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That Thing Called ‘Work-Life Balance’



‘Work-life balance’ mwhahahahaha!

And breathe… breathe….

In 2017 I made the decision to step back a little bit from theatre.  This isn’t actually quitting, though I’ve toyed with the idea; I’m still taking jobs that are groovy and interesting, but I’m taking waaaaay fewer of them and trying to get my head in some sort of order, owing as much to the fact that between 2008-2017 I managed to have a grand total of 5 weeks holiday, plus a spread out couple weeks for Christmas.  (I didn’t have holidays when training at Ra-de-da; I worked on shows in order to get a chance at being a lighting designer.)

All of this was, quite possibly, sending me mad.

2017 would be different.  It’d be the year in which I stepped back, took a deep breath, learnt Mandarin, did some painting (I’m really crappy, but do like going squelch with colour wheeeeee!) wrote a bit of a book and generally chilled the crap out.

And in a way, it’s gone well.  I am now better at this thing called ‘me-time’.  I’ve been doing swimming lessons, and can practically do two lengths of breaststroke in a row without dying!  Diving is still a psychological hurdle, but I’m working on it.  I’ve been trying yoga, and sure, everything hurts and I still can’t do a push-up, but different bits now hurt differently, so that’s…. nice.

Painting… well, I’ve thrown paint at a canvas a wee bit, and that was very satisfying, and usually carry a sketchbook to any lighting gig that is gonna be a lights-up/lights-down job.  And while I would definitely have taken more time out to do Mandarin, Kings College London weren’t offering Level 2 Part 1 as an intensive this year, so that’s sorta slipped.

Point is.  I’ve been trying really, really hard to… um… try less.

Except in reality, 2017 has been a bit of a rollercoaster.

One of the reasons for this was that at the start of the year I announced to myself and any fool who happened to be sharing cake with me at the time, that one of the privileges of doing less theatre and more books, was having time to get involved in Shit That Matters.  So for 7 months I dabbled in local politics.  Which was… informative, right up to the moment that the snap general election was called.  Then it was very informative indeed, as my two days a week of promised assistance to a local party turned into 40+ hours a week, culminating in the election count and a general sense of ‘what the hell even just happened?’

All while still writing.

And there’s been more scribbling than I expected.  Short stories, a novella, endless editing (this has been the year of the mega-edits), some random TV work which is now threatening to mount severely, a lot of book festivals and talks, and of course the current book that I’m working on now, which was due for delivery… ahem… a few weeks ago.  And which will be tactfully late.

As for Operation Do-Less-Lighting… well, I have lit fewer conventional theatre shows, but I’m also doing somewhere between 8-15 gigs a month, ranging from talking events, poetry readings and opera through to pop, punk and rock.  In fact, having less theatre work on has meant I’m in a better position to do more of these shifts, which sorta… ruins the point.

To cap it all off, there has been the generic and general adventure of life, family and friends that is the  bread and butter of everybody’s universe, and again my noble intentions of being there more for people I loved in 2017, while probably going a bit better than previous efforts is still… a work in progress.

Or to put it another way….

… my head’s gone a bit fuzzy round the edges.  I think it’s something everyone suffers from to a degree, at some point.  That sense of ‘um… so uh… what was I saying?’  A moment when you can’t quite remember if up is down, down is up.  Things that should seem simple, become complex.  Things which are complex, become overwhelming.  On a day-to-day basis, you seem to function, seem to get things done, but overall when you look back at your week you struggle to recall anything with clarity, let alone what you were doing last or how you got here.

And the world shrinks.

A couple of days ago, I got a train to Motherwell, and did some editing (like a grown-up) and some looking for rabbits (http://forums.xkcd.com/viewtopic.php?t=123264) and a certain amount of watching humans at stations, and towns outside the window, and the world passing by.  This is why trains are the best, by the way – they remind you of the size of the world, the packed, teaming, diversity of life that lives beyond your daily seeing.  Planes just make the world tiny and vast; trains make the world real.

Sometimes it takes going away, or sitting still, to notice just how much your vision has shrunk.  Mine has gone pinprick.  The solution is fairly obvious: walk away from it all, for a wee while.  Do a bunk.  Get some perspective back.

But it is the truth of freelancers, that we can choose to start work at 10 a.m. and finish at 3 p.m. if we want to, and we can choose to eat biscuits while typing in our pyjamas – but if our offices are our homes, and our lives are one job after another, it’s an incredibly hard thing to get away from it all.  There’s no workplace to leave.  There’s no place where the job doesn’t intrude.  And there’s always the fear: what if by saying no today, don’t get work tomorrow?

The solution, like the problem, comes from inside.  And it’s easy.  And it’s also ridiculously hard.