Friday, July 10, 2009

Did you ask for the happy ending?

Lots of thoughts lately on marriage and sexism, not necessarily at the same time; unsure how to organize them. Partially spurred by a couple of articles I ran across recently, both upsetting for different reasons. The first was an article about divorce in the Atlantic ("hat tip" to Allen) which questions the relevance and rationality of marriage in contemporary society, noting that Americans report more faith in marriage as an institution compared to other nations, while sporting much higher divorce rates. Americans are remarkably immune to cognitive dissonance. The depressing part was the suggestion that humans are wired for serial monogamy on a four-year cycle. Ugh. I don't want to get married, but nor do I want to remodel my life with every election year.

I didn't even read the other article, from Time, just a paragraph that made me want to puke (awkwardly inserted, possibly unintentionally ironic promotional link intact; emphasis mine):
Getting married for life, having children and raising them with your partner — this is still the way most Americans are conducting adult life, but the numbers who are moving in a different direction continue to rise. Most notably, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in May that births to unmarried women have reached an astonishing 39.7%. (See pictures of love in the animal kingdom.) How much does this matter? More than words can say. There is no other single force causing as much measurable hardship and human misery in this country as the collapse of marriage.
For "More than words can say," read "There's no discernible evidence for this claim."

I mean WTF? Really? No other force? How about, I don't know, poverty? Just a guess. If all the poor people would just settle down and get married, things would be awesome? Where do people get the chutzpah to make outlandish claims like this? P.S. That's not an antisemitic remark, the author's name is "Flanagan." You know, like in Cocktail.

I've been feeling grouchy this week about never having any free time. Every weekday, I wake up at 7, leave the house at 8 and start working about 8:30. I try to leave by 5:30 for the gym. I get home around 7, then cook dinner and eat with John. By the time we've cleaned up and I've checked my mail and email, unpacked my bag and repacked it for the next day, it's 9 or so. I'm one of those insufferable people who needs eight hours of sleep to feel fully functional, so that leaves me with two hours of unscheduled time per day. If I have any errand-type or logistical things I need to do (pay bills, make a phone call, do laundry, what have you) I have to do it during those two hours. I almost never use it to write because I'm too tired to think creatively. Sometimes I read a little. Sometimes I try to get in bed before 11 so it's not so hard to wake up at 7 (it's been near impossible for the past six weeks because of all the rain and the light never changing).

Essentially, even those two precious hours end up feeling mostly unusable. I just sort of wander around, straighten up the apartment a little, apply unguents and ointments to my perpetually itchy skin, maybe pluck my eyebrows. I never work on a "project." I realize I'm basically whining. I think most people escape this feeling, if they do, by not "cooking" per se, or exercising less. Or sleeping less. But I don't want to cut back on any of those things. I guess what I want is to be at work less, but I like my job and want to keep it and do well at it. Am I destined to join the perpetually dissatisfied? My Dad is fond of reminding my family aphoristically that "Life sucks and then you die." He's the king of the joke-as-refrain. "Let's ram this heap right through the barricade." "Today is another marvelous opportunity for achievement."

My dad loves that old cartoon about the guy who discovers the singing frog and thinks it'll make him rich, but the frog won't sing for anyone but him. (This fits into the same genre as Calvin & Hobbes, wherein animals and/or inanimate objects having special powers they only reveal to one person, or alternatively said person is crazy (in the case of an adult) or has a wild imagination (in the case of a child). The mistake of course would be to resolve the ambiguity.) The guy never gets rich of course and if he wasn't crazy before goes crazy I think. As a kid I kind of hated when comedies had unhappy endings. It wasn't the same as a real unhappy ending, it was played for laughs and that disturbed me. It was pretty common in cartoons, maybe even the norm. See the Roadrunner toons (yes, it's unhappy if the coyote always loses/"dies"), The Flintstones (Fred always gets displaced from his own home by the saber-toothed tiger at the end). Life sucks and then you die.


