Friday, May 29, 2009

Housewife Syndrome?

What I have to say today will come across as complaining and whining, and I know some people won't have a speck of sympathy for me. Nevertheless, this is the way I've felt lately, and I think it's worth getting down, even if only to give me the means to let go of some of the frustration.

Those who know me are aware that I left my job with CIBC, after twenty-eight years, in July 2007. The deal between Chris and me was that I would use my newly-free time to renovate our condo in Vancouver (that Chris and I bought in late 1994), we'd sell it, make lots of money (because of the incredible read estate market at the time), pay off all of our debt, live off one income (Chris's) without affecting our lifestyle, and I'd become a writer.

Everything happened as planned. From December 2007 until April 2009, when we moved to ____________, life was settled for us in Victoria, and I was able to focus seriously on my writing. It was during this time that, in addition to other pieces, I wrote an 800-plus page memoir that I cut back to the period between when I was a boy and when I finally came out as being gay at twenty-six (roughly 400 pages). Then I thought I'd work on the next four hundred pages, the period between when I came out and when I met Chris, a time of awakening and exploring and experiencing life in Vancouver (roughly eight years).

By far, the writing was the best part of this timeframe. Perhaps the most difficult part was the change to my routine. I no longer had a full-time job to go to; I no longer earned an income; I no longer had structure or a routine to my days; I was dependent on someone else; and I spent long periods of time at home, especially when the weather was nasty and I had no where to go.

This is when I really felt the change. In some respects, I felt like I imagine a housewife might feel. I focused on Chris--which I wanted to do anyway--because he was earning our household income, and because I thought part of the deal was that I take on more of the tasks at home. So I did all of the cooking and cleaning. Chris rarely picked up a vacuum cleaner or a dusting rag, and I ensured meals were ready when he returned home from work.

In the end, what made it all work for me was that I wrote through most of the day--which sometimes went so well, I thought I was an eagle soaring high in the sky--and I made sure my daily tasks around the house were completed too. In other words, I had balance in my life, with the priority being my writing.

Going into our move to ____________, I knew our lifestyle would change. For example, I knew Chris would have a much longer commute to work downtown, requiring him to go to bed earlier, to get up much earlier, and to spend most of his day in transit or at work, leaving just a few hours for us to be together at night. I knew I'd feel resentful that we didn't have as much time together Monday to Friday, but I remembered when I worked full-time and was away from home and Chris roughly the length of time he is now, since my job was demanding and time-consuming.

I also knew the move to __________ would put more pressure on me to complete most of the renovation work we wanted to do. With Chris away so much during the workweek, I didn't want him to feel had he to spend his limited home time working on renovating the house (who wants to work all day downtown, then come home and work all evening renovating?). And I knew that I was already home during the day, looking after all aspects of our household, so I could logically complete the lion's share of the renovation work.

But something happened along the way. Over the past four weeks or so, my focus has been more on the house and less on my writing. In fact, whole weeks went by when I wrote nothing at all besides my daily journal (and not even that during our moving week). And I began to feel resentful of that. While seeing the changes in the house were gratifying, my spirit felt unfulfilled. I knew if I could get back to my writing--in other words, create a better balance in my life between what I had to do (work around the house) and what I wanted to do (my creative outlet through writing), I'd feel much better about my life and myself.

These last couple of days have been tough. I've fought with utility companies on the phone over all the screws up they've made after our move. I've had more than a few frustrating moments with the hardwood floor installers, who had their own idea of what should be done that didn't mesh with mine. I've spent most of the day dragging myself along the floor and up and down ladders, trying to repair all of the marks on the walls from the previous owners and taping up the largest room in the house so we can paint it. I've rushed into the shower at the end of the afternoon to clean up before hurrying downstairs to make dinner so it's ready when Chris comes in the door at 6:10 p.m.

All of this might sound like a breeze to some, especially since I don't have to get up early in the morning, travel long distances to and from work, and put up with difficult employees and customers. I realize my situation is different, even enviable, and there are times when I'm thrilled that I no longer have to work for someone else and everything that goes along with that.

But here's the crux of it: I never imagined my life would look the way it does at nearly fifty years of age.

Chris is completely supportive. He keeps telling me to lay off the renovations and focus on my writing. He repeats that the renos will get done over time, that everything doesn't need to be done right away, that if we have to wait until autumn or later to accomplish what we want to around the house, that's fine.

