Thursday, March 15, 2007

Do we have more leisure, or less?

Let me start by noting that I have not blogged since March 1. Which I will simply explain by saying I have not had a day off work since February 24. Now that I work part time in the secular world and part time in the religious world, every single day can be a work day. Evenings, weekends - it's all a blur. Not that I have put in full days every day since February 24, but that was the last time I had a complete day without paid employment.

I am confident that I will get the hang of it, and my consultant jobs will ease up. But I hear this all the time, from people who feel they have no free time, running their kids around, unable to make a dinner date before May because they're so booked up. In my particular case, I have combined a part-time job requiring significant evening and weekend hours, with self-employment. I am slowly realizing that this could turn out to be a deadly combination, if handled carelessly. Already work is here all the time, glowing in the spare bedroom. My business phone is my cell phone, so the client in Texas calls at 6 am. But that seems to be my particular variant on a very common reality. At least I haven't succumbed to the Blackberry - I do not need my email to follow me absolutely everywhere, thank you very much.

The list of things I'm not attending to builds in my head. Nelly was supposed to have some lab work re-done. I just realized the accountant had my social security number wrong on the business return, does that matter? My favorite pants have a ripped hem, which I curse every time I fling them on during a hurried morning rush, and then promptly forget about until the next time. If these sorts of things catch me up short, what possible hope do I have of hiring a contractor to replace the carport, or of ripping out the nasty moldy caulk in the bathroom, or writing the new book with my sister? And don't even get me started about my dead watch battery, it's just too much, too much!

I am genuinely unsure whether we have more or less leisure time these days. Back in the day - and still, in many places in the world - people worked from sunup to sundown just to survive. Hauling water, sewing their own clothes, growing their own food. Surely that is more grueling? But when the sun goes down, there isn't much more you can do. And maybe the grueling pace of each day's survival used to keep the tradition of Sabbath, in all its many forms, the sacred rest that we now skip.

I'm certain that our lives are less physically strenuous. But did women in the 17th century go to bed thinking of all the things they didn't get done? Dividing their to-do list into A-priorities and B-priorities for the next day? Did the intensity of the labor guarantee them at least a good night's sleep, something fewer and fewer Americans seem to enjoy, if researchers are correct?

I don't mean to sound ungrateful. I just wrote up a little blurb about the fact that women in Africa haul an average of 20 liters of water each day, for an average of 6 kilometers each day. I understand my life is easier. But somehow, we didn't learn the lesson, or we didn't do the work of fundamentally recrafting our society so that we could enjoy our ease. Those of us who made it off the survival treadmill have ended up on a new kind of treadmill. Did we create it ourselves? Or are the same forces as ever pulling the invisible strings?

1 comment:

Shelly said...

This is one of my main gripes about modern society, aren't advances in civilization supposed to make us relax and enjoy life more? Instead we just work harder to get ahead faster to buy more junk and we are not any happier. I think we have less leisure time than Americans earlier in the last century, even if not compared to people from past centuries.

I always argue to Michael that we should strive to work less, not more. That is hard to do when everyone around you is working more, since you gotta keep up (at least in our field, where you are judged by your productivity as measured by your peers' productivity).

Don't people in Europe work 35 hour weeks and get more vacation? Isn't that MUCH better?