I’m trying to get into the habit of not working at least one day a week, writing the odd blog post in advance and staying off the computer. I’ve had a lot of years where a whole day off each week has not been a reliable feature. One of the problems with being a self employed person who is not earning a vast amount, is that it never feels safe to stop. Improvements in my economic circumstances have certainly contributed to feeling like I can have a day off, as increasing issues with exhaustion and mental health made the need for it all the more pressing. No one can run flat out forever.
In the last week, a friend introduced me to the idea of time contamination, and the way in which women don’t reliably get time off. After all, when I step away from the computer there’s still meals to sort, parenting to do, cleaning, laundry, and often this is on my mind. Time contamination is the idea that even in our free time, we’re still thinking about responsibilities to others and things we should be doing, so time off isn’t wholly free. I do this, pretty much all the time.
I don’t know how to stop. I don’t know if I should stop. Would it be ok to stop? What might go wrong if I’m not paying careful attention to everything, all the time?
I don’t know.
I have read plenty enough stuff about freeing yourself from all of this to live in the moment, and I suspect that may work if you don’t have the kind of ongoing responsibilities that need ongoing attention. It’s a way of life designed for people living simply in a monastery, and that may need bearing in mind. It’s not compatible with vulnerable dependents of any variety. It’s not compatible with a job that can’t be firmly boundaried and safely ignored out of hours. It’s not compatible with living with someone who needs you to be paying attention to things – and generally people do, pets do.
There are always things to figure out, to learn, to do better next time. Things to plan, to remember, to notice. The life I have depends a lot on doing this well, day to day. For me, paying attention is a form of caring. If I don’t know what’s going on, how can I get things right?
I have questions to ask about the degree to which I hold myself responsible, and the degree to which I am not allowing myself to step down. There may well be better balances to find, that still seem honourable to me, but do not require my total attention all the time.