The Chill

So I’m in California and it’s been….interesting. I was hoping for a more relaxing time, to chill, but my friend here is not in a good way and there seems to be nothing that helps.

California is a place where a significant part of the population has put mental and physical health to the forefront. I remember when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. People were rehoused temporarily in a stadium and very quickly there was violence: theft and physical attacks. A few months later there was a big earthquake in California, and very quickly the unhoused people had set up yoga classes and stress workshops. Two different worlds. My friend might as well be in, say, New York (or add in any place which is known to be a more 24 hour-go-go-go society) and it’s not very California.

There was one statement that struck me the most: my friend said that one of her family members wanted to earn more but wasn’t willing to work more than forty hours a week. My immediate thoughts were the following: why does this family member wish to have more money (can she live and pay her rent/mortgage, buy food, and engage in some social activities) and if she can’t, why should she need to work more than forty hours a week in order to do so? (i.e. why isn’t she getting a living wage for full time employment?)

In China, they talk about “996” which is nine a.m. to nine p.m., six days a week. This is apparently illegal (if uncompensated by overtime pay) but quite common. The Chinese government has been intervening more and more in order to…increase the population. You don’t have time to meet someone and have children if you’re working all the time.

In my brief research, I found the following article from Harvard Business Review: They begin by talking about men, for whom: “Ambition and a strong work ethic are “doubly sacred. . . as signals of both moral and socioeconomic purity….” Masculinity “involves displaying one’s exhaustion, physically and verbally, in order to convey the depth of one’s commitment, stamina, and virility.” The paradox of this is that people are working too much in order to….create products or services for people who are mostly working too much to buy or enjoy them.

My friend appears to have partially fallen into this trap. In her work, she’s obviously been given too many tasks during a normal (forty hour) work week, and has not made it a priority to push back. There is no end in sight. She is also relatively new at the company and probably doesn’t feel that she is in a position to ask yet, but she did just have a review. A statement there could have been “I would like to know when my workload is going to be possible to do in a forty hour week, and how you (the boss) plan on addressing the issue.” As far as I know, she did not propose this. She also just seems to have accepted, even embraced, giving up most of the things that she used to enjoy in her free time in order to “get things done” at work. She used to garden, but hasn’t been there much for months apparently. She still sees her friends, but while I’ve been here, she has not spoken about this like it’s a pleasure but more of a chore. She used to make time to take more care of her physical health, biking or hiking when she can. She hasn’t done that in a while. She doesn’t have time.

It makes me very sad to see her limping (she is limping, it’s not a metaphor). She is suffering but hides behind her work ethic. “My job needs me to be this way.” She loves her boss, but her boss is also responsible for my friend losing sight of her life outside of work.

My choices have been quite different but also for different reasons. As I live overseas, if I earn over a certain amount, I have to pay US taxes in addition to the local ones. There seems to be little point in me working more in order to have it all disappear, but I also have the idea that I work in order to live. In the US, people live in order to work. And maybe in China, life and work are indistinguishable.

I don’t know what to do about this with my friend, because her job has caused a strain that our relationship may not be able to withstand, and we’ve known each other for many years. There are other factors as well; she lost her father a year ago. I lost mine now three years ago and I know that it’s hard. I think that’s only part of it, though. I think most of it is that she’s physically and mentally being eaten alive by her job, but as she likes her new boss (and her old job had become quite awful, I think), she is willing to sacrifice things like old friends.

We’ve separated in interests over the years, but that hasn’t been a problem up until now. What I realize is that we’ve also separated in life goals, in the sense that for me a good work-life balance is major priority, and for her it appears not to be. I don’t think that could be overcome, simply because I don’t think I weigh enough to merit her time if it competes with her work. If she can manage to free up some time, she will hopefully prioritize local friends and activities over me, the come-from-far-away person.

Foro is pretty much staying mute on this one. I think he’d like me to try harder, but my friend has also hurt my feelings quite a bit over the last week and I’m not ready to be more generous. My own pride is standing in the way, but this comes from a long, hard path I’ve taken to require that people treat me well. I have taught myself to say that I deserve kindness and love, and to limit interactions with people who hurt me, and she’s lashed out quite a bit.

This is also not the first time, and I unfortunately ran across my journal entry from the last time this happened. And when I went looking, I found the time before. When we were trying to talk through things, she said she doesn’t remember these other times because she “lives in the moment”. “Living in the moment” is a convenient cop out when you’ve hurt someone in the past. They should forget about something because you have.

Foro and I are hangin’ out while she’s at work, and I will leave tomorrow quite early. I will make us dinner tonight as a last supper between old friends, and try to take my leave with the best intentions that I can muster.

The chill of the sun setting over an old friendship

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