What makes domestic labor seem so spectacularly unrewarding is the fact that it is both uncompensated and looked down upon, falling into that category designated “unproductive” labor by Adam Smith[.] …The rewards of such “unproductive” labor cannot be quantified, and its measure can be taken only in the well-being of others. …Here one notices the similarities between art and its supposed enemy. It is true that taking care of domestic responsibilities often receives the stamp of cultural approval, particularly in societies where no welfare state exists to share domestic burdens. Yet the reality is that art and domestic work are both likely to go uncompensated or poorly compensated, and under such circumstances, both have to be approached with love and rigor to be done well. –Siddharta Deb, Are Domestic Responsibilities at Odds With Becoming a Great Artist?, New York Times
I was going to launch into my “utility of art” rant, with maybe a side of “utility of education.” But the juxtapositions in this article started me musing whether my own domestic vs. artistic labor dilemma was primarily tied to my attentional energy, to my reserves of love and rigor. Could it be that I’ve only enough juice for one “unproductive” effort at a time? That I can only labor in one unmarked landscape of unknowable progress, needing the rest of my life to offer my sanity the measurable markers it craves?
There is some interlaced knot of truth that ties my teen-rearing time and my writing-primary time. I know that these phases have overlapped very little, and uneasily. I vividly recall the failure of my attempt at combining the two, though I sense that failure had as much to do with a lack of practice and/or experience as with these larger emotional issues. I’m more effective now in my writing-primary life because I failed then; I now make different behavior choices over and beyond my worries. But still. What is it that makes domestic labor, or artistic labor, so challenging for me to sustain?
Attention, focus, energy. Poured into that which is not seen. Whether that’s another person’s life–which is rightly and properly only seen as that person, and not of you–or a work of art that, regardless of intrinsic merit or lack thereof, waits in a folder. Invisible.
One of my roughest times working for hire was when I couldn’t tell whether my boss approved of my work, noticed my work, or disliked my work but didn’t want to expend the energy to fire me. Perhaps visiblity is my oxygen; without it, I consume myself and disappear. There’s not much visibility to my current days, and even less reward or approval. I wonder if that’s an added part of graduate school’s attraction–school is a venue where I know how to be seen.
That is, after all, the chief part of my relationship struggles with the Three-In-One: intellectually comprehending that I’m always seen doesn’t translate into feeling that seen-ness in my mortal self. A lacking in my faith I still haven’t figured out. I believe; help my unbelief. (Mark 9:24)