Jun 04 2010

Cancer Chronicles: throwing money at the double standard

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.

8 Responses to “Cancer Chronicles: throwing money at the double standard”

  1. Harimadon 04 Jun 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Flip the priviledge coin: you’re giving someone else a job.

  2. Lynnon 04 Jun 2010 at 12:21 pm

    Makes complete sense when you’re running at least 3 businesses from home.

  3. Reesaon 04 Jun 2010 at 12:46 pm

    @Harimad - that’s pretty much how we’re looking at it, no one we’re paying is making less than $10/hour and we’re likely to give raises fairly regularly.

    @Lynn - Yep, With my two, Steve’s one, and Nathan’s personal projects, I think it’s probably closer to four, hehe. Not counting the adolescent male we’re about to add…

  4. Miarron 06 Jun 2010 at 2:15 am

    That sounds really cool, actually. And I don’t see it as problematic at all. When your neighbour’s teenage daughter starts working for her own money and you let her babysit your kids, there’s no problem in that hypothetical situation. So why now? You’re offering someone who needs a job, a job that you need doing. It’s a win-win situation.

    What struck me as curious about this (lovely, enlightening) post was the phrase:

    >> “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?”

    That’s a very nice thought in theory - “wishing” or “thinking” away your anger, on the grounds that it’s a lot nicer to be happy than upset - but does it hold water in your daily interactions? It’d be nice if we could all be happy and content all the time, but de facto, sometimes we *need* to feel hurt or upset. At least, that’s how it is from my experience. So how to you toe that line of being a calmer/more happy person, without crossing over into simply oppressing your emotions?

    Regardless, I think it’s a great and wonderful thing, that you strive to live such a positive and fulfilling life. Yeshar koach. :)

  5. Reesaon 06 Jun 2010 at 5:33 am

    @Miarr — aha, some actual discussion meat here, fun! First, I think that your summation of my sentence changed both its intent and its meaning quite a bit from where I’d attempted to go, so let’s walk back through it and see where the misunderstandings lie and see if we can find some more clarity all around.

    To question “how invested am I in being angry/upset/resentful or whatever about an interaction”, in my mind does not at all equal attempting to “wish or think away my anger”. While I agree with you that it certainly *feels* more pleasant to be content or happy than upset, I’m not sure I even agree that it’s inherently “nicer” — I’m not sure I put value judgment on the “negative” emotions the same way many other people might. And I’m almost positive I disagree with the statement that it’s a lot nicer to be happy than upset — again, that’s putting an emotional value that I’m not sure I believe in on both emotional states. Quite often we don’t get control over that initial limbic system response to a stimulus, and anger (and other emotions from that end of the spectrum) can serve very useful or educational purposes indeed at times. I *prefer* to maintain emotional equilibrium in the realms of contentment and happiness when possible, because I’ve discovered it feels tangibly better for my body’s health to do so (and likely my relationships’ health as well). Seeking those desired emotions out and cultivating them with intent I’ve found makes them show up quite a bit more often. *grin*

    So when you say that sometimes we “need to feel hurt or upset”, not only do I not disagree, in my mind you’re simply stating in a different way what I said with my original sentence. When I question my investment in anger, hurt, or resentment, what I’m largely examining is my attachment to those emotional states persisting once they show up, and how I choose to act when they do arrive. That last bit is probably a key to unraveling this particular misunderstanding — in my mind, one doesn’t get more than sporadic or periodic control over the initial emotional feeling/response. However, one CAN practice controlling how one acts or reacts to that initial flush of upset, and improve that control skill over time. If I am invested in holding on to my anger, I am much more likely to react as if my angry perceptions are objective rather than subjective truth. And I have very much noticed that being angry, hurt, or resentful DOES drain physical energy, and while those emotional states persist it’s also a lot harder to call up contentment or happiness.

