In my former life, I had a “proper” job and tried my best to be a decent mother (mothers are always full-time, no matter what else they are doing). I was far too busy to waste time on things like being a member of a book club. Now, I am a member of not just one, but two, book clubs, and I treasure the time I waste with the clever, interesting women who gather to drink wine, laugh, cry, discuss books, and make sense of our lives.
I’ve just started wasting time learning to play the djembe drum and, until quite recently, I wasted oodles of time going to pottery classes.
In fact, I’ve become a master at time wasting. It is a real art. I can spend ages staring at the sea, for example, watching the swell and assessing the crazy array of blues and greys. And I can beach comb for hours.
Just this morning, I watched a very large pod of dolphins (maybe more than one) swim past while a flock of gannets dived madly into the sea. Perhaps it’s an early sign of the sardine run that is still to come. It was a frenzy, but not at all hurried. I know because I watched it all.
And I don’t feel guilty, not any more. Instead, I feel enriched, deep down inside.
You see, in my former life, I ran around doing urgent things, so much that I seldom had time to do the important things. Today, I do the important things – like be with my friends and my family, be fully aware of this amazing environment, and take care of my own needs.
Crises and urgent things still crop up, of course, but they are part of the picture, not the whole picture. And my work – which I do enjoy very much, by the way – has become part of my life, not my whole life.
Cracking the work ethic
But it was very hard work to crack that Calvinistic work ethic: the ingrained notion that work is somehow good for the soul. I’m not for a minute suggesting that we shouldn’t work – that would be silly – but, rather, that we try to find a way that works for each of us to put work where it belongs, as part of life.
So when I left Gauteng 11 years ago to get a life here in the Eastern Cape, I worked very hard indeed as a freelancer and congratulated myself on those months that I earned more than I had in the employment I had left. It didn’t take long for the burn-out and dissatisfaction to creep back. And I wondered why I had given up the career if I was trying so hard to maintain the status quo.
A new way of being
I began to understand that my job had been a primary part of my identity for a long time and that I would have to learn a new way of being in the world. I went from the hectic extreme to the idle other side (didn’t like that at all) until, eventually, I did find a balance and things began to fall into place. It was when I could “waste time” without an ounce of guilt that I knew I was well on my way.
My life is nowhere near as busy as it once was, but it is fuller than ever before. It remains a learning process; perhaps it always will. I like it that way.
PS: V has pointed me to this article, written by a former car worker, Walter Johnson. Published 26 years ago, it’s as timely as ever. It goes to the root of that irrational idea that the harder you work, the more likely your salvation, that work is “the measure of a person’s moral worth and character”. Then he examines how and why the ethic that drives the work-consumption-debt cycle is sustained. It’s really worth a read.