*Please note that none of what I talk about in this blog post would be possible if Husband was not in a position to support both of us, and willing to give me the freedom and space to chase my dreams for now. I am fully aware that someone has to still take care of the responsibilities and bills of real life, and Husband has taken over that role for both of us for this chapter whilst I follow my bliss. I love you Hubby! And one day, some how, some way, I will return the favour. Thank you for believing in me and putting your money where your mouth is!*
Three years ago I embarked on a sabbatical of sorts. I left a very corporate world and replaced my office days with something that most would describe as being a full-time house-wife, or even lady-of-leisure. I embraced this title for a time, but only because 'Full-time Dream-Catcher' is not exactly something you can claim at dinner parties when strangers inevitably ask you: 'So? What do you do?' without looking a bit like a freak. And that is the sad state of our society.
It has been quite an adventure, with highs and lows, victories and disappointments. I found that even though I was no longer 'working' that I still didn't have enough hours in the day to do all the things I wanted to do. I discovered that all those things we always say we want to do but never have the time, don't magically happen when time is allocated - but rather take a whole lot of hard work and dedication. But the thing that I was most surprised (and hurt) to find, was the firing-squad of judgment, resentment and down-right nastiness I encountered from many peers, friends and even some family.
'What do you do all day?' 'I would be so bored if I was to stay at home all day!' 'Don't you think it's time to go back to work?' are the kind of comments I have had to bat on a regular basis. For the most part I have ignored, joked about or argued my way through these unpleasant encounters, but a recent, more frank version of these comments (from a well-meaning source) got me thinking - why is it that some people have such a hard time dealing with my current life choices?
Lets say that you started dating a new guy. He makes you happy - happier than you have ever been. He is sweet, kind, generous, funny, smart, and adores you. He is completely dedicated to you. He listens, lets you choose the movie (most of the time) and even finds your strange obsession with purple spandex endearing. Now lets say I am your friend, your confidant, someone who has been around in your single years. But from the day you met Mr. Perfect, all I can ever say to you is 'Oh my gosh, you have to get out of this relationship immediately! He is poor. He isn't going anywhere in his career. He lives in a rented apartment on the cheap side of town and can't even afford a decent cup of coffee. He lives with his mommy! He drives a beat-up old second hand rust bucket and he doesn't have an iota of dress-sense. He uses 'literally' incorrectly and makes spelling errors on his Facebook status updates. He listens to Nickleback, for goodness sake, dump him!'
Would you say that I am a good friend? Would you say that my interests lie in wanting what is actually best for you, or what some of society perceives as being best for you? If I were to suggest that you should date the rich maverick over the poor guy any day of the week, that would make me shallow, right? Shouldn’t he be valued for more than just his monetary status? Would you consider me a b**** if I only thought of your boyfriend as someone you could get a five carat diamond out of?
That's right. I would be a bad friend, at the very least.
Well, this is what I am encountering in my life right now. I have chosen the 'poor guy', if you will. An artistic, non-money-making sabbatical over a previously thriving career. To 'stay at home'. But I believe there is more to life than salaries. There is more to life than 9 to 5. And yet my dream-chasing has been seen as everything from lazy to lost, and I have come to the conclusion that those people in my life who perceive it that way are not wanting the best for me. Perception is a funny thing - because it can be just as easily based on blind ignorance as on personal experience. I suppose that is the difference between perception and misconception.
I have decided to map out a few answers to the top 10 general misconceptions I face:
1. "You don't 'work'."
Define 'work'. Are you saying that the only work worth doing is one where you get a monthly salary? Where you drive your car or take public transport to a building somewhere away from your home and spend an average of 8 hours 5 days a week doing things that make profits for a company that gives you a pat on the back and a pension when all's said and done? Don't get me wrong - growing up through this work force was an important, crucial part of my own personal development, and there may very well come a time where I have to return to the ranks. I do also find the work that so many do to be admirable. The street sweeper who provides for his family by beautifying our city, picking up the trash discarded by strangers; the lawyer who fights her battles and pays for her own Prada; the nail technician who puts her baby brother through school with her earnings; the husband who sees his wife yearning to create a new path for herself, and takes over all monetary responsibilities for a time so that she can do so; the high-school teacher and the sales person and the doctor and the domestic and the accountant and the entertainer and the researcher alike. But they are not the only ones working for a living. The Oxford Dictionary defines 'work' as being an 'activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a result'. So yes, I work.
2. "What do you do all day? I would be bored if I had to stay at home all day long."
Being 'bored' is probably the saddest, most revealing aspect any human can portray. The world is an enchanting place. Perhaps not everyone sees it, but I wake up each morning and embrace my universe like a child prancing through vast fields with a butterfly net (after my cup of coffee, that is). My husband jokes that I have been going through a second childhood, and in a way that is true. Any parent will know that children need to be fed not only with physical food, but in mind, body and spirit.
