How to Avoid Fights with your Girlfriend about Work

June 24th, 2007 § 0

My girlfriend likes to work hard. She starts at her office between eight and eight-thirty in the morning and works until seven or eight in the evening. I like to work hard as well. But still our schedules didn’t coalesce.

For awhile, I tried getting up at seven-thirty just after her (she would want an extra half hour with the mirror) and walking her to work.

That was the best part of my day. Getting up together, having a cup of tea and walking Eliska to work was a joy.

But when I cam back to my desk, my mind drifted for a good three hours or so while I tried to take advantage of those splendid morning hours.

Unfortunately I have a biological clock inherited from Joseph Stalin – Stalin regularly kept the Kremlin running until 5 in the morning.

So what would happen is the morning hours were at about 25% productivity. Around eleven or twelve I would switch into high gear again and get lots done until about three, but then I would fade. After some afternoon sport, returning to work in the evening I couldn’t get anything done.

Eliska would be back at seven thirty, say, again – and the day would be over. No question of going back to work after a nice dinner with her – I didn’t have the strength.

Left to my own devices a work day looks more like getting up at anytime between eight and nine am. When I wake up my mind is supercharged and just raring to get back to last night’s wars or start in on new big jobs. The employees roll in to the office at about ten but I’m already going at 100% so I don’t have much time for meetings with them and just tell them to get to work. Sometime around eleven or twelve I come out of the jetstream to check in on how they are doing.

Now it’s time for email and mundane activities. Later in the afternoon, it would be sports time again – a time I would use to refresh the mental batteries, to solve problems on my bike, or when on the water – when I came back in the evening, my mind would be at full speed. My body would be eager to get some sustenance (preferably high protein and bio quality raw vegetables) and get back to work.

Between eight pm and one am are golden hours in which any problem could be solved, any paradox resolved.

Paul Graham in his essay on “How to Start a Startup” describes the golden hours thus:

The key to productivity is for people to come back to work after dinner. Those hours after the phone stops ringing are by far the best for getting work done. Great things happen when a group of employees go out to dinner together, talk over ideas, and then come back to their offices to implement them. So you want to be in a place where there are a lot of restaurants around, not some dreary office park that’s a wasteland after 6:00 PM.

To return to the girlfriend problem – she is none too happy to have her man wolf down some dinner, talk with her in a fairly detached way and race into the office rooms (our place is huge). Now would be the time for some real talk, some drawn out lovemaking, watching a film together (she is a cinema buff) – or in the worst case if it’s towards the end of the week and we want to get out or seem other people, walking out to meet some friends for a drink.

More Smiles Like This Please, Dear Eliska
More Smiles Like This Please, Dear Eliska

This way of working clearly doesn’t fit into her world. The solution would be to cut back on the days we see one another – but make them real dates, for which I have to be prepared. As scores of the most delightful women from most of Europe can attest, when my head is in the game, I am one of the best dates around. I listen attentively, am genuinely interested in the deeper side of the other person, have an active sense of humour, am just provocative enough, have boundless energy.

Unfortunately, I like to work a lot. So the girl who is there every day gets the short end of the stick. Not because I like or love her any less – au contraire I adore her – but because I have to get back to work. I also fancy myself building our future, so I have some trouble grasping her impatience. But putting it out on paper like this, it’s pretty clear why.

Anyway getting back to a positive solution, the idea is to cut back the number of days we see one another. So the one or two weeknights are like the most fabulous dates she’s ever been on. Ballet, delightful restaurants, walks under the stars, kissing at the bank of the Danube, impromptu Cuban dancing.

When she’s not here, normally Eliska likes to talk to me on the telephone between 10 or 11pm while she is getting ready for bed. Usually that’s my worst time for a telephone conversation. There are two versions possible here:

  1. Work is going really well and I just don’t want to be distracted. The conversation inevitably does distract me if it goes beyond five minutes. So either I’m curt – a royal piss-off for any woman – or I do get distracted, which in turns either irritates me or sends the work right off the rails. In which case we would have been better to just spend the night together.
  2. Work is going really badly and I am going at it hard trying to get something positive out of what seems a lost day. The telephone call would be a welcome interruption but poor Eliska will get more grief than anyone would ever want as he or she crawls between the sheets.

