Marathons

Low perspective photo of our dog Kuma on the beach
Published 2022-08-14

We spent last weekend at the coast, my first few quiet days without work in several months. We also took about five days in July to lay my father-in-law to rest in Minnesota, but that wasn’t “quiet” in the sense I mean here (traveling with kids never is), although it had some very good moments that helped me reset, spiritually.

Rare is the weekend when I don’t do at least a few hours of work, and for some reason (probably related to clients’ fiscal years ending in June) I traditionally have more work than usual in the summer. (Right when my school-age kids and schoolteacher wife are starting a couple months of heavy leisure, natch.) For example, this year I went to the neighborhood pool once, which is about par. Of all the things I miss about our old rental house in the woods, I most miss the HOA pool that I could access at odd hours.

Anyway within those three days at the coast I had a clean 48 hours’ interruption of my work cycle, and ever since I have been struggling to get back into the work groove, despite having fire upon fire to fight on multiple projects. (Fires tend to provide a lot of motivation.)

A thing I learned about myself, long ago, while riding bikes:

I can run a marathon forever if I don’t ever stop running

(I mean “marathon” in the metaphorical sense as I have never actually run a marathon. But there is no good bike equivalent that non-bike people understand.) I realized this in my early 30s when I began riding centuries (100+ miles at a time). I learned that if I paced myself and kept eating/hydrating at short intervals, I could throw a leg over a bike and keep pedaling continuously until I fell asleep. And that if I stopped for more than a few minutes to “rest,” that might pull me out of the rhythm.

As on the bike, so in life. I can work (have historically worked) 2+ jobs & parented & eldercared &c. for ten-plus years now, and the task is… not easy exactly, but certainly comfortable… until I pause to catch my breath. Then it just kills the momentum and it takes at least as long again to get back into it.

But I actually have it easy.

I was recently talking to a collaborator on one of my projects, a person closer to their immigrant roots than I am. We were discussing the structure of our families (number of kids, birth order, spacing)…and they kind of casually dropped a bomb:

“My mom loved giving birth. Going to the hospital to deliver was the closest thing she ever had to a vacation. You get to lie in bed for a day or two, people take care of you and they bring you food.”

I think about how hard it was (for me) bringing our kids into the world, indeed by the time Kid #3 arrived I was already on this two-plus-jobs marathon. But despite how hard I thought I was working outside the hospital, delivering our kids never felt like a vacation. This conversation with my collaborator was a necessary level-set for me.

In the creative/tech world I inhabit, we glorify this kind of effort, and imagine ourselves working so much harder than everyone else. But our jobs come with travel budgets and expense accounts and catered lunches, and we don’t even need to ask for it.