Work/Life Balance (June 21, 2011)

I have been throwing around this terminology and thinking about this dynamic in my life quite a bit in recent days. I have let the spectrum get out of whack. With the physical and emotional turmoil I have been experiencing this year, time was I was very grateful to have my work to occupy my hours. That’s still true to a large degree. I am challenged, and experiencing growth as a person and as a professional in my day job as well as the diverse freelance projects I have undertaken.

As a working writer, I am never able to shake this fear, and I imagine artists, dancers, actors and other creative types can relate. The fear is that if I say “no” to a particular job, I may be daring karma to turn against me. I will never be offered a gig again. The freelance world is very feast or famine by nature and all I need is to conjure memories of those 4-6 weeks stretches where I can boast nary a byline. The periodic blackouts are scary enough that when multiple editors approach with projects, I am almost too grateful to consider whether or not I can deliver in a healthy manner.

Very recently I have resumed my post as theater critic in the Chicago market. The website for which I submit reviews had dropped Chi-town as an outpost in April of last year, but there’s just too much good stuff onstage in the Windy City for any arts and entertainment outlet worth its salt to ignore. So I’m back on, in a big way. I have four shows to cover between last weekend and July 19. Since it’s summer, ‘tis the season for urban agriculture stories, one of my bread and butter journalist beats. I sit on the board of a women’s press collective and edit the group’s quarterly newsletter, so that has taken a lot of my time and labor. I could continue to delineate specific commitments but you get the idea.

I am living my dream. I never asked for the riches and fame of a J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, and as I am neither a novelist nor seek media attention, I don’t think there was much risk of that happening anyway. I long to be Gail Collins of the New York Times when I grow up, but that may never occur. Honestly, I can live with that. My ambition was to be a writer. That’s all. I never attached any imaginary barometers for success to my goal. Could I write full time and pay my bills? Yes? Cool.

But I am having some trouble leaving enough space in my new world for myself. I am not allowing the time required for rest, strategic planning, friends and family. In my quest to keep myself honestly occupied, this was never my intention. I have a couple of aunts in Wisconsin who are going to be really disappointed in me this weekend. They understand my deadlines, but I used to complain vociferously when my estranged consultant husband would continually prioritize work over family. I have unwittingly become that of which I always disapproved.

I know a lot of smart people out there in the writer’s community. How do you folks achieve and maintain a work/life balance? How do you do it all without depleting yourself or failing the most important people in your life?

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