We Do Not Live Our Lives in Pieces

We have calcium in our bones, iron in our veins,
carbon in our souls, and nitrogen in our brains.
93 percent stardust, with souls made of flames,
we are all just stars that have people names.

-Nikita Gill

The BBC Dad story has been played out and built up and torn down a hundred times at least already, and it’s safe to say I’m not adding much. Still, it struck a chord in me, not least because at more or less the same time, I saw this tweet from Rachel Sklar, who was surreptitiously breastfeeding while doing an interview for the CBC. Both clips, to me, were interesting examples of the ways work has changed in the past decade, and how much blurrier the lines between our home lives and our work lives have necessarily become in the process.

I’ve had quite a few conversations in the last few years about work-life balance, and the difference between the Gen-X answer to that question and the one Millennials seem to favor. Despite the fact that our pre-industrialized ancestors would likely be confused by it, our parents and grandparents have tended to see work life and family life as dividable. You go to work, and when you’re at work, you should leave your family life at home. Interruptions from home are unwelcome distractions from your work, whether they’re a chatty spouse or a sick child. In a sociopolitical sense, of course, this is a pretty sexist system: one can only separate their life that way if someone else is managing “home” while they manage “work,” and we pretty much know how that breakdown tends to go. Bringing the “home” people into the “work” world in ever-increasing numbers has required some pretty significant cultural changes that are still incomplete, beginning with structured childcare systems and evolving into something those pre-industrial ancestors might be a little more likely to recognize when it culminates in children interrupting their parents’ work.

Ultimately, I think that as a culture we seem to be falling into a scenario where we’re recognizing—against our will, at times—that there’s not as much of a divide between “home” and “work” as we once tried to impose. We do not live our lives in pieces; everything we are goes with us everywhere. Even going to work an hour from home doesn’t separate you altogether from the sleepless night, the sick child, the ailing parent, or the frustrated spouse. When work takes place at home—as so much of it now does—the separation is even more impossible. Of course, of course, an interview conducted over Skype from someone’s home might have a toddler burst into their father’s office or a baby reach up into frame from their mother’s lap. Of course, of course, the background of a conference call might have a crying baby, a barking dog, a partner asking what you want for dinner. Of course. You’re at home; so are they. In that case, who actually crossed the line first, work or family?

Others have dug deeper into the story than I have any wish to do, but in both the BBC Dad clip and the clip of Rachel Sklar, I saw moments of people trying to decide, in a moment’s time, how to deal with the sudden crossing of boundaries, and what it might cost them professionally to have it visible to the world that they are also people. But the fact is: of course they are. The line has always been imaginary, and has always been permeable. As the modern economy increasingly removes the physical space between “home” and “work,” we need to also acknowledge (and, dare I ask, celebrate) that the idea of separate spheres will go along with it. 

I Imagine Myself Looking Back on Myself

What You Do