Friday, March 27, 2009

The pleasures and sorrows of work (with apologies to Alain de Botton)

I exist in two different dimensions or modes of being. One is when I have no work. The other is when I have some. I am two different selves in these separate universes and what I love best is hanging around in the hallway between the two, anticipating work and enjoying my precious hours of freedom.

When I have no work, which is often at the moment, I am free. I’m in control of my life; admin tasks are done when I feel like it. I get around to clearing my in tray and my email inbox. I freewheel a bit. I walk my sister's dog Jordan any time in the morning that feels right. I work on my blogs. I have long discussions with my friend Simon, a semi-retired semi-single leftie (he thinks this term is obsolete, and prefers to be called 'progressive') about the travesty that is Australian politics.

I start to focus on the small things. Why haven’t I finished scrubbing the mildew-ridden kitchen ceiling, as my anally retentive property manager ‘advised’ me to do? Isn’t the garage horribly cluttered? Why don’t I ever get enough sleep? Why does everybody around me have more money than I do?

I start to worry about money. Perhaps I’ll never work again. What will happen as my savings run down? What about the far-flung future? I’ll be old and unlovable and poor. I go to Target and console myself with a bargain or two. I wait like Penelope for the money to come through from my last job. I abuse the accounts people when they send it to the wrong account (well I did on Thursday and for this and all my sins I am very sorry, and embarrassed).

I develop a low-level depression. I begin to feel disengaged from the world. At a family gathering some well-meaning rellie asks for the thousandth time whether it is hard to be disciplined working from home and I secretly snigger, thinking of my increasingly undisciplined ways and reply (I’m quite pleased with this reply because it hides a multitude of sins) that when the work comes in I do it quickly ’cos I want the money.

Then I get desperate. I resort to pleading with the universe for a small, do-able job that’s within my comfort zone. And I stoop to a new age trick that works every time – I visualise people delivering wads of $100 bills to my door on trolleys, so many wads of green bills that the spare room is chock-full of them. I see myself in this room, dancing around and laughing as I wildly throw bills in the air.

It works every time. But only too well. This time two new jobs came through one after the other, and I burnt my new-ish, favourite saucepan.

There was no lovely in-between anticipation of work. I was right in the middle of juggling and my other self, my other mode of being, stepped in.

I need to explain that something truly terrible happened to me once I became a freelance editor. I have always been angst and anxiety ridden in many-faceted ways, and my difficulties coping with colleagues in the workplace gradually made things worse. So I chose freelancing as a way to avoid this and it seemed to work for a while.

But sadly, the difficult life of a freelancer doing major editing jobs (books, training modules, CD-ROMs) seems to have sensitised me to work-related stress. Now it’s the work I dread, and the accompanying physical and emotional exhaustion. It’s almost intolerable for me to have a large job, for instance one running over three weeks, hanging over my head. Jobs must be small and manageable.

So I just don’t do the big jobs any more. Which is a shame because that’s where the money is.

But right now I am juggling two smallish jobs. And already I’ve burnt a saucepan. What next? Last night I watched a snippet of a late-night movie in which the main character was driving distractedly and crashed into the car ahead. Immediately I started thinking about how complicated my life would be if I had a similar bingle with these two jobs still unfinished.

Sleep is becoming more difficult. There’s work to be done goddam it, says my overdeveloped superego. I’ve started to worry about what will happen as the jobs continue and I get more sleep deprived.

And the most difficult thing. I've started thinking about every single small undone job in my life as well as future routine tasks and every one of them MUST BE DONE NOW. Well, sort of. I ignore this, but what I’m ignoring is a parcel of dread at the thought of my still-untreated warts, the bill I forgot to pay on Friday, the hours that a hair appointment on Thursday will take out of my busy work day, my future neglect of Jordan.

So I guess in the midst of this I’ll knuckle down and do the work. But if anyone reading has any suggestions apart from meditating (sadly I can’t meditate when I am in this state – there’s work to be done!) they’ll be very welcome.

(photo courtesy of Freeimages)

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