  1. Re: the usable time issue, my experience is the same and I think that's the reality of a 9-5 job. I think it can be a pretty inefficient way of getting work done too, depending on the business and individual.

    Some corporations are better than others re: scheduling and lifestyle issues for full-time employees and in my experience that can actually make a pretty big difference. But in the end it's still a big constraint.

    Presuambly there is a big segment of businesses/employees where corporations need to physically force people to sit in their chair for eight hours/day in order to get any work out of them.

  2. Caitlin Flanagan's a notorius conservative, isn't she? Outrageous claims are their favorite pastime.

  3. Matt: Well that would explain it. is TIME notoriously conservative? am I retard for not knowing that? I thought it was more neutral.

    Allen: I think my ideal would be to cut out of work at 4 every day. After 4 my brain is mostly mush anyway and the extra 1-1.5 hr would make a perceptible difference I think.

  4. I don't read Time, but maybe this was filed under "opinion"?

    The only reason I know who she is is because they talk about her on Salon a lot. Here's a taste, from which you can explore further;)

  5. I don't think TIME has "opinion" at least not designated as such. it's under the "U.S." or "Nation" heading.

  6. I guess that's not surprising. They might be neutral, but neutral in that stupid way, where every "side" is presumed to be equally valid.

  7. It's summer. No writing in the summer.

    You can borrow some extra time from me. I'm going to make you guys a dish and bring it over.

    Also, Time has leaned more conservative in the last few years.

  8. Hardly a day goes by when I don't want to call serious bullshit on the 40+ hour working week as it is commonly and coercively practiced and insisted upon. I am frustrated and confused by the way that almost everyone (me too--I'm not saying I'm above it) just sort of goes along with it. I mean, I know a lot of people kind of have no choice--that's how things just ARE--and thus subscribe, definitely, to the life-sucks-and-then-you-die mindset, because if you didn't laugh about it you'd cry all the time. But it seems like there are a lot of people who, if you say "I wish that the 5-day working week could be 4 days," for example, look at you like you've grown a second head. Is it so hard to imagine a world in which people do not spend all their best, most productive awake hours at work? I don't say "working" because so much "work" is just being there looking busy.

    Whine on, EG. You're right: it's dumb.

  9. It is dumb. I sort of feel like the general trend is towards more flexibility but that could totally depend on industry/location/etc.

    Cutting out at 4 or 4:30 every day doesn't seem extreme at all. You could make up a couple hours on the weekend. Have you asked?

  10. Allen, I think the trend is trending that way, too. I hope it is. It's change we can believe in!

  11. I think my company is trending that way but as a startup it's hard to overcome the culture of long hours. I think I could request an early leave time once I have a little more seniority.

  12. Of course, Kathy wrote a book while posting this blog comment. ; ) Ms. Productive.

    As you know, I recently switched from the 9-5 world back to teaching. It is far more flexible and I have a ton more free time. Or at least free time that I feel I can use. Schedule-wise, I love it. I also like teaching a room full of students valuable things vs. sitting in a cube by myself wasting away. I think that is why so many writers try to go the academia route. Which has probably harmed poetry. But due to the insane American work week, I can see why it is in fact a trend. To make you feel better, I write so slowly that I'm not sure my actual productivity has increased. Though I feel better about my writing for some reason.

  13. @ CT, I didn't *write* a book, but yeah, guilty as charged, I'm working on another one even as I comment, the one I've been working on for*ever* about Weldon Kees.

    And I just came across this quote from one of his journals, where he's writing about talking to his wife about the work-life balance issue, specifically about needing

    “…to get some kind of part-time job that will not bring on so much worry and sense of responsibility. I talked about how there was nothing I wd. like better than to have some time to paint and write poetry; instead of having to think continually about projects that would bring in money. I tried to talk about attitudes and codes—about working out ways of looking at things and ways of behaving that would make life easier. I mentioned trying to set up clear-cut lives between a job and one’s life outside, of cultivating new ways of looking at people and ‘things.’” I've done the professor thing before as opposed to my current 9-to-5 thing now, and I agree that it is much more flexible, but I also think yeah, it may have harmed poetry (or at least that it’s beneficial to have people writing from both inside and outside the academy), so I'm really wanting to figure out a way to not have to be a teacher again quite yet and still be a writer, but it's super-tough, partly because of the vision point that Kees raises: the fact that it's so hard to work "out ways of looking at things and ways of behaving that would make life easier."