I tried to solve this problem by forbidding her to call me before she went to bed. She was not happy about this strategy at all. She needed this bedtime talk.

It’s not that I refuse to talk to her at work. Anytime in the afternoon – the noon to three space – is conventional work, the kind done by producers (I used to be one), executives, and master salespeople and managers every day. Talk to this person, explain this problem, make that call. It’s all good. But that evening time is sacred. It’s the second work day which allows me to run two companies. Even when we get bigger and there are more shoulders to carry the workload, those golden hours in the evening will still be precious.

One way I solved this while Eliska was here almost every night was that I would have dinner with her at eight or nine and spend the time with her up until around twelve. After she started to fall asleep I would get back up and work until about three or three thirty. There were three problems with this:

  1. Eliska was none too happy to have me gone. Usually she would get up at two thirty in the morning to tell me time for bed on her way back from the loo.
  2. The quality of the work time was pretty lousy. The golden hours are eight-nine until one a.m. By starting back in at midnight (eleven-thirty to twelve-thirty), there is not enough physical resources most nights to hit a big problem. So I’d be reduced to running through emails and patchwork fixes, rather than targetting anything big.
  3. The physical toll was very high on me. Heading to bed at about two or three leaves me rested like an angel for the next day. When I am playing catch-up until three-thirty or four, even for me that’s not enough sleep. So I’d be a little bit slower the next day.

The two advantages to this system are not small ones. First, our sex life was quite good and frequent. Second, most people sleep much better after a rending fulfilment.

But the winning formula here would be those two date nights per week. For the evening telephone calls, we’d just agree to keep them short and that it would be Eliska’s turn to talk to me and not for me to talk to her. When you are concentrated on something else, it’s much easier and less disruptive to listen than to articulate your own inner state. She says I talk too much anyway and she’s probably right.

How does that scale to living together – the natural and short-term goal – and later having a family?

Part two of that question – having a family – is a bit tricky and I’ll have to wait on an answer to it, I just don’t have enough experience. I have a feeling that it partly involves large houses and live-in nannies. It also involves some compromise on work hours.

But for living together, the solution would be to keep the date nights. On a non-date night, we might just eat together briefly and do our separate things. There would be no disappointment on her end. She’d know that it wasn’t a date night – and she’d know that tomorrow is. On my end, I would also know that – and would be inspired to redouble my efforts to be able to go on the date with a light heart. I’d also know that I was expected to show her a good time and eager to do so. There is nothing more wonderful in this world than making the woman you love happy.

Eliska Mihalikova candlelit
More Candlelit Dinners Then, Dear Alec

On the work nights, if Eliska sees her friends, she sees her friends. If she wants to go to the movies with her friends, she goes. If she wants to have the friends visit, no problem. They can do whatever they want in the rest of the apartment. When I have a free moment, I’ll come out to play for a few minutes but otherwise it would be do not disturb.

Of course, it would be great if Eliska could get a job which would let her start at nine am. At that point, I could certainly just twist my biorhythm to getting up together and kissing the morning together.

Apparently I’m not the only one having trouble balancing work and love in the start-up phase of a company. Paul Graham writes about his experience:

During this time you’ll do little but work, because when you’re not working, your competitors will be. My only leisure activities were running, which I needed to do to keep working anyway, and about fifteen minutes of reading a night. I had a girlfriend for a total of two months during that three year period.

I hope to do a better job managing a girlfriend during the startup phase, than Paul did. I better. Despite my love of hard work, I’ve never been cut out for the monastic life.

When I’ve had startup level projects in the past (making a film isn’t much different), I’ve generally worked together with the girlfriend. Or sometimes the woman I was working with became my girlfriend (can happen in either order). In this case, you are both thinking and talking about the shared project. People tend to get more excited about making films than building companies and/or SEO – so this is not so easily applied here.

Eliska for awhile was really implicated in the company. But given that she was sixty hours/week at her day job, it was a bit much for her. I can’t blame her. What she needs is not more work, but more romance.

