Member blog post: Balancing Passions in LA: life, art, work and JAWS!

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work life balanceBy Jessica Langlois, JAWS member

On a rainy December Saturday in central Los Angeles, eight JAWS members met with a local documentary filmmaker over brunch to discuss the work-art-life balance. Many of us were meeting for the first time, so we all wore name tags, but they were hardly necessary — before long, we were splitting sides of pancakes, sampling our neighbor’s quinoa, and embracing, eager to follow up on one another’s work and meet again in Palm Springs in January. Like so many JAWS events, this local gathering felt less like a formal networking meetup, and more like an intimate brunch between creative friends.

The official occasion, organized by Los Angeles regional captain Megan Sweas, was to discuss filmmaker Mary Trunk’s new documentary, “Lost in Living,” and celebrate the coming birth of President Lauren Whaley’s first child, due later this month. Trunk’s film profiled four women — a filmmaker, a painter, a conceptual artist and a writer — following them over the course of seven years. Two were raising young children; the other two had grown children and were looking back on how their lives as practicing artists had influenced those relationships. At a screening of the film at USC, Trunk had said she can only make films about people she likes — and this attention to humanizing her subjects comes across clearly in Lost in Living. The characters are quirky, rueful, funny, vulnerable, and unapologetic. We see both unpleasant and joyous moments in their daily lives, and then get to hear them reflect on those moments — telling their own stories in their own voices. A mother herself, Trunk began the film when her daughter was just a toddler, often bringing her along as she shot birthday parties or park dates.

However, as the JAWS members went around the brunch table and introduced themselves, Whaley reminded the group that the work-life balance does not necessarily imply motherhood. Arts reporter and copywriter Jessica Koslow, who is also expecting her first child, and Sweas, a freelance journalist currently completing her first book, both work primarily from home, and discussed the challenge of managing hours spent on contract work. Koslow said because she enjoys her job so much and creates her own hours, she often enjoys working on a story at eight o’clock at night — something her husband doesn’t understand. Janice Littlejohn, also a freelance journalist, author and documentary filmmaker, said separating her workspace from her living space in her home is essential. However, since Littlejohn has added teaching to her list of professional identities, her workspace has begun spilling into her living space.

Littlejohn’s work-life balance is indicative of what many women face in the current journalism landscape. Sweas proposed the term work-work-life balance—balancing our paid job(s), our creative projects and the rest of our lives. On that note, Trunk said she funded her documentary largely on her own, keeping a tight budget and supporting herself by teaching and working on shorter films and book trailers. Those present discussed the challenge of patching together multiple jobs, especially at the notoriously low rates freelancers and adjunct professors are paid. Littlejohn said that when she was starting out, she thought she would work for one newspaper or magazine her whole career. Now, she prefers her freelance lifestyle, but says she would have never made it work without the support of JAWS, which she joined in the late 1990s. Connie K. Ho, a freelance society reporter and the new JAWS website manager, said she feels she is finally getting to a place where she is being paid more and more for the work she wants to do. Evelyn Iritani and Karen Lowe discussed their transitions from traditional journalism jobs into self-directed work. Iritani traveled internationally as a Los Angeles Times economics correspondent for over a decade, and then branched out on her own — working in PR, creating her own company, and eventually joining Lowe’s storytelling-driven radio and multimedia project, Bending Borders. Lowe, formerly a senior foreign editor for Marketplace, said planning coffee dates with colleagues and friends — like Iritani or Whaley, who she occasionally works with at the Center for Health Reporting — is essential when working independently.

Whaley admitted that balancing her work as JAWS president with her life as a new parent feels more crucial than balancing parenthood with her work as a multimedia journalist — mostly because JAWS is so personally important to her. Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to for many of us. Not so much balancing duties, but balancing passions. As Koslow said, we’re all pretty lucky to get to do work that we love. We write that story at 8 p.m. because we want to; we eat cereal for lunch so we can keep editing that video because we love to; we hold a nursing baby in one arm while interviewing a congressman over the telephone because we know our work is important—to us and to others. But we also take a three-hour break from the writing, the editing, and even the kids or partner, so we can gather with eight other intelligent, driven women who may just want some of the same things.

Langlois is a freelance journalist covering arts, culture and women’s issues, and an adjunct writing instructor based in Los Angeles.