All week, The Globe has been running stories about the alleged work-life balance and the impact of stress upon all our lives.
It is part of the Our Time to Lead series of hot topics that began with the paper’s Oct. 1 redesign and have served only to nicely ratchet up my stress levels, thank you very much.
Generally speaking, I prefer the Presbyterian approach of denial: Talking about a thing only makes it real, worse and harder to ignore.
I read the first few stories in Toronto and the rest from the road – a couple each in Winnipeg, Vancouver and Victoria – where I was on a book tour this week.
The tour began the instant the sucker was released, when I started slinking into bookstores everywhere and buying other people’s books so it didn’t look like I was there to do what I was there to do, that is, to check on the display of my books.
Anyway, the stat that has most stayed with me is from a poll the paper did, wherein Canadians reported on average 14 stressful episodes a week.
Are you kidding me, is what I thought. Rank amateurs. I have that many meltdowns most days. So do most of the people I know. Clearly, the poll sample was of the slackers.
One of my friends works full-time in a big job, goes to art school part-time, edits a magazine as a volunteer, makes and shows her jewelry, has recently lost about 28 pounds and is still carefully watching what she eats, subscribes to the carpe diem philosophy so is always up for a drink or a gallery visit, is usually a four-times-a-week runner who is now injured, and always is a wife, sister to two wacky brothers and daughter to a wonderful but aging mother.
Another has a huge job in public education (though not huge enough, I rush to add), two sons away at university (so this year is the first she’s not driving the younger one to basketball games across the province), a gorgeous hubby and comes from a family of ridiculous over-achievers who celebrate every occasion known to man and then some and demand her presence at each one.
She goes to so many evening functions – part of the job – that we share a common policy of arrive late, leave early.
She’s pretty good at it too, though has yet to match the record I set at one book-launch party, where I arrived just as the TV cameras were there and thus accidentally recorded my entrance for posterity, bought the book, got it signed by the author, left and was in a cab home in under 15 minutes.
She may have come closest to my record, curiously, at my own recent launch party: More power to her, I say, if she did.
These two, like everyone else in the world, are tethered to an iPhone or BlackBerry, though they can’t match the experience, not to mention the output, of two of my Globe colleagues, who at the Russell Williams trial last month in Belleville, live-blogged every moment of the case (they took turns, with one writing observational stuff, the other the evidence as it came in), filed stories to the website and at day’s end to the actual newspaper, and fielded harassing texts and e-mails from all and sundry in between.
The joys of instant communication notwithstanding, the downside is that instant replies are also demanded; I recently got a rebuking e-mail from a reader furious that I hadn’t yet answered his note of two hours previous.
A typical day for me was last Friday, the occasion of my book party at a downtown pub, when I had about 28 stressful episodes.
First of all, the day before, my white bull terrier fell ill, not seriously but as I live for him, it was worrying. (The woman who looks after him when I’m travelling suspects he was suffering a stress reaction from my stress reaction. So I felt guilty too, imagining that if only I were more serene this wouldn’t have happened.) So instead of staying late, I left about 10 p.m. so I could fetch him from her house.
Cunningly, all night I’d worn across my hip a little purse with a credit card and my keys. I figured it was safer and smarter than depositing my giant bag somewhere on the floor, which is what I usually do.
So out I go from the pub and spot my young godson John, who lives with me. He was, shall we say, 10,000 sheets to the wind, so I bundled him into the taxi with me.
Bottom line, in getting out of the cab, I left behind my keys – house, car and storage-locker keys – which I realized too late.
“Johnny,” I said, nearly weeping because I realized I had to drive to a book signing out of town the next day, “can I have your keys?”
Alas, John had lost all language skills, I’m sure a rare side effect of over-drinking but a real one. He appeared to neither speak nor understand English. As a result, I realized he had no keys, and while I was on the cell, phoning back to the pub to get a friend to cab me a spare, John began heaving himself at the door, trying to break it down.
We ended up getting into the house, but in the ensuing 12 hours, I had to pick up the dog by cab, rent a car for the next day and drive the dog back to the nanny’s, order new keys to the car and arrange to have it towed to a dealer, drive to and from the book signing out of town and then pick up the dog again.
By Saturday night, when we crawled into the one unheated room of my under-construction house – which we share with my cat, my godson’s cat and their litter box, which, need I add, they feel compelled to fill hourly – I decided the work-life balance was not within my reach. Not now, not ever.