits!

    • phill says:

      Yay blogs! Yeah if I’m in the country (‘cos who knows, right?) I hope to go next year, for sure. I was at the Voiceworks self-editing thing, then the “What Sydney scene?” panel, the Big Top party, the zine fair, and finally the video game panel. So I didn’t get to see so much, but I did finally get to hang out with a bunch of peeps that I hadn’t met yet. 🙂

      Oh man, I reckon kids’d ruin EVERYTHING. Get your best-seller out of the way before that. ;P

      I’ll look forward to more bloggyness coming from your way, woo! 😀

  3. It looks like the only place we both went to was the zine fair. And that was probably the least likely place to notice someone else. Dang.

    Now that you mention it though, I was standing around waiting for a quesadilla at the zine fair and the woman kept calling out for a Phill to collect his quesadilla? I looked around for your face then, but nope. A missed quesadilla connection, perhaps? Anyway, then she messed up my order so I got two quesadillas for the price of one. They were good quesadillas. Quesadilla.

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