-The first thing I did after quitting my job was to enroll myself at a piano studio - I was adamant that I wanted to be classically trained in music, something I didn't have the opportunity to do as a child, and wanted to be able to one day teach piano too. I hadn’t yet worked out the specifics, I didn’t have a piano-teaching 'business model' mapped and ready to show any doubting onlooker - I just knew I had to start getting my brain and fingers moving. The learning curve was intense, but I have completed 5 grades of music training thus far, complete with taking the exams and playing mini-performances, and am continuing in my training. I was taken on by my piano teacher as a 'student teacher' a year ago, continue to sub for her when she can't take a class, and have built up my own profile of pre-grade students, under her guidance, that I teach on a weekly basis. (a highly rewarding job, might I add - much more so than anything I ever did in the corporate world!)
-I enrolled in a creative writing course at UCT and started to work towards the goal of becoming an author. I wrote a book, which, like piano, was something I have always wanted to do, getting my first novel down on paper, and am a third of the way through writing my second novel (with one abandoned literary project in-between). Writing is not something that just happens when inspiration strikes (though those 3am - 7am inspiration sessions do occur and I have to just get up and write till it’s out) - it is a skill one must work on and develop over time and thousands upon thousands of words. Being aware that successful writers don't just lie on the beach waiting for heaven to open up and deliver them a product (read Malcolm Gladwell’s book 'Outliers' to understand the 10 000 hour concept of success) I allocate 'writing' days where I start first thing in the morning and work for 8 or more solid hours with just coffee and a lunch break in between. Nothing glamorous or easy about it.
-I dusted off my old sewing machine, only ever used for hemming or fixing store-bought-garments in the past, and started learning to make my own clothing from scratch. The growing ensemble of 'pami products' now includes an array of trousers (stretchy jeans, leather leggings, silky sleep bottoms, his and hers fishing fleecies) children’s pajama’s for my nieces and nephews, baby's touch quilt, vintage feel lace napkins, various tank tops and long sleeved shirts, and the latest, a leather Catwoman suit, and a white pom-pomed fluffy waistcoat.
-I started a veggie patch, quite a feat for someone who used to have a talent in killing everything green - including cacti - quite dramatically. (My 'Peace-in-the-Home' is the only survivor of this past opposite-of-green-fingered me, having miraculously made it through patches of darkness and drought, and an oops where I once spilled a pot of boiling pig stock I was making over it...) My garden is now producing herbs and veggies for the third year in a row, with its first-of-the-season tomato revealing its round little un-ripe self today. Bless.
-I joined an adult ballet class for a year (never having danced ballet past age 5), learning to pirouette and plié, in hopes of finding a fun way to get my 30's body into shape. That was ultimately replaced with CrossFit (10 months and counting) and I am stronger and fitter than I have ever been. (Please note, I didn’t say 'skinnier' than I have ever been - after all, Strong is the new Skinny!)
There has been so much more keeping me butterfly-catching, or staying at home, depending on your perception, but in an attempt to avoid eye-rolling proclamations of 'first world problems', I'll leave the overseeing of house renovations, writing of blogs, wifeing of high profile husband, running of household, throwing of life-event parties, baby-sitting and making of red wine reduction sauces, stuffing my own olives, and whipping up home made mayonnaise’s out for now...
In short, what do I do all day? I chase dreams, I experience life, I do. I don't believe in 'boredom'. Boredom is for people who bore people.
3. "But you don't WORK"
Let me elaborate. Playing a musical instrument requires an extreme amount of mental and physical effort in order to achieve a result. If you don't believe me, try. Learning to play the piano as an adult is even harder - not because the work is harder, but because we are so conditioned into not using our fingers that way, that we first have to break the years and years of 'hand' behavior and then build new abilities. Cramp-hand is no joke! Just ask the teens who suffer from bbm-'thumb' carpal tunnel (I mock, but apparently it is a real thing and has resulted in the need for surgery) and learning to read music is just like learning a new language - in fact, a few new languages, as you must memorize a whole bunch of Italian, French and even German terms, along with 'reading' all the semebreve's, dotted minim's, demi-semi-quavers and imperfect cadences. (The good thing about learning as an adult, is there is wine at the end of it...)
Making clothes also involves mental and physical effort in order to achieve a result. It is hard, until it becomes easy. Practice generally makes perfect, and trust me, many a throw-away resulted from my sewing machine before the white pom-pomed fluffy waistcoat. Writing a book...don't even get me started! The initial 150 000 words were 'easy' to get out relative to the editing, re-editing and multi-editing processes (they say that 7 is the lucky number). And jumping into the publishing-pool has been nothing short of an amateur swimmer thrown into the Cape of Storms in high season. But I continue to paddle, grasping for signs of land, and continue to write.
4. "You are lost - no direction in your life! Remember when you used to be in marketing...you were always so concerned with the next project, the new launch, the sales figures etc... You had purpose. Direction. Now you are lost."
