The Dangers of Down-sizing

Anyway, back to my main subject:

To recap: Jo had rescued me from Moloch[1], from the toad work[2], for the price of a sense of vocation. She, a woman born to nurture, was forced out of the home, her natural domain, to earn money. Her response was to single-handedly turn management into one of the caring professions.

I, with no particular inclination for its practicalities, found myself doing a lot more of the parenting, at least the mechanical parts of getting the children up and dressed, picking them up from playgroup and school, feeding them.

I felt (and feel) it was a price worth paying: better a drifting existence than one of intolerable pressure. Life, with all its variety, contains enough diversion to keep you going, most of the time, even if you wander aimlessly through it. If aimlessness seems too much to bear, you can go to bed. You’ll probably find something to distract you tomorrow, and if you don’t, well, life is short – not much longer to go.

The advantage of such down-sizing seems obvious. Somebody wrote to Mariella Frostrup’s advice column in The Observer because she didn’t relish the idea of returning to work after the lock down. That didn’t strike me as a subject worthy of writing to the papers. Isn’t it the human condition? Surely you experience this every Monday morning.

But work is terribly important to a sense of identity and for relationships. It is, apparently, where people conduct most of their significant, non-family relationships. We met a colleague and friend of Jo’s in the park on our daily walk (for once taken together.) She was a little shy and reserved at first, until a work problem came up. Then she visibly brightened, became authoritative, articulate, humorous. Conversation flowed easily.

Another of Jo’s closest work friends had a relationship with her entirely based on, and structured by, work discussions. Late at night, in drink, she’d move on to problems in her private life, but until then, the friendship was conducted through the language and the pre-occupations of business management. Now that she’s moved on to another job, the friendship has dwindled.

So, one feeling that carried over, for me, into the new phase of my work life was a sense of ineffectiveness and of helplessness. I’d gone from feeling inadequate to feeling unnecessary and insignificant. More than ever, I didn’t fit the traditional male role of provider. (Not surprising, given that I’d never even imagined having it.)

But to this was added a sense of guilt that, undeservedly, I’d been allowed this luxurious licence. Especially as I’d claimed it through failure.


[1] Apparently a Canaanite god associated with child sacrifice (according to wiki). I’m referring, of course, to the scene in Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927).

[2] “Why should I let the toad work/ squat on my life?” – Larkin, “Toads” from The Less Deceived, 1955.

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