Thursday, 28 November 2013


In Japan there's a term for someone like me: furiitaa. A word formed from the English free and the German arbeiter which translates as freelance worker. According to Ruth Ozeki, a new author for me, this is 'someone who works part-time jobs and has a lot of free time because he doesn't have a proper career or a full-time position at a company.' Written in English, it's spelt freeter, which, as she says, does indeed look like fritter. Is that what I'm doing: frittering my life away? I beg to differ. I create in my leisure and explore new artists and books. I made a difficult choice to balance part-time work with free time because when I don't the world turns a dizzying black. And believe me, sometimes even this can be a fine line. But I make no claims on anybody – not on the state or other individuals – and yet living like this is seen as lesser. I matter less; I'm putting myself first to fritter, because obviously what I do outside my part-time hours is a not-so-guilty pleasure.
A full-time job carries weight, a part-time job does not, even if you complete more in one day than the average full-timer would. What a part-timer gives is never enough. This frustrates me because this is not a choice I undertook lightly; in some ways, it was forced upon me. If I have to live, then I must live differently. Being single, child-free, or a part-timer does not mean I'm here to prop the coupled up when they play happy families, or that I'm care-free. I too have the normal household chores to do and I do them singularly. I made a choice how to live my life to keep my sanity and you made yours too. It's not up to me or to anybody to help you live it responsibly or more easily.
Do not mistake me. This is not a rant, this is about sacrifice, tolerance and empathy. I've sacrificed all the personal goals most people aspire to: going to university, a profession, house, kids, a life partner to grow old with. Why? Because those kind of dreams are not for me, just as people with those dreams sacrifice their other interests. They put all their energies into raising a family or running their own business, whereas I put mine in space and time. I know what kind and how much peace I need to be me.
I consider myself fortunate to know myself as well as I do, just as I'm sure other women value the joys of motherhood. They prize time with their kids, whereas I prize quiet time with my books and papers. Even as I'm writing this, I'm imagining myself as an early feminist in a white shirt, buttoned waistcoat and tailored trousers, with page-boy hair and a cigarette in my mouth, like a heroine in a Sarah Waters novel, except my lips drag from an e-cigarette. My own childhood playground invention, puffing talc from a tin foil tip, while my overgrown limps dangle out of an armchair and my eyes rest on a half-folded paperback. Or I see myself sitting at a desk in wire-rimmed specs, furiously scribbling and scattering notes filled with my scrawl around me. Often, it's only when I look down I see my true attire: loose exercise pants, baggy wrap-around cardy, and Hello Kitty pink socks.
There used to be a time when being a scholar was respected. Men were esteemed and treated like gods, women were bluestockings.
There used to be a time when a grand European tour was a rite of passage. Men travelled largely alone, women had to be chaperoned.
What I'm doing now isn't so different. My life is studying. In my free-time, I learn psychology, philosophy, geography, history, and culture. Time is invested in my own sense of worth, it's never frittered.
Do not judge a freeter because their world is just as rich and does have meaning.

*Inspired by Ruth Ozeki's A Tale For The Time Being