Find a Sacrosanct Work-Life Balance

The other night, my home office land line rang at two o’clock in the morning. A client thought they could just leave a voice mail for me to retrieve later.

Another client was clearly nonplussed when I would not divulge my cell phone number so she can reach me when I’m not in my office.

Very often, I’ll be at an appointment or in a meeting with someone, their cell phone rings or a text dings, and they excuse themselves to take the call or thumb-type a response.

The boundaries start to blur, don’t they?

What is appropriate? What is polite? Are we ever, anymore, in the moment?

When are we working and not working? Does the presence of technology mean we’re on the clock 24 hours a day, seven days a week?

A friend of mine regularly fields phone calls and emails on Sundays — forget about down time, sabbath, weekend, time with the family, or just time off.

Connecticut used to be a sabbath-inspired Blue Law state, and up until the late 1970s most businesses could not even open on Sundays! Maybe blue laws seem quaint now — or controlling— but they indicated a respect for work life vs. home life, business time vs. private time.

Then in walks technology and voraciously eats up our time and stomps all over the lines. We’ve kinda created a monster, haven’t we?

It’s why I was intrigued to read Josie Le Blond’s article “Can Germans’ right to switch off survive the digital age?” on the BBC website recently. The right to switch off? Check this out:

What seemed perfectly normal to the American, working after hours, was inconceivable to the German[s]. After all, it was Feierabend, a German term which refers both to the end of the working day and the act of switching off from work entirely.

Down time is taken very seriously in Europe’s biggest economy. That’s why, when the European Union introduced mandatory work and rest periods back in 2003, the Germans embraced the chance to enshrine their sacrosanct work-life balance in law.


“People think it’s not so bad if they just send a quick email, but in most cases, they are then back at work in their thoughts for much longer, making it difficult to switch off and detach.” — Nils Backhaus, Germany’s Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Switching off from work entirely. Imagine! For German workers, it’s pretty much mandatory. The Working Hours Act says: “After each working day, employees are entitled to have an uninterrupted rest period of at least eleven hours (twelve hours for those aged between 15 and 18) before the beginning of the next working day. ”

Reading an email or taking a call from a colleague counts as work and restarts the clock on another 11-hour break. And — get this — if an employee can show that interruptions to their rest periods have made them ill, that’s considered a crime on the part of the employer.

Not everyone is thrilled with the rule, of course. And I’m not sure how those stringent guidelines would apply in the States (eye roll) or for those of us who work for ourselves or freelance. But still, the recognition by businesses that rest is critical to both our physical and mental health is amazing.

Think it’s not possible? “Back in 2011, Volkswagen announced it would turn off its email server overnight to prevent the exchange of work emails out of hours. Others, including BMW and Bosch, have established guidelines for employees when it comes to contacting each other after hours.”

If you build it (a different way of thinking about technology and our work life), we will come (to the table with some new approaches for how to live a more balanced life).

“The Feierabend culture is really healthy,” says [one] American academic. “How refreshing for it to be totally okay to leave work at five o’clock and never exchange work emails on the weekend.”

How refreshing indeed.

©2020, Jen Payne. Read the full article “Can Germans’ right to switch off survive the digital age? by Josie Le Blond, February 24, 2020 on BBC Worklife, Read Connecticut’s Blue Laws

Not Smoking: The 10-Year Mark

I once described smoking as romantic. Not the lovey-dovey kind of romance, but romance rooted in the traditions of 18th and 19th century Romanticism.

According to philosopher and historian Isaiah Berlin, Romanticism embodied “a new and restless spirit, seeking violently to burst through old and cramping forms, a nervous preoccupation with perpetually changing inner states of consciousness, a longing for the unbounded and the indefinable, for perpetual movement and change, an effort to return to the forgotten sources of life, a passionate effort at self-assertion both individual and collective, a search after means of expressing an unappeasable yearning for unattainable goals.”


Now, picture a “new and restless” 20-something, standing on the precipice of Expectations in “old and cramping” shoes that don’t quite fit. Nervous. Longing. Searching.

What does she do? She asserts her independence by running to the nearest cigarette vending machine — yes, there were vending machines, yes, inside a Dairy Queen — and kick-starts a habit she wouldn’t quit for more than 20 years.

It was placebo, pacifier, and partner-in-crime through some of the most brilliant and terrifying moments of my life. And some of the most benign.

As a matter of fact, it is the benign smoking moments I miss most, now 10 years quit:

The 5 a.m. drive down an early-winter highway, twilight barely on the horizon, coffee at the ready, window down, and that first, long drag.

Smoke swirling around Orion’s belt from a midnight parking lot, the only sound a slow approach of a car across the West Texas desert.

I will forever miss those romantic moments…painted with warm undertones of memory.

But they hide the truth: the panic of running out of supplies; the exhausted, frantic dash to the store to stock up, the cough that never really passed as allergies; the addiction with its hands around my throat; and the ever-present sense that I was — with every inhale — killing myself.

It’s been ten years now — ten years today! — since I took my last first, long drag. Every now and then I miss it. Every now and then I think about those romantic moments, and then…and then, it passes, “departing dream, and shadowy form of midnight vision.”