    Why can't there just be more good part-time jobs? A four-day week, for instance, kind of France-style, might mean people make a little less money, but it's worth more than money to me (and I bet to a lot of people if they stopped to consider it) to be able to have more time to be myself and do what I want. And from a broader perspective, more people could probably be employed that way, and w/ unemployment figs being what they are lately, that seems like an inarguably desirable outcome.

  14. My current employer is pretty rational and I think their problem with granting formalized four-day weeks for staff across the board (I think it already happens rarely in special cases usually involving senior people) would be the "what if everybody did that" issue and how that might slown down communication when the person you need is out. But, they could always fix the schedule, like it's always Monday-Thurs, which might mitigate that. Hmmm.

    For me, the tough thing re: Kees is how to control my competitive impulse and allow myself not to give 100% at the day job. It's really hard, since it means acting very unnaturally (for me) and disengaging from the community at work.

  15. I love the idea of a formalized four-day work week. Two days is never enough. Fridays off forever!

  16. Elisa, I feel you -- so many of us deal with these kinds of "normal" (sic) schedules. Something I do on occasion is go to the gym at lunchtime (is it feasible where you are?) or, instead of going to the gym, take a walk/run with the dear one after an early dinner. Running down the street, looking at sky/trees -- a little bit like writing. Or take care of personal e-mail during lunchtime & make the evening an e-mail/blog-free zone. Or, on the weekend, set aside at least an hour of writing time & agreed-on silence per weekend day: make it the time of day that you covet during the workweek, when you're most productive -- for me that's morning. Just roll out of bed and onto the paper. Ah, freedom...

  17. I wish I had more hours. Enough to have more money at the end of every month, instead of less. Still not optimistic I'll ever pass the $20K/yr mark. If I carry through with my plan to visit a dentist and/or optometrist in the next few months, I'll probably have to leave New York and move back in with my parents. Weekends usually suck anyway.

  18. To circle back to the original articles that you kicked off the post with, it seems like all these concerns--needing more time, longing for more money, craving good health insurance that includes visual and dental options--is only made about a million times worse if you also want to have kids. Until "ways of looking at things and ways of behaving that would make life easier" (Fridays off forever being one great option) it seems like working people/working families are going to keep sinking further into dissatisfaction and unsustainability. Gross.

    @ Allen, agreed on the 100% on the day job front. I love my job and want to do the best I possibly can at it, too, which can risk leaving even less energy and enthusiasm for stuff that I do that's not for the benefit of my employer.

  19. Ana, running/walking outside used to be one of the main ways I wrote. Now I do most of my exercising in a gym, and because there's no natural, changing external stimuli in a gym I end up watching TV, which precludes thought. It's a problem. But I can't take a long enough lunch break to exercise as long as I like, and also eat, so it has to be after work, really, unless I wake up at 4. And I can't do that either. I know! I'm inflexible. I either need shorter hours or to work from home part of the time to cut out commute, which I think my co. is trending toward...

    Matt: New York is expensive.

  20. The Emma Bee Bernstein book in the Belladonna* elders series has a lot of interesting things to say on this topic. I excerpted some of it here!--

  21. A few people I know have gone to having four 10-hour work days, with Fridays (or sometimes some other day) off. It's entirely less than an ideal solution, and not possible for people in many jobs, but some organizations do seem open to the suggestion and these secret people I'm mentioning seem to like it well enough.

    And if working from home is an option, pursue it. Makes it easier to take breaks while still putting in the necessary work.

    That said, there's no doubt, life sucks and then you die. I try to say this as jovially as possible, preferably while toasting.