In the frenzy of the past week at work, with projects to be pushed along and deadlines to be met, I was aware of a feeling of excitement and satisfaction. Despite often being tired and sometimes being frustrated by the pace of work, I love being there. I’m grateful for the people I connect with through work and the type of work I do. I love the ideas, enthusiasm and stories that people share. To be paid to think, interview, research, write and teach is a privilege that I will truly miss.
So why am I walking away from this work? Because my body is giving me strong messages that I cannot sustain this pace. Even though I only work part-time, it’s not work that can be contained to set days, and I often find myself working full-time and paying the price. But mainly because I want to try a different way of being or creating a living where I can still hopefully stay engaged with and contribute to the world, but at a pace that is defined by and allows time for a fuller awareness of what is precious in life; to savour simple pleasures, relationships, nature, music and daydreaming. To read for joy rather than just for ideas.
At work the other day I came across the web page of Donna McDonald, writer, policy analyst and social worker (see http://www.donnamcdonald.com/default.asp). Amongst a range of interesting articles on her site was one titled ‘Work – Shifting realities’ where she wrote about some of the dilemmas I’m encountering in moving from a life of working. As a woman of a similar age she suggested that: ‘We need to use our ingenuity and insights’ developed through our engagement in life and work so far, to enable us to move from ‘the old linear routine of work-is-life, which we believed to be a necessary condition of being responsible adults, to a new pattern of life-as-a-work-in-progress.’
Her words reminded me of a wonderful book I read decades ago called ‘A Pattern Language,’ written by architect Christopher Alexander with colleagues in 1977. They described ‘patterns’ that are essentially design solutions to various dilemmas that societies face in developing community places, from whole towns to individual rooms. Although it is not described in this way, a pattern language seems to be a phenomenology of design, where the essential qualities of experience that make certain places liveable and meaningful are distilled into patterns (see http://www.patternlanguage.com/ ). One of the patterns (no.156) is titled ‘Settled Work’. Alexander and colleagues describe the dilemma produced in modern western society by separating the workplace and home, thereby ‘making a rift between working life and retirement’. They describe settled work as:
‘work that unites all the threads of a person’s life …[so that it] becomes the complete and wholehearted extension of the person. It is the kind of work one cannot come to overnight, but only be gradual developed. It is the kind of work that’s so thoroughly a part of one’s way of life that, when it is free to develop, the workplace and the home gradually become one thing and fuse. If it is work that one has been doing all one’s life, it becomes more profound, more concrete, and more unique. Or it may be work begun in spare time until it expands and becomes more involving and replaces the old occupation.
After noting that the experience of settled work which is connected to the world in some way provides a sense of integrity in old age, he highlights the need for both time and space in developing it. There is a need for a transition between working life and retirement, and between the workplace and home, so that settled work becomes a way of being once one has stepped outside of official work .
Over the past decade I have had this notion in my mind as I moved from being a health professional and public service educator to being an academic researcher and writer, in that I hoped to morph the latter into a form of settled work . Taking to heart Alexander’s message of the need to develop a place for such work to evolve, I jumped at the opportunity of a spare room when my eldest son left home several years ago to make a place (in the photo). The family calls ‘Anni’s Sanctuary’. I’m very grateful for my sanctuary and look forward to more time in it. I’d like to find a better word than ‘settled’ to describe the work I do here; I like the contentment conjured up by the word, but it appears to lack passion. Any ideas?