With my writerly powers, we will now leap forward in story-time for this post, and talk about an interesting recent household solution.
Post-cancer, the coins of the realm are energy and time spent. How much time and energy a particular activity takes, and where it intersects with how much you care about said activity, is what determines what you decide to do. You never, ever again get to have as a remote abstraction the awareness that death awaits around a nearby corner. Every activity choice carries with it the underlying question, “If the cancer returned tomorrow, how much would I care about having done this activity?” It forever changes your barometer of “what matters”.
So as my husband takes on a new, out-of-the-home job, we know we have to prioritize adding back in the he-and-I time, once we know a bit more about our new daily activity flow. Because that’s exactly the sort of thing in a normal life that you wake up months later and realize you’ve totally slacked on, and whether you scramble to fix it depends on how invested each partner is in the status quo, etc. But married to a cancer survivor, you don’t know if those months slipping away like hourglass sands are .005%, 5%, or 50% of the time you have left with your life-mate. So we have to take extra steps to make sure the lazy easy habits don’t set in, in the first place: our time together is too fucking precious for that, forever.
Every choice of new activity brings with it similar questions, like returning to school: is putting up with the stress and bullshit of academia worth that much of my time to get the end product? Or do I re-prioritize those plans to something that I know for sure will bring fulfillment and enjoyment without the accompanying stress? What are the hobbies or recreational activities that I’d always planned to “get around to someday”, and why are they not just being done? When the heck is “someday”? Not to mention the emotional shifts: how invested am I in being angry/upset/resentful or whatever about an interaction, when that takes both time and energy away from the option of doing other things and feeling content or happy?
The most interesting recent manifestation of this process, happened this week as we hired a part-time house assistant. We’ve also recently hired a part-time personal assistant/financial manager for the DreamCafé, as we’d all rather be working extra hours than balancing the books. Money management stress? So not worth that time/energy coin. Less stress will also probably lead to more functionality on the finance front for everyone, bonus! But back to the house assistant.
In our 21st century enlightened household, though none of us preferred to do so we have nevertheless been operating under a functional gendered double standard for house upkeep and maintenance. This is not because my housemates are sexist; they are in fact some of the least sexist men I’ve ever met. However, whether due to geek nature or subtle male privilege, they are much less invested in the upkeep of, and able to more easily block out disruptions in, their immediate environment. I, whether due to my hyper-awareness of my local environment or my own gendered societal programming on who’s responsible for mess, get driven quite batty if the house reaches a moderate level of mess and clutter and if it gets past that, the chaos will start actively affecting my own ability to get useful work done. However, being a 21st century feminist sort, my efforts at superwoman status don’t eagerly encompass the traditional women’s duties. I’d much rather be busting my ass at 18-hour workdays along with the menfolk, and doing any cooking or other chores because it’s my turn or I feel like it, rather than the shit rolling downhill and sticking to me because I notice it fastest or because the other monkeys in the group think it’s my job.
Pre-cancer, we tried various combinations of chore sharing and internal grumpy grumbles on my part for continuing to end up with more of the housework because I cared more about whether or not and how it was done. (Note: my menfolk are very willing to help out when asked, and over time have voluntarily taken on several chores as regular habits without being asked. I’m not at all trying to paint them with a “typical male” brush, just attempting to describe actual events and make best guesses as to the whys.) Post-cancer, I don’t have the time or inclination for either the chores or the grumbles (see life-too-precious comment above). I’m finding that at my current recovery phase, I have energy for either work or house maintenance but not both. The other two aren’t interested in taking on or keeping the extra chore duties either. Yet still, the chores need doing.
Enter: a good friend needing a part-time job to fund her own creative pursuits while paying her bills. Ah ha, my clever brain thinks! Discussions ensue over several weeks, giving everyone time to find any hiccups in the friends-working-for-friends scenario (not usually the best idea), discussions of job and payment expectations, and extreme openness on my part as to the ultimate purpose: we’re paying for the privilege of removing the household functional double standard — which none of us actually wanted — so that all of us can do more of what we want to do on a daily basis, which is share time together and work our little butts off. When work equals writing and high level computer geekery, every work day is also play day: one of those secrets to success you can probably find in a self-help book somewhere.
A friend mentioned that having the class privilege to pay for the financial and house assistants might be controversial for some folks, and I suppose I can see that. Post-cancer, though, I can’t make myself care that much. We have the opportunity to take a huge load of stress and drudgery off all our plates, to free up more time for us to enjoy just being around each other, which is what we like best to do anyway, and to add to someone else’s self-support. All I have to be responsible for is overseeing that it all goes the way I prefer the house to function, and I like that kind of overseeing and organizing. It would seem really dumb not to take that opportunity simply because there are folks in the world who don’t get that choice. We worked our asses off to get to the place where we can afford to make that choice, and life really is too precious to squander the chance to have quality slack along with our persistent daily work.
Thank you, Nathan and Steve, for freeing me from the chains of the three-shift-woman social standard. Work and child-rearing are enough shifts for anyone. In the couple of days since we started this endeavor, I’m already getting much more writing done — I wrote a 3150-story draft from start to finish in 25 hours (with breaks) this week. And it feels like there’ll be enough time for play and shared time with some of my favorite people daily, along with all the work parts. Post-cancer, that suits me just fine.
Comments and discussion welcome as long as everyone remembers their manners.