ImPulsTanz: Nacht – Rosas/Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker

June 18th, 2007 § 2

Now that she has established herself as the greatest woman choreographer and contends for the title of greatest living choreographer, Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker has embarked on the very sensible route of revision of her older work along with the creation of new works. For the old work to go into the canon it must be seen by the new critics. Back in the 1980’s there was only a small group of people who knew how important de Keersmaeker’s oeuvre would become.

Happily Vienna – thanks to the tireless efforts of ImPulsTanz and Karl Regensburger who have been de Keersmaeker’s oldest and most steadfast co-producers – is a principal stop on all of de Keersmaeker’s roads so we get to see both the dance history and her new creations.

In December we saw Un moto di gioia, a full evening piece from 1992.

This time under the name Nacht we saw three smaller works, from the Rosas repertoire from 1986 to 1995. Musically the works were unified as compositions for quartets. All of them were played live. Live music is the life blood of dance. Tonight’s show demonstrated how much better it is to offer audiences a live quartet than a piped orchestra.

Quartett Nr. 4 was composed by Bela Bartok in 1928 and premiered in Brussels in the Théâtre CBA in 1986.

The Great Fugue in B-Major is Ludwig van Beethoven’s master work from 1825. Rosas dance work premiered in 1992 in the Hallen van Schaerbeek.

A Clear Night (Verklärte Nacht) is composer Arnold Schönberg’s innovative work of 1899, foreshadowing the work of Stravinsky and Rachmaninnov. Rosas piece premiered in 1995 in Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels. The move to Théâtre de la Monnaie can be considered to be the year when de Keersmaeker formally arrived with full institutional support.

De Keersmaeker’s development as a choreographer is apparent in the three pieces, performed here in chronological order.

De Keersmaeker herself still performs in Quartett Nr. 4 which is no small accomplishment considering that the piece is 20 years old and she left dance school in 1980 (before many of her current troupe were born). Almost miraculously she keeps good company with her three danseuses, even leading the group. While de Keersmaeker dances as well or better than any of them she is missing a certain playfulness or flirtationess in her attitude and some tiny snap in her movement (Elizaveta Penkova particularly excelled in playfulness, bringing joy to the stage). Still de Keersmaeker’s steps are beautiful, her figure ever girlish. One would be hard pressed to guess either her age or that she is a mother.

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Quartett 4 – Bela Bartok- Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker

The piece itself is a simple one. The quartet is onstage with rows of toned down lights overhead. The stage a simple black. The four women dance together, both slowly and more quickly with wild leaps, ever in pace with the music. Bartok’s music itself is glorious, the musical highlight of the evening for me.

Quartet No. 4 takes us to the origins of dance: music and dancers and an audience.

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Quartett Nr. 4 Elisaveta Penkova, Tale Dolven – Taka Shamato – Mystery girl

This is de Keersmaeker’s signature Rosas proposition. No men. Women in perfect sync to music. Purity of movement something like Balanchine. But also working the floor.

All that one could criticize this piece for is the absence of a strong emotional line apart from the music.

Die Grosse Fugue is quite different. A very large group, just two women. The musical quartet remains on stage behind the musicians. All of the group, including the women are clad in black evening suits and white shirts.

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Die Grosse Fugue | Beethoven – Rosas

In the past, I hadn’t really noticed the Rosas men (Salvo Sanchis in A Love Supreme excepted) as much as the women, but in Beethoven’s Great Fugue, de Keersmaeker shows her ability to work with men as well. She has them doing cartwheels, leaps, rolls. The men are elegantly clad. The violence and power of movement while not approaching Vanderkeybus goes in that direction.

The storyline is difficult to decipher. The two women Kaya Kolodziejczyk and Moya Michael at one point lead the group and take off not only their jackets, but their topshirts remaining clad in white t-shirts.

Both Kolodziecjzyk acquit themselves well. Kaya Kolodziejcyk is one of those special artists whose verve fills a theatre. Of the men, particularly notable were Igor Shyshko and Mark Lorimer: Igor Shyshko for his long limbs and quickness, Mark Lorimer for his expressive and somewhat tragic mien. For some peculiar reason, Shyshko sports a mullet but his dancing is good enough to forgive him even that transgression of taste.

