“Were you here late last night?” My boss asked at our daily morning meeting.
“I was here later than I should have been,” I said, thinking of the 2am timestamp on my story in dropbox.
“I asked you if you could finish the story by the end of the day, and you said yes. If you aren’t able to finish a story, you need to tell me. You’re learning to write news and edit audio and code audio. It’s going to take time, and you do no benefit to yourself staying late. Now, what stories are you working on today?” she asked, moving on to the day’s news.
Was I just reprimanded for finishing an assignment? I worked until 2am, but I completed my first story with audio cuts from interviews I recorded. And the story’s been airing all morning. And I’m not sucking overtime pay. I’m a volunteer. I don’t receive overtime. And I’m being reprimanded?
The next day, the staff handed the Volunteers two sunboxes to place in the Volunteer House to counteract SAD when the light diminishes. Then they reminded us the work kitchen remains stocked with fruit, nuts, and granola bars for us to eat if we need a snack or if our blood sugar dips. As a side note, they said the gym where we receive a free membership is extending its weekend hours.
That was three weeks ago. My boss is still telling me to leave work earlier.
Besides my parents, I’m not used to authority figures, especially employers, caring about my wellness. My background in theatre and academia taught me to do whatever I had to do to get the job done. Health and sanity were never mentioned. Probably because they got in the way.
In college my bedtime was 4am. That is, if I wasn’t pulling my weekly all-nighter to write a paper. At my last theatre job, a 12-hour day was considered getting off early. In both environments, work ended when the task ended, and you did whatever you had to do to get the job done before the deadline hit or the curtain rose. If that meant not sleeping for 48 hours, then shut your mouth and keep working.
And I loved it.
If I entered a semester thinking I could succeed, I’d tip the scale until doubt spiked my adrenaline to panic as I piled on more classes and rehearsals than time or sanity permitted. Weekly, I’d shout expletives at myself with lips smirking as I opened my laptop at 12am to begin a paper due at 9am, buzzed off the risk of not finishing, the challenge of forcing myself to, and the triumph of body slamming into the deadline, finished paper in hand, still warm from the printer.
High stakes. Low certainty. Cortisol was my ecstasy.
At the interview for my previous theatre job, the employer said: You will work 12 to 16 hour days, 6 days a week, no vacations. You will be hungry, tired, and unwashed, and you won’t care because you’ll be so exhausted. But every day you’ll be working with a professional theatre company. What do you think?
“It sounds like touching fire,” I said, “terrifying and magnetic.” And I wanted to grab the flame with both hands.
Theatre people love to work, and they love to work hard. They open a vein, drain it on stage, and get off on it. So him telling me that I would work morning, day, and night in a job that’s all-consuming, that will take everything from me, that I will fiercely love and fiercely hate and consider leaving theatre forever and, ultimately, learn more about my craft than I ever have in my life…well, it was lighting a spark in a powder keg, a spark that welded an alloy of passion and ambition, an alloy that has always glinted my eyes at any chance to skid broadside across concrete to do the work that makes sleep and food and showers and anywhere else in the world unnecessary.
Then I come to KNOM, and three weeks in, I get reprimanded for working until 2am.
I’m learning what this whole wellness-concerned work environment means. I’m trying to limit myself to 9-hour days. I’m trying to take lunch breaks. I’m trying to sleep 8 hours. I’m learning to respect my health and sanity and to see them not as the wings of my work but to see my work as one of the passengers among many on the airplane of my life. I’m learning to abide by what my Dad told me sophomore year of college, that though I may love my work, my work will never love me and that work needs no rest, but I do. I’m recognizing that occupying myself solely with my employment whittles the million capacities of my humanity to a few sinews of my being, a fate that will leave me dancing hollow round the prickly pear. And hardest of all, I’m trying to learn how to efficiently create work I’m proud of while supporting my colleagues and then to leave work and live a quality personal life within a community.
Masochism is a hard pleasure to break, but concern from the upper hierarchy for my personhood beyond my product is a challenging but beautiful thing to begin accepting.