Deborah Siegel asks: Is any working woman writer with a family (broadly defined) successfully juggling? Is it possible? Is it our goal?
I’m high off the yoga retreat my husband and parents blessedly, mercifully sent me on for my birthday last weekend. But five days later, the glow is already wearing thin. Balance—or rather, the quest for something resembling it—remains a daily challenge. It was nothing shy of wonderful to sit in an empty room with 22 other women (and 2 men) all weekend and focus on my breath. The real challenge, of course, is to bring the peace I felt on the mat back home.
As women and writers composing a life, we are postergirls for stress. Tina Fey’s timely manifesto in the New Yorker (“Confessions of a Juggler”) struck a chord for many of us here at She Writes. The rudest question you can ask a woman, writes Fey, is not “How old are you?” or “What do you weigh?” but “How do you juggle it all?” As a still new-ish mother of twins, it’s a question I get all the time. And while it often feels like a compliment, sometimes I feel like a fake—you think I’m successfully juggling? Ha! Fooled another one.
And so I want to know: Is any working woman writer with a family (broadly defined) successfully juggling? Is it possible? Is it our goal?
I came back from my retreat thinking about a woman’s—and in particular of course this woman’s—book/life fit. Cali Yost is among those redefining “balance” (elusive, inachievable). She talks about work+life fit (a constantly recalibrated equation—note her recent post about how sometimes even a work/life expert's fit stinks). I adapt my term from hers.
Book/life fit = a woman writer’s ability to make working on her book and her current life, well, you know, fit.
Definition of “fit”:
1. be the right size or shape (match, suit, correspond)
2. be appropriate
3. be compatible
4. make somebody or something ready
5. relationship for best function
In an ideal world, and maybe in places like Sweden where they've actually figured out things like childcare, our writing and our lives are one. “[T]here are books that a writer undertakes because she wants to go on a journey, and there are journeys a writer undertakes because she wants to write a book,” writes Dani Shapiro in an interview about the undertaking of her latest memoir, Devotion, which I deliciously consumed over the weekend while curled up on a couch sipping ginger tea between yoga classes (NOT, believe me, my normal life). Previous books I’ve written or proposed have been undertaken because I’ve wanted to write a book. The new one is for the journey. The endeavor feels qualitatively different. More organic. More in sync with my life in its current form (I’m writing about the gendering of childhood, with memoir strewn in). But it’s a challenge, daily, to allow myself to just let that journey unfold.
Like Shapiro, whose memoir is about her search for answers to big spiritual questions, I’m fighting internal demons as well as external ones for the quiet time, the permission, the space to experiment and think deeply and well. “This was very much a journey I wanted to go on,” Shapiro says. “[T]he only way I could really give myself the permission and the time to do it was by knowing that it was what I was doing for work, that I could spend two years cross-legged on my floor and feel like I was working. Otherwise I’m way too type A, and it would have felt both impossible and self-indulgent. I needed to slow down and quiet down deeply into a lot of these questions, yet at the same time what I was looking for, and continue to, is a way to have this exist within a regular, normal, modern life.”
And there, dear ladies, is the rub. A woman’s regular, normal, modern life is generally so full that slowing down and quieting down takes concerted effort, not to mention finagling and negotiating with the colleagues, the bosses, the partners, the parents, the dogs, the children, the childcare, the bills. “Juggle” implies perpetually keeping balls in the air. I don’t want to live in fear of dropped balls. What I really want is to slow down.
Here are 5 ways I’m trying to slow down:
1. The 7-Day Social Media Cleanse Challenge. It worked! After a week of following my own rules (more or less), I find I’m both emailing less and getting fewer emails. I’m less addicted to the constant “hit” of my Inbox, blog comments, and retweets. I’ve spent less time on FB and I’ve been tweeting in a way that feels holistic and enjoying watching the number of followers grow. (For anyone wishing to try the Challenge, read this post, follow the instructions for a period of 7 days, and notice what unfolds.)
2. I’m meditating. Or rather, I meditated two days in a row, for 10 minutes each. Hey, it’s a start.
3. I’m saying “no” to things more often. Even when they’re tempting and, in one recent case, semi-lucrative. I’m trying to be strategically intentional in terms of the paid work I take on. As my dear friend Courtney Martin recently said to me (and I’m botching the quote she quoted me), some things are actual opportunities and some things are distractions in a superfly red dress.
4. I’m inching toward spending more time, rather than less, with my babies. This one sounds counter-intuitive but hear me out: Starting next month, I’ll temporarily cut back on our babysitting so that the time I spend working on the as-yet-un-paying book project is less stressful, less filled with guilt, more free (but no, I am NOT--repeat NOT-- opting out. I am among the vast majority of us who literally can't afford to, long-term).
5. I’ve stopped folding laundry. I mean really, what’s more important: folded shirts, or 500 more words?
So tell me, She Writers: How’s your book/life fit? If it’s out of whack, what steps (including, perhaps, moving to Sweden) might you take to make it work better? Share your strategies, and pass it all on.
How's YOUR book/life fit? She Writers join @TinaFey123 in writing/life struggle. Join the convo http://bit.ly/PinkBlue5Steps #worklife
Image cred: Women Workout Routines (with a bow to Sarah Saffian, who I think first found this pic!)