ARE YOU READY TO STOP SMOKING? Get support — it takes a village. Read Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking. And STOP. If I can, you can, too. I promise.


Light-winged Smoke! Icarian bird,
Melting thy pinions in thy upward flight;
Lark without song, and messenger of dawn,
Circling above the hamlets as thy nest;
Or else, departing dream, and shadowy form
Of midnight vision, gathering up thy skirts;
By night star-veiling, and by day
Darkening the light and blotting out the sun;
Go thou, my incense, upward from this hearth,
And ask the gods to pardon this clear flame.

Henry David Thoreau, American Romantic

IMAGE: Girl with a cigarette by Petr Zabolotskiy, 1850

Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday Dad

This morning — Wednesday, June 12 — I sat down on my yoga mat before the sun rose and thought about my Dad. He would have been 76 today.

And I wondered: what would he think of this life I’ve made? This weird, independent, non-conforming, yoga at 3 a.m. life. It’s certainly not what either one of us expected, and yet…

When I was 8, he wrote me a letter while he was traveling for business. “I’m glad to hear you wanted to be different this year,” he said about the Halloween costume I was making.

Perhaps that same sentiment would apply to this different life that does not include the expected traditional trappings of the young woman he was raising in the 70s.

In that letter, written from a hotel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he also wrote that he was proud of me. That he loved me very much.

What more could a girl ask for — then or now?

The box I keep the letter in still smells like my Dad. Inside, there’s a stack of letters he wrote when I was little and when I was at UMass. Birthday cards with his familiar signature, “Love, Dad.” His watch, a stack of photos. The last photo I have of him, taken two weeks before he died, when he was just about the age I am now.

But my favorite thing in the box is a video of my Dad singing Happy Birthday to a colleague. He’s on a stage with some other people, but he has the mic — of course. He’s being loud and goofy, and obviously had one or two drinks. He’s dancing. And smiling. And signing off-key.

It makes me laugh. And cry. And laugh again …because that’s exactly how I remember him — the LIFE of the party.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you.


P.S. I know that was you who knocked over your picture on my desk just now.

Mary Anne Siok: Remembered

From May 2018

Mary Anne and I met in a freshman English class at UMass in 1984. We were just joking a few weeks ago about how it’s been 30 years since we graduated. I said “How the hell did that happen?” and she said “Because we’re old.”

But the MA I knew – the one we all knew – was never old. Very often her texts would go on and on about what she was doing and where. (Even her cousin Katherine couldn’t keep up!) The weekend before she died? On Friday, after a full day of work and a train commute home to Rhode Island, she went out for sushi with Billy. On Saturday, she and I spent an entire day walking around the mall, shopping, talking, toasting her birthday with bloody marys. On Sunday, she was with friends at Foxwoods to see the Hollywood Vampires, and then on Monday she celebrated a gorgeous spring day with a drive along the coast and lobster rolls.

THAT, in a big long-weekend nutshell was our Mary Anne.

MA was my best friend, my secret keeper, my sister, my person…and the most fabulous yin to my yang.

Me ever so cautious and worried, the introvert full of specific plans to her come what may, live life to its fullest, hell yeah we’re doing that extrovert with an absolute love of life.


So much so that in recent years, I’ve taken to asking myself WWMAD? As in: What Would Mary Anne Do?

What would Mary Anne do? Mary Anne would say Yes.

YES to the next concert, the Red Sox or Patriots game, the fireworks, the dive bar, the music festival, the movie night, the road trip, the matching tattoos, and one more Hallmark Christmas movie.

YES to the beach. Always.

YES to anything in black, the sales rack, the sparkly earrings, the extra glass of wine. And YES to Dunkin Donuts. Of course.

YES to dancing … anywhere, drinks at the Hard Rock Cafe, going to the symphony, enjoying a home cooked meal, taking a spinning class … or yoga, cheering on her boyfriend’s band.

YES to shopping at the outlets, seeing an art exhibit, wandering a museum, getting tickets to a play, or a long full day at the Big E.

Jump off a 3-foot ledge into the ocean while a crowd cheers? Yes.
Help you check off something on your bucket list? Yes.

YES to coming to your BBQ, your daughter’s dance recital, your campaign event, your nephew’s first birthday, your sons’ soccer game, your girls’ weekend, your wedding, your holiday dinner. Probably all on the same day … usually with a gift … always with that big, sweet, joyful smile.

A smile that said YES, I’ll move in with you. YES I’ll meet you at the winery. YES I’ll be at the party. YES let’s go shopping.

YES, we have to do this again soon.

Not everyone can do that — be so wide open to life and love and friends and experiences. No holds barred. Fearless. Hell yeah, we’re doing that!

And so, in honor of the blessing that was our wonderful, bold and brazen, brave and beautiful Mary Anne Siok, I challenge you — all of you — to say YES a lot more often.

And I thought we could practice right now…ready?

In memory of Mary Anne Siok, May 31, 2018. Click here to read her full obituary.

Monday Message: Grace of the World

When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. – Wendell Berry

PHOTO by Lucas Piero