Erm, no. Nope. Not true. My past is in my past. I gave it my all when I was there, but that's just me. When I do something, I do it to the fullest. And I was in a very different stage in my life. I had to ‘work’ to pay the bills. I had to build up my own skill set to know that I could take care of myself for the rest of my life if need be. I needed to prove to myself that I was worthy of the corporate title I eventually did attain, and made darn sure I studied and put in the hours to do so. But my past success is not who I am. I am following a very clear map - the map of Living a Happy and Meaningful Existence - Whilst Wearing Fabulous Shoes. And speaking of shoes, the 'Dreams' I have been chasing for the past three years are 'Futures' I have been trying on, investing in, (convincing my investor to invest in), ones that I have been walking around the shop floor in, testing to see which ones will leave the Store of Life with me to carry me through the next phase of my time here on this planet. (OK, enough with the Capitol Analogies...)
5. "You probably spend all day tanning on Camps Bay beach, reading books, and getting treatments in beauty salons."
Aw, thanx man! You think I look that good?
And yes, yes I read. Your point?
For the record, I went to the beach on a week (aka work) day a grand total of ONCE in the past three years. I go to lunches on an average of once a month (most of my working friends do 'lunch' more often that that, where absolutely nothing work-related happens) I have had my nails done...oh wait...that’s right, never. Nails are things I take care of myself, after hours, every second week or so, while watching a movie or series with Husband. I am about to go for my first pedicure next week as a birthday treat, taking my two teenage nieces with me to enjoy the experience too. The appointment is at 4pm. Sue me.
6. "It must be so nice being at home. You can kuier all day, drinking tea." (usually said with so much back-handed venom that it would take a machine-powered syphon to suck all that sarcastic poison out!)
It's coffee most of the time, not tea, and it's mostly by myself with my manuscript-in-progress or piano books, and not often with friends. Having coffee is something I did just as much of when in an office environment (possibly more).
7. "You are on Facebook, like, 24-7! Clearly you have too much time on your hands!"
Facebook is my 'water-cooler', and I am a sharer. I admit, I am partial to social media. I check FB/Twitter/Pintrest/Instagram on my phone in traffic on the way to CrossFit, on my iPad between teaching piano classes, on my laptop with my morning coffee and on the couch at night when watching a series I am not as enthralled in as Husband is (when I don't have some hand-sewing to finish or nails to do, that is) I have a friend who is on Facebook just as often as I am - she sees all, reads all, browses every photo album. But she is not a natural sharer. She never hits 'like' or 'share' or comments on statuses like I do, and thus appears to have no FB activity what so ever. (Very sneaky, my friend)(you know who you are!) Fun fact: Being an avid social media user (and this is years of previous marketeering speaking) makes me more of a modern-ling than a stay-at-home-with-nothing-to-do-ling. Think about it.
8. "You don't wake up to go to work, your life is a breeze.”
There are more things in the world to wake up for than 'a job'. Have you ever been on holiday, with some exciting event planned for the next day, and had to set the alarm clock for a work-worthy-hour? Welcome to my world. I wake up with Husband every day. Granted, not to go to an office like him. But to go to work on my life. (PS Husband and I sleep in on weekends AND WE WILL NOT APOLOGISE FOR THAT TO ANYONE!)(PPS I am aware that babies will change all of this in one foul swoop, but I will embrace that bridge when I get there)
9. "I am worried you are going to turn into one of 'those' women."
Who exactly are 'those' women? And who gets to judge who 'those' women are? And even once identifying 'those' women, who are you to decide what 'those' woman do or who 'those' women are in their deeper core beings? Who are you to define them? The kept? The princesses? The desperate housewives? I don’t know about you, but I haven't found myself trapped outdoors in nothing but a bath towel any time recently, and certainly don't have a pool boy (I clean that out-door Jacuzzi all by myself, yo!) The only people who should be concerned with my current usage of my time, are me, and Husband. No one else. If he doesn't see me as one of 'those' women, or if I don't feel that I am one of 'those' women, then what exactly are we talking about here? Moving on.
10. "Well, you don't have a job, and you don't as yet have a child. So what are you doing with your life?"
What are you doing with your life?
Having said all that, being 'unemployed' definitely has its freedoms - mostly in that my time is mine to do with as I choose. So there are days where I choose to spend quality time with my siblings children, or help a friend in doing the school run for her, or take a friend shopping to find the perfect dress for an exciting event in her life. There are days where I choose to show a traveling visitor around my city, or leave early for a long weekend away with Husband, or attend an NGO meeting, or meet with editors and writers to 'talk books', or simply have coffee with my folks. I'm not claiming that it's ALL work and no play - after all, pami is not a dull girl. But what I don’t understand is why what I choose to do with my time is such a personal offence to some?
To those who still don't understand why I am on a Dream Catching sabbatical, can you possibly be happy knowing that I am happy and fulfilled in my life right now and that my 'cost' of living is taken care of by someone who I have a very open and honest understanding with whilst I catch those dreams?
To the rest of the naysayers and haters out there, let me leave you with one final thought. I have taken a leap of faith, trusting that I can grow my wings in time before I hit the bottom. Why do you feel the need to stand on your chunk of the precipice and take cheap shots at me, hoping to knock holes in my dream catching? I can only come to one conclusion. But Taylor Swift says it better than me - she has a wonderful little song, which perhaps applies to you. Have a listen to it here.
(P.S. Hello Kitty called, and she says 'Live and let Live')
Love, lust and fairy-star-dust