I could not decipher the meaning of the two women, rather than one. Amusingly enough, when I had the chance to speak with some of the dancers after the show, they told me Grand Fugue was originally performed with one woman. But there were not enough men in the company for this tour so one of the roles was transposed and some small alterations made to accommodate two women. I asked for a clear storyline – according to the dancers there isn’t one.

In the end, the Great Fugue is austere and tasteful: intelligent movement to exceptionally beautiful music. The audience responded to the first part of the evening with warmth and enthusiasm.

After the intermission the quartet was moved from the stage and put into the pit. They became six. Instead on stage we had seven full height birch tree trunks. Blood red leaves spread out in four or five diagonal lines across the stage. At the beginning we see seven or eight dancers standing under the tree trunks. This atmospheric setting was the creation of Gilles Aillaud with the help of Vinicio Cheli on lights and credit to Rudy Sabounghi for costumes. The costumes are dresses and suits which are of no absolutely clear epoch but definitely Europe pre-World War II.

Verklarte-Nacht-Schonberg-Rosas-4-1
Verklärte Nacht | Schonberg Rosas | Elizaveta Penkóva – Bostjan Antoncic

Both the musical composition and the ballet for Clear Night are based on a story by Richard Dehmel. The story is of a woman and her new lover in the woods. The woman tells the man that she is pregnant with another man’s child. She is filled with regret and guilt. To her surprise, he answers that he will accept the child she bears as his own.

On this powerful libretto, Schönberg wrote his powerful score. Clear Night is so overwhelmingly emotional that it can be difficult sitting through the string sections. One has the same feeling of being smothered in the music as in some Hollywood film scores (derivative of Schönberg’s original).

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Verklärte Nacht | Schonberg Rosas | Tala Shamato – Mark Lorimer

What de Keersmaeker does with this original dialogue is create six couples, each one of which mirrors one part of the emotional discussion between the pair. All of the dancers do well. The most moving pair was Elizaveta Penkóva and Bostan Antoncic. Penkóva has the pleasure of reacting to the news from her lover that he accepts and welcomes her coming child. Her joy is palpable in her whole body. Penkóva is from Russia. While she studied in the West, she seems to have the same astonishing gift for emotional projection through movement historically present in the performances of her compatriots in the Bolshoi Theatre. Penkóva is very quick and light in her movements.

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Verklärte Nacht | Schonberg Rosas | Elizaveta Penkóva – Bostjan Antoncic

Antoncic is both a fine dancer and enjoys matinée idol looks. He is tall with thick dark hair and strong eyebrows and a very red mouth. He is perhaps more emotionally reserved than need be but perhaps he was understating his case here to give Penkóva’s character full latitude to express her joy. Otherwise Zsusza Rozsavölgy was exceptionally expressive in her section. Her movement was more agitated and nervous than Penkóva’s. Perhaps Rozsavölgy’s roll was to reveal her situation to her new lover.

The only difficulty I had with Verklärte Nacht was the décor and costumes. While they were very well done, so many Second World War/Holocaust pieces have taken place in a forest with tragic dances between couples, that when they started shedding their clothes, I was unsure if this wasn’t another one of the same. The blood red leaves and the birch trees had me almost convinced. But at the time of the creation in 1995, it’s not certain that the European forest/holocaust motif equation was so pronounced. Forests, birch trees and couples should be timeless. De Keersmaeker could rid the piece of the Second World War overtones by making the costumes either more pronouncedly nineteenth century or more modern.

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Verklärte Nacht | Moya Michael – Kosi Hidama
Birch Trees, Bloody Leaves, Undressed in the woods WWII motif

The musicians from the Duke Quartet were faultless in each episode, making it a ballet that could have been a concert.

Audience reaction to Clear Night was overwhelming. Rosas were brought back on stage for five curtain calls. Despite the elegant dress and visible sophistication of the evening’s chic public, Rosas had them hooting and hollering.

A splendid evening.

Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker will be back in Vienna this summer with a new work Sisters at ImPulsTanz. A duet with Fumiyo Ikeda created by Vincent Dunoyer with the help of several ex-Rosas dancers interpreting in signature Rosas style. de Keersmaeker is responsible for her own choreography in the duet, answering Fumiyo Ikeda’s.

Photos courtesy of ImPulsTanz. © Herman Sorgeloos