Quite a lot of years ago a friend sent me a little picture which is still part of a small display on my workroom wall. It’s a drawing of a woman, and she’s wearing three hats, piled on top of each other. At about the same stage of my life, my daughter, who at the time was still a child but almost as wise and perceptive then as she is now, told me I had four jobs. I think it was four; maybe it was more.
These days I think they call it a portfolio career: a working life in which the employee serves more than one master. Mine was never exactly like that; I gave up the kind of full-time employment which requires selling more than half one’s waking hours to a large organization shortly before my daughter was born, and afterwards I always worked freelance. But the nature of freelance working is that the worker serves any master who will provide an income, so the principle is similar.
In my then small daughter’s eyes, I was a theatre reviewer, a feature journalist, a fiction writer and a teacher (there, it was more than four). I was also her mother – which of course was the most important job of all, in my eyes as well as hers. I’m not sure the friend who sent me the picture saw mother as a separate job; that was what later came to be called work-life balance.
And you know what? Decades later, nothing much in my life has changed. Books have replaced theatre in the reviewer role. Fiction writer never goes away. Mother is a lifetime joy, even she now cooks her own meals and does her own laundry. I don’t teach much any more, and the feature journalism dwindled when I went into publishing, but who knows, both may rear their heads again. And adding proofreader and editor into the mix makes the list even longer than before. Other things have intervened over the years and one role or another has had to vacate space which an additional commitment has moved into, but the number of hats has rarely decreased.
And you know something else? I wouldn’t have it any other way. As a reviewer, I get to read great crime fiction which otherwise I might never come across. Writing fiction (not crime; I leave that to others with the right mix of skills) reveals a quantum universe of possibilities. Feature journalism meant I met interesting people, visited places which opened up new horizons, sometimes literally, and delved into topics which surprised me by how interesting they were. Editing is another way of reading, and a side benefit is that it’s made me more aware of the importance of good style and attention to detail in my own writing. And now my daughter is grown up with a portfolio career of her own, I get to share some of her experience second-hand.
That little picture on the wall has been part of my life for a long time. I smiled when I first saw it, and it still makes me smile when I see it there. My life is still sometimes too full, and has been stressful, but you’ll never hear me complain of boredom.