“There is work that is play / There is play that is work.”
—Cass McCombs, “The Executioner’s Song”
“I can’t help it if I’m lucky.”
—Bob Dylan, “Idiot Wind”
In our culture, when something is easy, you refer to it as “child’s play,” even though play is the work of children, and it requires enormous focus and effort. (Anybody who thinks a child’s play is always easy and fun should witness the passion and epic fits of frustration my sons manage to throw themselves into.)
Our neighbors are remodeling their bathroom, so there have been a few mornings when I’m outside with the kids, supervising with a cup of tea or drawing in chalk in the driveway, and I’ll say hello to the contractors when they’re having a smoke break.
Child care, like writing, is work that might include play but is often mistaken wholly for play. (Look up the average salary of a preschool teacher to see how much we value it.) It can feel weird being out in the world with the kids when most everybody else your age is off at a job, and it’s doubly weird when you’re out spending time with your family in front of workers who are visibly laboring.
There was one morning when I was up on the porch shuffling index cards around while the contractors were unloading large pieces of lumber out of the back of their truck. Even though writing is hard like any job can be, I know how lucky I am. (Tony Fitzpatrick once said, “Writing is hard fucking work, but it’s not labor.”) A neighbor down the street told my wife her husband saw me out one day and said, “I want his job.”
When I finally went out to the garage to get some real heads-down fingers-to-keys Writing done, I thought I was going to be annoyed by the din of the drills and the saw blades, but instead, I’ve found the buzz of the power tools to be encouraging. The contractors are practicing their trade and I am practicing mine. Who will finish first?
My favorite compliment is when somebody tells me they keep my books on top of the commode. When the contractors’ work is done, the neighbors can sit on the john and admire their work. When my work is done, maybe somebody will sit on their john and admire mine.