Friday, January 20, 2023

Balancing Life Work and a Chainsaw, by Josh Stallings

Q: The balance between life and work can be difficult to manage as a writer, because we all "work at home". How do you succeed, and fail?

A: The balancing act. Yesterday Catriona described it as a teeter-totter, I like that and some days it does feel like a playground game. Other days it feels more like juggling chainsaws, same balancing act, but the stakes are higher. Yes that’s hyperbole. Yes it’s a a bit overly dramatic. But I’m running on little sleep and my work/life balance is out of whack.

I am blessed/cursed to have spent my life working as a creative in one field or another. As a trailer editor I felt at times like a gunslinger. Come to town, break a movie campaign’s back, roll on to the next. There was zero balance. I never missed a deadline but my family paid a price. As I did. 

I always felt I was one stumble away from losing it all. And in some ways I was. Fail to open a couple of big films and clients stop calling. Same is true for authors, under-perform on a couple of books and your prospects shrink. To up my odds for success I worked around the clock. Not a recipe for a balanced life.

When I was able to write full time I worked hard to balance my life, and for a while I attained something like a teeter-totter. Now due to health issues in my family, I need to step up there. My writing is taking a back seat. 

Waaaa waaaa…. Wait. Readjust my lens. Drop the micro and cut to a wide shot. Get some perspective.

Everything of any real worth that I have written was based on my experiences. Yes they have been amplified, settings have morphed, characters have been composited, but the heart of any work is based on scenes from a life lived.

If that is true, and today it is, then maybe the whole concept of work/life balance is flawed. Walking across a snowy meadow with my wife, we are in the middle of a heavy conversation, for a moment we both stop and take in the snow draped mountains surrounding us. In the face of this natural beauty everything feels less immediate. Driving home we will sort out the best way to handle life’s latest stumbling block. It is easier to see solutions once the mountains have shrunk them to the right size. This thought will make it into my writing, oh damn it did just now, and you’re reading it… So was that walk in the meadow life or work?

My father was an artist, he spent his life seeking and creating beauty. I asked him what that meant. “Beauty?” He pointed out over the Puget Sound, smiled and laughed. “See that? It never doesn’t take my breath away.” 

Were we living or working?

Both require me to be present. Where I get out of balance — if there is such a thing — is when I’m walking in a meadow but my mind is in the pages at home. Doing that I risk missing real life happening in real time. I might miss seeing Ernie the adventure poodle pulling a sneak attack by diving off a picnic table onto Buster. After a rolling tussle they both disengaged and chased after a real or imagined rabbit. They were filled with the pure joy of life. And they were just two pups running in a snowy field. 

We get to choose what we see and then how we report it, but only if we’re present for it. 

Everything is work. Everything is life. And isn’t that wonderful.


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Another great post, Josh. I think you're right about being present and keeping a balance.

Catriona McPherson said...

Joyous post, Josh. Except for putting the words chainsaw and balance together. Dead right about walking and talking. Cx

Susan C Shea said...

Sounds like you're dealing with some heavy stuff...but still finding beauty and creativity, Josh.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post as always. And the thing is the paying attention details show up later maybe? At least they do in my work.

Josh Stallings said...

Thanks Dietrich, writing this I became clear that being present always is the key. One I’m working on daily.
Catriona, thank you, and Chainsaw is a problem coming from the person who put teeter-totter together with tater-tots, I will never be able to separate them now.
Susan, heavy but also full of beautiful moments. Life, always evolving.

Anonymous said...

You were present for this article. It is beautifully written. Thanks for 🥲 ‘tearing’ me up!

Anonymous said...