    So from where I stand, it never even comes close to the realm of oppressing my emotions. In fact, it’s rather important I know as much as possible about the emotional cocktail of a particular moment, so I don’t get surprised by a particular reaction becoming overwhelming because I didn’t give it the attention or understanding it deserves. Often the fastest way for me to genuinely get past an angry, sad, or hurt response is to just sit with it and feel it as intensely as possible within myself for a few moments, examine the hurt from all the rational and irrational angles I can find, breathe deeply while I’m doing so, and after a few minutes (occasionally longer) I find that as long as I don’t attempt to engage discussion while in that first flush of sitting with the feeling, I can get calm enough to rationally control and discuss my initial emotion in a way that both acknowledges and releases it, making space for other emotions — and other peoples’ perspectives — again. And my personal answer to your question of how to find the dynamic equilibrium involved in being a calmer and more internally peaceful person very much involves learning how to work with the fact that I can’t control my initial emotional surge but I can very much learn to control what I do next from that. Frankly, all the dials are turned up to 11 on my emotions, hehe. It took 32 years to get a pretty decent understanding of how to sometimes not fly off the handle in the emotions of the moment. Cancer was like another 32 years of practice on that all at once.

    This might have gone too far the other direction into too wordy, so let me know if I obscured meaning again and I’ll keep trying. Or, if this does make sense, let’s continue the discussion, share your thoughts!

  6. Maryon 10 Jun 2010 at 4:59 pm

    You make lots of good points in response to a life-changing situation. Sudden or semi-sudden changes in one’s days, weeks, months, and years can be less than easy to become accustomed to. It takes work to achieve change to any degreee to make sure of creating and maintaining comfort zones and to make sure that important things are always taken care of. You know these things and have worked on them very well. Your decisions and implementations are good ones.

    Years ago when I found out that the chronic illnesses I had were going to stay that way, never be cured, and worsen I was forced to change many things because I could no longer physcially live a ‘normal’ life. In balancing pain that nothing can completely take away and excessive fatigue that never is much improved I had an easier situation in a way as I had no choice but to give up many things; so there was no dicotomy about what to continue to do or not to do; I just stopped many activities. Just stopped. I’ve never gone back to them. I don’t do house-cleaning, I don’t do the cooking, and I run very few errands. Happily, therefore, I no longer have to do chores for the most part. I am able to fold laundry some and don’t mind doing it. Many fun things went away too, but I have been able to replace them with others. When it became apparent that I could no longer run around and do anything I wanted like most folks, people began to disappear, by their choice, from my life. So, I didn’t have to make decisions on limiting my interactions, which were too exhausting, with lots of people. Having physical and emotional decisions removed from me was something that while painful at the time were easier in the long run as I didn’t have to cross activities and people off my list after much deliberation. Had I been forced to make such choices on a line by line basis on activities and a person by person basis on who should and who shouldn’t remain in my life I believe that such would have caused much distress. Also, I could have been the source of pain for others who would have no longer been invited to stay in my life. So, having some decisions made for us can be a good thing. Years before I began to be more and more ill I had been a painter, writer, and musician previous to having a business career. The business career had to be given up and as a result I didn’t know what I would do with the rest of my life. I couldn’t run at all, I couldn’t stand for long, I couldn’t walk much — but I was great at lying down and at sitting. Being great at sitting is a real plus! Sitting is a prerequisite for some absorbing activities: playing the piano, painting on canvas for any length of time, and using a laptop for writing. I went back to doing all of these things. I rediscovered old talents. Without becoming disabled I very likely would have never gone back to enjoying these things.

    Change can create pleasant surprises. I wish you many of them.

  7. Ellaon 20 Jun 2010 at 6:53 am

    Wow. Not only was this NOT too wordy, but your comment was very edifying, as well. :D

    I have nothing very constructive to add, because I essentially agree with what you said; however, I wonder, did you ever study/take a course in/have an interest in social work or psychology? My sister has finished getting a degree in it this year, so we got a lot of it around the house and it’s somewhat shaped the ways we interact with each other.

    Speaking as someone who’s heard about “models of dealing” and “containing emotions” so much she can drown in it, it’s amazing to me that you not only follow the process of “dealing” exactly like a professional social worker/psych major would, but also know how to explain and illuminate your actions with pinpoint clarity and complete understanding.

    TL;DR: Reesa, I think you’re a closet professional social worker. :O

  8. Reesaon 21 Jun 2010 at 7:58 am

    @Mary — Thanks!

    @Ella — I actually have thought about going back to school for psych stuff, so thanks for the encouragement!