All Work and No Play, makes Jack

Just as I began to accept the quiet of January and the spirit of “hygge,” a sense of cozy comfort with books, candles, tea and all things that help us endure the dreary winter days, the sun came blazing out, the temperature rose above 60° and I saw a daffodil in bloom.

And just like that, it’s Spring.

How difficult it was for all of us to focus that day! In-between school tasks we sat on the front porch and watch the Stanislaus County employees jackhammer and shovel a hole into the road. A new flower arrangement of irises, three types of calendula, and feathertop ornamental grass imposed itself on my mantle, displacing whatever winter decorations were left in that sacred space. I even gave my son a few shortcuts during his math assignment. We were all so happy.

Floral arrangement

It’s just so easy to get bogged down by the day-to-day and more exceptional cares of life.

I could list issue after issue, personal concern after personal concern, but I dare not. Not only because of their private nature, but because today it felt like Spring. After letting go of one stressor through a rant and a sidecar with my husband, with the little children down for the night and the older children reading in the living room, I come to my bedroom and that writing desk. I pause, breathing in the atmosphere of the room I might love most.

It’s a repetitive exercise for me and it seems the lesson I need to learn most. Slow down, look around, breathe in, delight. Whether in my children or the decorations or the flowers nearly in bloom. Stop, take stock, enjoy.

The first daffodil of the day, distracting me from the labor of the day

There is room for work. I doubt we are tempted to underwork then overwork.

That temptation to overwork is called “workism.”

In First Things, February edition, Michael Toscano writes, “Workism is a new word, and it’s a good one. It captures the spirit of our elites, who from childhood are raised to be workers for work’s sake. Work is their priority, their imperative, their strategy, their solution, their delight, their governing ­philosophy.”

That sounds extreme. He makes his point in “Workism isn’t Working” by showing first that the fruit of our advancement as a society, particularly for women, isn’t more money, but more work hours, and those who have attained a higher social status, gain for themselves not just power and prestige, but really, really long work weeks.

But how do we non-elite folk encounter the idea?

“To our elites, leisure is not a privilege, or even desirable. There is no leisure: only wasted time.”

That’s the crux. For all the talk of self-care, we also live in a society that feels the need to find a whole lot of usefulness in taking a walk or shortening the workweek or playing a sport. There must be a reason, a justifiable reason.

I work from home, part-time, while educating my children full-time. My husband works from home, part-time, and then out of the home on the weekends. This arrangement, plus a bit of land, provides us the leisure to cultivate the land, and our children. Leisure comes to the farmer necessarily, because at certain times there is less to do than others.

Yet, I recognize this idea and have seen it at work.

The argument is that we cannot “be” just for the sake of being. We cannot stop and smell the roses. We cannot play with our children. There is too much to do.

I hear many a woman struggle with stopping work outside the home to work inside the home. My work outside the home seems to earn me some approval in those circles where a housewife’s life is a luxury and a folly.

Perhaps it’s different in other circles, but I rather doubt it.

  • Does leisure or mindfulness seem a waste of time.
  • Does it seem out of place?
  • Does it seem a waste of time?
  • Does it seem fine for some with the privilege or audacity to take it, while the rest toil away, rather virtuously?
  • It is good to hear these ideas spilled out and see where we stand. What do we really think?
  • Or do we dare think it?

Do we dare blow a fluff of dandelion seeds?

Or linger in the warm sunshine? Do we allow a moment for a joke?

Or must the work go on,

And on,

And on?

The ant: all work and no play
Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

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