Imbolc 2004, Vol 3-2
MatriFocus, a Cross-Quarterly Web Magazine for Goddess Women Near & Far
A woman in my community, a woman I hold in affection and respect, is no longer doing a regular paid job in the world. These days she often comments on the importance of intimacy, of recognizing friendship as the heart of life. When she speaks of this, I sometimes want to snarl and snap. I want to (but don't) say:
When Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was interviewing people who'd had near-death experiences, she noted that when death seemed near, none of them regretted that they hadn't worked more. But many of them regretted that they hadn't spent more time with people they loved.(1)
My first work mentor was a wife before she was a feminist. During that turbulent change, she decided to seek paid work. A stay-at-home wife, she told me, was relying on her husband to "survive, prosper, and continue to be willing to share the results of that prosperity with her." Her husband said, "We have plenty." She said, "I want mine."
She was a smart, short, formidable woman in a shirtwaist dress when I met her, and together we donned the businesswoman's drag of that era and sallied forth into corporate America. At one point, she managed dozens of women and was a role model for many. Then she quit, to move back East with her husband, renovate a house and garden, and become the guardian of some trees.
Most of the women she'd mentored were aghast. My staunch response was, "She knows what she needs." But it took me years to learn what she knew -- that full-time jobs are more than full-time, they take most of your energy as well as your time, and if you're not careful they define your life, your purpose, your relationships and yourself.
I was a workaholic before I was a feminist, so it seemed natural to work for ten or twelve hours, rush to a meeting or workshop, write for a couple of hours, and sleep a few hours before starting the process again.
One night I stood on a windy sidewalk for twenty minutes, while a friend and I struggled with our calendars, trying to make a date for coffee. Her schedule was like mine. The nearest mutual date was 40 days into the future. We wrote it in, shivering, and rushed off to our next destinations.
My friendships were episodic, I see now. The conversation picked up where it left off, resumed after a week or a month or a quarter. We always had stories to tell, we were always doing something. At times, there'd be someone I talked with every day, but it was usually a phone call.
Only one friend, a poet whose money jobs varied, except in their unimportance to her, seemed immune to the busybusy fashion. She wrote, mock-wistfully:
Last week I spoke on the phone with my friend the tree-guardian, my former mentor. These days she finds herself in a suburb of stay-at-home moms and corporate consorts, with a husband who's retired though she herself, being a homemaker, is not. It's worth noting that a few years ago, she adamantly moved them out of a large house into a small one.
She spoke of two young women she knows, one a doctor married to a househusband, the other a Ph.D. married to another Ph.D. The latter is exhausted from career plus 90% of the housework. My friend is worried about her, worried about all the young women who think we're living in a post-feminist world. She tells them: Put yourself first. They don't hear her.
Twenty-five years ago she told me: Put yourself first.
As a nice girl born and raised, I found that idea horrifying...and intriguing. I worked with her every day, experienced her clear-headed kindness and generosity first-hand. I knew she didn't mean: Consider only yourself. As always, she meant precisely what she said.
For a nice girl to put herself first is a revolutionary act. The whole self gets up and sits down in another place. The view's entirely different.
Put yourself first, not somebody else's dinner, deadline, expectation.
Does this mean you never cook again? Maybe. Or maybe it means: you don't cook dinner for able-bodied grownups when your back is killing you and you're not hungry.
Does this mean you don't have a meaningful need for the paycheck connected to your employer's deadline? Maybe. Or maybe it means: you'll work hard, but you won't work yourself into that post-deadline sickness that always occurs on your own time.
This stuff is Feminism 101. It enrages me sometimes that these lessons keep on being so relevant. But let's move on.
Put yourself first...
A friend once wrote a story called "At the Magic Shop," imagining a place where you could get anything you wanted...but what would you trade for it?(3)
Imagine a community in which we could trust each other, each to put herself first. Meaning: I know my own needs, limits, strengths, desires, most of the time. And meaning: I trust the grownups around me to know themselves that well, most of the time.
In that community, I could say to you, "Would you be willing to help me paint a wall / heal my cat / make dinner / organize a protest?" And I'd be able to trust you to know if you were willing and able to do that, and say so.
In the community where I live now, many of us try hard to be that self-knowing, but we spend an awful amount of time not asking, because the request might seem like pressure, a demand. Or because clearly the person is too busy, or has other priorities, or wouldn't enjoy it, or something.
Some of us spend a lot of time first saying no, then laboriously figuring out how we really feel about it, and backtracking.
Some of us feel too rushed for anything -- to tell, ask, listen, offer, follow through, remember, show up -- even though we know from experience that these simple acts are the way intimacy and most other good experiences grow.
What shall I do
The work of fine balance
is a lot less dramatic than the death-defying trapeze act of busybusyness.
It's harder to recognize. It may not even seem like work.
+ working woman in a rush, courtesy of Free Image Archive