“When do you write? Do you make a time every morning…?” I was asked a couple of nights ago at a wonderful event at Shearer’s Bookshop in Leichhardt, Sydney. (The picture above shows me there with fellow writer Walter Mason.)
It was a loaded question and I answered with a joke: “Morning, noon and night!”
It’s a joke because so much of a writer’s life is spent doing all the things that surround writing and being self-employed. Some days, in fact, I feel as though I am Stephanie Dowrick’s reluctant and inefficient secretary, rather than “Stephanie Dowrick”. Those are times when it’s the hardest thing to get to the project in hand, as much as you long to. And once you do enter the intense periods that serious writing demands, all else piles up in giddy heaps.
But that’s not why I am writing this.
I am reflecting on work and our choices around time because, to a degree, many of us and increasing numbers of us actually do work “morning, noon and night”. Or we think about our work even when we are not working. Or we feel unashamed to set genuine friendships and relationships aside because we are working. What’s more, we expect understanding for this flagrant prioritizing of work. We may even expect plaudits. Work and identity blur for many of us. We may also be addicted to that very buzzy feeling of being in demand, needed, engaged; of hurtling forward; of being present to any moment but this one.
Don’t get me wrong! Work and love are essential to almost all of us, exactly as Freud suggested. Work can be much more than a way to make a living – as vital as that alone is. Work can bring structure, purpose, company, stimulation, even meaning to our lives. But it’s not everything.
It won’t be “work” that sits up late with us on the day we experience a great loss; or that sees us through our times of inner abandonment or confusion; or that ushers us more gentler into older age; or that meets newborns with time and enthusiasm; or that has room for others to suffer or celebrate in our company.It won’t only be work that connects us to the deepest things, to the parts of ourselves that need a different rhythm and different consolations.
If we “marry” work, and make it our primary or sole commitment, we do so at great risk to ourselves. For work to “work”, it must be part of life but not all of it.
My resolve is to continue to work intensely when I am working. That’s the speed I have grown used to and like. I love losing myself in my work – and it’s writing that does that for me, not the admin. But I am equally resolved to make LIFE my greater priority.
Years ago, in a time of crisis, someone advised me to make my choices on the grounds of simplicity. There are moments in all our lives when we can choose the simpler path and perhaps the less rewarded path in material terms – or in terms of worldly approval or applause. But what we may be doing in those moments is making a far greater and more profound investment in family life, in friendships, in the honouring of our needs for nature or creativity. Or in play, prayer, rest, music, dance, talk: all those many quiet or noisy delights.
Thinking about work, loving work but knowing that it must be part of life and not all of it, I remembered these marvellous lines from Deuteronomy (30:19) that I also quote in Seeking the Sacred. I’m going to print them out and put them next to my screen:
I call upon heaven and earth this day to bear witness
that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.
Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.
(You might want to read Walter Mason’s long, thoughtful review of Seeking the Sacred on his very lively blog.)