We had the good fortune of connecting with Tom Leveen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tom, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
I don’t believe in “work-life balance” anymore. I can’t recall where I first read that this idea was misleading (it may have been Tim Ferriss), but I think it’s true. We can generally break our lives up into “seasons” for sure, but the idea of “balance” is frankly too difficult for most of us. Some days, or weeks, or months, it’s all about the business. If you or someone you love gets sick, everything shuts down and we focus on that. All caught up with work, or feeling the effects of not getting a break? Time to take one. Maybe a long one. “Balance” suggests we can readily break up our physical, relational, emotional, mental, financial, and spiritual lives into neat percentages. Maybe some people can, but when I try this, it goes badly, and all areas suffer. When I think about putting things into seasons, the “balance” suddenly happens naturally. Trying to enforce “balance” has led to nothing but additional stress for me. Instead, acknowledging where we are as a family and making plans best suited to meet everyone’s goals in the short- and long-term has worked best. I’m not saying “Don’t go on vacation!” at all; I’m saying there may be seasons when vacation isn’t the best choice, and other times when you must go on vacation–maybe for a month or more! Balance for me, particularly during the pandemic, has been about accepting what the family priorities are and building actions around them. My number one goal has been for neither me nor my family to get Covid. So far, so good. But that comes at a cost (kids being in online school, Mom and Dad working from home, etc). So for now, my schedule for creative work is different than it was in January 2020. That’s fine; this season will end and we’ll enter a new one, and make new plans around those circumstances. Walking around saying “We MUST do This Thing!” or “We MUST do That Thing!” in the name of work-life balance has not, for our family, been a recipe for health and success.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My fiction has set itself apart by its authentic characters having real-life reactions to the world around them, whether that’s as simple as going to a graduation party or fighting monsters in the hallway at school. My debut novel opens like this: “I’m the girl nobody knows until she commits suicide. Then suddenly everyone had a class with her.” That line has resonated with readers for 10 years. I find it posted on social media. There’s something about that idea of isolation and loneliness that people feel deeply, myself included. What sets my work apart is my willingness–my need, really–to dive deep into these emotions and see where they come from and what we ought to do with them. I tend to take my readers to dark places emotionally and then guide them back to the light–not in a sappy way, or even in a “everyone lived happily ever after,” because real life isn’t like that. But I do use my background in theatre to write outstanding dialogue spoken by characters who are striving and learning about how to get through the hard times. I write these stories because I want readers to know that they are not alone. Ever.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
(Assuming we are past the pandemic?) We’d eat at ChiZona Pizza for pizza, wings, and sides; and to Renegade Coffee for coffee and smoothies and bakery. And no visit is complete without going to The Sugar Bowl, and to sample and shop at Outrageous Olive Oils & Vinegars. We’d take a short road trip to Cave Creek to eat at the Grotto Cafe, and shop for more olive oils at Cave Creek Olive Oil. I’d want to take them to the Maskadores taco shop inside Paradise Valley Mall, too. We’d definitely go to Changing Hands and Poisoned Pen to say hi and pick up a few books, probably just before attending one of their frequent author events. I’d take them to the Desert Botanical Garden, Papago Park, and probably the Phoenix Zoo; and also to Boyce Arboretum. We’d need to get up to Prescott for the day to walk around and enjoy their local bookstore and diners. Of course, we need to go the top of Camelback Mountain, maybe in the afternoon to see some of the sun set. For some arts, we’d have to see anything Stray Cat Theatre had going on, and also check into what the Phoenix Symphony is offering. With any luck, they’d time their visit to coincide with the Phoenix Film Festival as well.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I must Shoutout my wife Joy, who works full time on behalf of children and families statewide while still keeping me and our two children sane. Locally, I want to Shoutout both Changing Hands Bookstore and The Poisoned Pen Bookstore, whose workers tirelessly make access to books and community their priority. Between bookclubs that have moved online and curbside shopping, these two longtime stalwarts of the community deserve all praise and all attention with our dollars. Not only are they critical for readers and families, they are critical for the local authors like me, to whom they show endless support.
B&W headshot credit: Yvonne Wan