I used to think that work-family “balance” was a goal to strive for, but now I think that balance is probably the worst thing for my brain. Balance implies that I will spread my energy and attention equally across the various demands on my time, gracefully keeping all the plates spinning in sync (or, at least broken into equally tiny, sharp pieces across the kitchen floor).
With the advent of parenthood (and most especially twin-hood), I have come to have a newfound appreciation for the concept of focused attention, or what we creatives know as the deep dive.
This is that experience of being able to become completely immersed in a new interest, area of fascination, or project idea without interruption or distraction. It is an experience of complete and total absorption that results in highly accelerated learning, exponential growth, and quite often a burst of productivity. For many artists and creatives, these fertile periods of deep concentration and flow are an essential part of the process that may result in the bulk of their income for a given time period.
But what happens when you have four kids at home, a full-time job, a community you care about and a marriage to maintain? I can tell you – not much on the creative front. That’s because your ability to hole up in your room with a stack of books, art supplies, laptop, and journals is slim to none when you have people depending on you for their basic needs.
“Mommy, I need to eat!”
“Mommy, I need to poop!”
“Babe, can we talk about these bills?”
“Dr. Laura, have you finished that budget report?”
Arghhh! It’s enough to turn a flowing, creative soul into a grumpy pirate.
But then the other day, I had this thought, ‘God forbid I were to come down with some disgusting, contagious disease and needed to be quarantined for three weeks. It would be hard, and I’m sure that everyone would miss me. But I also bet that they would figure out how to leave me the hell alone.’
And hey, why should I have to wait to catch the bubonic plague before I get that three weeks, right?
So I’ve come up with a new fantasy, called the Creative Quarantine (I call it a fantasy because I’m pretty sure that no one in my life will go for it, but what the hell…worth a try!)
This is where I cut myself off for three weeks, go on a solo trip, and spend my entire time away working fervently on my latest creative project. How do I quell the guilt of leaving work, family, and everything else for so long? I shift my mindset as if my being away from everyone and everything that I know is actually good for them. After all, I wouldn’t want them to catch the plague. Sticking around might expose them to my dangerously high fever (if my scattered brain and fatigue can be counted as symptoms of severe fever). And, you know, that would be selfish of me.
Anyway, I know of professors who fly alone to tropical islands for a month each year in order to complete their latest research or book project. I used to think, ‘Wow that’s pretentious of those academics,” and now I’m like, “Damn, they’re smart.“
Wish me luck. I plan to pitch my Creative Quarantine idea to the family at dinner tonight. And if they seem to be less than sympathetic to my need to spend 3 weeks tending only to my creative vision, then I will simply hack up a lung right there at the dinner table. Because, well…the plague.