Monday, October 31, 2011

What would you do if you won the lottery?

It's a rhetorical question for me, because I never play the lottery. But if I did, I'd live simply. I'd pay off my student debt. I'd buy some land and either build a little house or fix one up. I'd definitely build a treehouse. I'd travel frugally.

That's about it. If I won the lottery, I'd still work as a writer. This is what my ideal week would look like.

Monday – write for nine hours + one hour bikram yoga + 20 min. bills/paperwork
Tuesday – write for four hours + four hours of wood turning or throwing clay (or other creative pursuit) + two hours of cleaning/repairing/laundry/house work
Wednesday – write for four hours + six hours in the garden (including bees) + movie night
Thursday – write for nine hours + music practice/playing in the evening. Also: correspondence (email, letters, phone chats)
Friday – volunteer in the a.m. + outdoor exercise (biking, hiking, skiing, paddling)
Saturday – lazy breakfast with eggs, coffee and crossword + 1 hour errands + socialize, play games, whatever
Sunday – write for four hours + bake or preserve + cook big meal for big group dinner or potluck

I do not mean to suggest that I'd set any kind of a rigid schedule for myself, or that I'd be happy following one. (Although I do like the idea of Sunday being bread-baking day or Tuesday being laundry-day). And there are seasonal variations: a productive garden would require more than six hours a week in the early summer, and living in a rural home would require extra time in the fall to split and stack wood. A million unforeseen things would come up. This scenario doesn't really leave any room for a toddler. It doesn't account for a lot of things.

But it's a good exercise anyway. Not only because it offers an escape into a daydream, but because it helps me realize what I really want to be doing and what I value. Seeing my ideal life on paper can help me shape my real life to be a little more like it. And it makes me realize too that it's possible to get everything done that needs to get done in a single week (without letting things pile up and become unmanageable) as well as a lot of the things I'd like to do.

Also notice that my hours of writing come to exactly 30. Some countries embrace a 30-hour work week. “Working less so all are working,” the French call it. There are economists who say that fewer hours forces people to work more efficiently with the time they have. In the Netherlands, employers are required to allow their employees to cut their own hours without reducing their hourly wage or losing benefits. In 1937, a 30-hour work week was even proposed by a U.S. Senator – from Alabama no less! (The only one I can think of who'd suggest such a thing today is Bernie Sanders. And admittedly, the senator-turned-Supreme Court Justice who once proposed the idea was also briefly a KKK member.)

But it's been done in the U.S. In 1930, the Kellogg company (the cereal makers) offered employees the option of a six-hour day. Those who chose it reported – like workers in Scandinavian countries –that they felt more satisfied and happy even though they had slightly less money. Even better, they often used the extra time off pursuits that built community or deepened their family connections.

Google “30-hour work week” and you'll find plenty to read. Or just check out Less Work, More Life by John de Graaf (and make sure to follow the link through to Wendell Berry's response) or The Gospel of Consumption by Jeffrey Kaplan.

It's a little bit disheartening to realize that some semblance of my dream world would be possible if the society I lived in had different values. It's slightly disconcerting to wonder if my values are really that much different from the majority of my countrymen. (Are they?). I don't think I'm going to end up moving to France or Denmark. But it's good to have something to work toward. 

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