Many years ago, some months after my father died, my mother came for an extended visit in the town in which I was then living. We found a nice little short-term apartment for her not far from mine, and spent as much time together as we could manage. I was running a different library then, and I took her there and showed her around. In the evenings she'd come with me to the bar where I played guitar or read poetry, and on the weekend she came along to the artsy neighborhood where I hung out with the renegades. Near the end of her visit, after a long day that I had spent much of in a somber suit as a university administrator, but had finished off in boots and a cowboy hat singing punk country songs as part of a guitar duo called the Prairie Dogs, she laughed and said, "Your siblings [all of whom lived a couple of states away] don't quite know what to make of your life and all of the different things that you do. But now that I've spent some time with you, I see that it all fits together."
I really appreciated that, because I had been struggling for some years, and had only recently started to feel that I was finding a sense of balance. When my first marriage had broken up a couple of years earlier, one of the underlying stresses was that in my desire to be responsible to my career and to the obligations I felt I had made to my wife, I had lost track of parts of my self that also needed attention and nurturing. I'd come to a point where I felt fragmented and not very happy with anything I was doing. I was in my late thirties and I remember sitting at my desk in my little bachelor apartment thinking that maybe I wasn't cut out for this library stuff, and that once I got out from under the mountain of debt I'd assumed as part of the divorce, I might be best off just chucking it all and finding something else to do.
Music and art saved me. (Falling in love with Lynn didn't hurt (well, it did hurt some for awhile but that's a different story)). By the time of Mum's visit, I'd been spending most of my free time hanging out at the Venice Cafe with an eclectic bunch of artists and musicians. They knew I was a librarian, but that was the day job and nobody paid much attention to those. I was in a band, and the lead guitar player and I had the little duo, and I was starting to feel as if the man I had once imagined I might be was finally starting to come together.
I'm thinking about this in connection with a little discussion out there related to a post that showed up from one of the participants in the Five Weeks To A Social Library project. Alisia raises the question of how to manage one's personal and professional lives within the social software context and it has engendered a bit of good discussion, both in the comments and on other blogs.
In my own case, there simply isn't a separation, and it has been that way for a long time -- ever since those days a decade and a half ago back at the Cafe. All of us have many, many aspects to our selves -- Lynn teases me about "responsible guy" and "night guy," (as Frisse once famously said of Lynn, "the woman has whole cities inside her") -- but the boundaries are porous, and in the world in which we now live, impossible to maintain. You are fooling yourself if you think you can.
When I started this blog, it was for the single purpose of finding out if I could use the structure to help me write better sentences. That is still the primary purpose. It has my name at the top, rather than some phrase, because it is intended to reflect nothing but who I am.
Which means that, on any given day, someone may come to it and read something that reflects how passionate I am about my profession -- but they'll see the picture of me and JoBug up in the corner. On another day they'll read about the band, or music, or museums, or restaurants, or the tales of me driving the little black car across the vastness of west Texas.
But it is the internet, so it is all public. When I mentioned our Dean of Medicine in a post once, I sent him the link as a courtesy -- which meant, of course, that I opened everything else up to him should he choose to browse. When I saw him some days later, he seemed amused and wondered where I found time to do that kind of thing.
I know that many of the people who work with me read it. I hope that the insights that it might give them to my character helps the work relationships. I don't know if the president of the university has ever come across it, but it wouldn't surprise me, so I try to be careful never to say anything that she might feel would embarrass the place.
My mother reads it. 'Nuff said.
The challenge, with all of these audiences, is to not let myself be stifled in what I have to say. There's a simple rule of thumb -- can I stand behind every word I write, no matter who might come across it?
I'm no longer looking for "balance" because that still seems to imply managing two poles. I don't have a "personal" or "professional" side. I strive to be complete.