But that's not good enough for me. I don't want to live in a construction zone any longer than I have to. I don't want to live with all of our furniture bunched up together in the recreation room downstairs, just like one large storage facility. I don't want to live with the sofa covered over in a plastic sheet to prevent the dust from drywall falling on it. I don't want to look at the mess and disorganization around me any longer than I have to. When I was growing up, I never knew my aunt and uncle's house in Kelowna to be anything but a construction zone (newly plastered walls, plastic sheets hanging all over, construction debris all over the floor), and I swore that would never happen to me.

So, yes, I'm in a rush to get on with the work and get our lives back to normal, so I don't have to look at the mess and so I can return to my writing, knowing there aren't months of renovation work ahead of me. I have goals with regard to the renos: to complete the great room, the kitchen, and what we call the "soccer room" upstairs (a kid's room painted like the wide open sky, with a huge tree in one corner, a soccer goal post in the other, and a soccer ball heading for the goal post). Once these areas are done, the extent of our renovations won't be complete, but we'll be able to live with everything else and set up our home roughly in the order we want to.

I never imagined a year ago that I'd do what I'm doing now. And what frustrates me is that I'll have to be the one to complete most of the work on the house because Chris works full-time and doesn't have the opportunity to do a lot of the work himself. And I want to protect him from doing more of it because he already works hard at his job, and he doesn't need to do even more work when he comes home at night. We have only a few hours together, and I don't want to spend it doing more work around the house.

If someone were to ask me what I really want from life right now, I wouldn't have an answer. I know I'll have to do what I'm doing for the foreseeable future. That's part of the deal, part of the bargain. We bought a used house, and there's a lot of work involved in making it our own. And it will be wonderful when it's done. We just have to get it there first. I know the renos won't take forever to complete--it just feels that way.

But, sometimes, I'd like to spend time out of the house, writing at a coffee shop maybe, mingling with people more, being a part of the real world. Sometimes, I want to earn an income again, not be dependent on another human being for my livelihood, not worry that if something happens to Chris and he's no longer able to work, I'll have to find a job at fifty years of age. Who would hire me? What do I know how to do? What do I really want to do with the rest of my life?

As long as I find time daily to write, I'm okay, even if it's just my blog. But if all I do is look after Chris's needs and the house, then I feel I've lost myself, and who I want to be in the world. I feel time is running out, that there's an urgency around what I do now, because I won't live forever, and there's no time to waste.

I need to get on with my purpose in life, but is that doing what I do now? I don't know. Maybe life is happening exactly as it should at this point, but I don't know the end result. I don't know why I find myself where I am and what it all means, but I know in the grand scheme of things, it means something. And that meaning will become clearer to me in time. In the meantime, I must have faith.

In the end, Chris is completely supportive of my needs, including writing. In fact, after we talked about this last night, he cautioned me about ensuring I put writing first before doing anything else this morning. He wants me to be happy, I know that for sure. I'll just have to figure out what that looks like, and how I can make it happen (while still meeting my current obligations).


  1. I fully understand your predicament - I'm in a similar one myself. I have trouble finding time to make music when there are so many pressing things in the house & yard. However, you, like me, must make time for what keeps us sane and grounded. I'm already 50 & understand your urgency to get what's in you out. Why don't you take one morning a week to go to that coffeeshop? Make it your holiday from the reno's. When you come home, either take the rest of the day for what makes you happy, or pick some small finicky jobs to finish up with. The main thing is to give yourself a break so that you don't lose yourself.

  2. Been there, Rick. I'm still there in some ways. I've found that I've had to make a few adjustments in my schedule, my thinking, and even in my goals in order to live a happy and content life. Wow, the growing pains of mid-life! I do agree with Jeanette, though. She has given you some very wise advise. Keep on keeping on!

  3. You guys are both amazing and great friends. Here it is, nearly midnight on Saturday night, and I had to open my computer for the first time today, access my blog, and look for comments from you on what I wrote yesterday.
    What you have both said is very comforting to me, and that's what I needed to read. I'm grateful for your feedback and for your loyalty to my blog and my ramblings. Believe me, your feedback is very much appreciated and helpful too. Perhaps my post titled "Identity Crisis," which I will write after this, might help you to understand what I'm going through now a little better.
    Thanks again to both of you.