Working at home
This is how my day is structured – this is its plot. Two alarms rouse me. First my spouse’s alarm signs its brief waterfall song, sweetly irritating in the velvet twilight of beloved sleep. Then my own phone chirrups its tonelessly insistent interruption to the last vestiges of dream-deep comfort and oblivion. I disentangle myself from the warm, clutching limbs and tentacle like fronds of sheet and duvet, and let my feet find their own place on the clothes-strewn carpet. I pick my way carefully, negotiating a path through the various bedroom obstacles – discarded shoes, a broken drawer jutting rudely out to catch unwary shins, the listing capsized wooden bear used as a doorstop. I try, and fail, the avoid the cracked tile on the step as I hurry to the bathroom, bladder at bursting point, no time to lose. Bath (the shower is leaking), teeth, then back to the shadowy bedroom to dress. Easy choices today – no bra, comfy jeans and a loose t-shirt, no shoes, hair tied up and away. Comfort and practicality
The third stair creaks in its usual voice as I stumble downwards, consciousness gaining greater clarity with every step. Already my mind has leapfrogged over letting the dogs out and making the essential restorative first cup of tea to how I will order my work for the day. Working at home means no need to waste time and energy on the our long commute – relieved usually by audio books – as today’s commute is the eight or so steps from kitchen to study. Here, my battered antique desk waits, its expectant expanse paused mid-act at the last point of use. The supersize mug of tea takes its place on its coaster, and I flick on the laptop (for serious writing) and the notebook computer (for my remote desktop). For weeks now I’ve been feeling this constant urge to write. Today, I start with work emails and an urgent task- to review a grant application for a project for which I would be one of the academic supervisors. It doesn’t take long to insert some critical comments.
It’s not yet eight o’clock. I call upstairs to remind my teenage son to get up and get ready for school.
The tea is just the right temperature, so I relocate to the living room and perch on my newly acquired chaise longue, which is exactly the right height, right shape, and the right level of firmness for me. I read through an article in Mslexia and one in Nparadoxa. The tea is sharp and strong and helps my body to catch up with my questing, restless mind.
The next stage is to look through my diary and my to do list, and rewrite the list. This usually happens on a Monday. The list starts out as a neat, carefully sub-headed set of tasks, some marked with a star to emphasise priority. Bu the end of the week it is a scribbled mess. Today, I enjoy its pristine orderly appearance, quiescent, almost virginal, and ignore the certain knowledge of its coming transformation into a many-headed beast-monster, chewing at the fabric of time and capability, rousing fear with every glance. Today is a Monday. Today I am calm and in control and perfectly prepared.
Emails take more time – either translated into a task on the list, deleted, or immediately actioned. The emergent issues come next. I pause eventually to gather my thoughts and make another cup of tea. It’s 10.30. Three hours into my day. The siren call of the other me – wife, mother, homemaker – prompts a momentary lapse into domesticity. Two loads of washing and a quick tidy up of the bedroom and kitchen. Breakfast is a plate of toast with peanut butter or marmite, and whatever fruit I have in. Today it is apple and kiwi fruit. I retreat to the sofa in my study to eat, flicking through some articles and listening to soothing music on the ipod. This generates an aura of calm that is no reflection on my state of mind or workload.
The day proceeds around me once I have washed up my dishes and returned to my desk. Traffic rumbles and groans past the window, voices rise and fade, the home phone rings. I rarely answer it as the calls are mostly call centres. The postman knocks and is answered by a stereophonic cacophony of barking from two outraged, elderly canines. Time ellipses until the call of my bladder or the rumbling complaints of an empty belly rouse me from the frozen shape I make, welded to my chair, fingers flying, papers moving from one side of the desk to another. Around me, painted and carved goddesses look gravely on, mute witnesses to my industry.
Mid afternoon I pause, review, and reflect on my progress. I reorder priorities, and check my freelance sites, monitoring my own progress ad checking deadlines. I’ve hit a wall now, concentration has fled, and I have to scratch around for enough energy and drive, doing bits and pieces of admin, feeling directionless. The spark of energy and creativity that fuels me is damped, diminished.
Time for a change. Today, the weather is fine but a little cool. More laundry then I take my tea up to the high patio where I can see the mountain beyond the rooftops. I have a cardigan against the autumn breeze, and I it on a garden chair, put my feet up on another, and deposit my tea on the table. This is when I read a novel or write in my diary. Today, I have a jumble of thoughts o explore, with my thick-bodied fountain pen and thick-papered diary. My hand dashes across the page with no regard for handwriting or even legibility. This book is only for me. There is a special kind of satisfaction to diary writing, even it is not my novel, just something I do for my own pleasure. I am aware, always of the general view of writing anything if you are not a published novelist or a journalist of some kind. When I write my diary in a public place, the most frequent reactions are paranoia. Complete strangers will approach me to ask me what I am writing about, and demand to know if I am writing about them. This is a curious trait and one I still cannot understand. It is as if there is something deeply suspicious about the act of writing. Yet if I were typing away on a computer, no one would question my behaviour. I worked on an psychiatric ward briefly, many years ago, and remember one patient who loved to write having been labelled as displaying pathological writing behaviours. It leads me to wonder whether society has become a writer-negative place. It’s easier now that I have a publishing contract – that legitimises my writing. Even so, I find the behaviour of others odd. Writing here, on the patio with the vista of green trees and the skyline in front of me, I don’t worry about observation, scrutiny, or any kind of challenge.
Back to work with renewed drive, I clear a few more tasks from my to do list, some of which relate to preparing teaching materials, some of which relate to programme development. I write an abstract for a conference paper, and review it before submission. At four, the door opens, and my son enters, grunts a greeting, and thunders up the stairs to switch on his music. At fie thirty, I turn off my remote desktop, and turn to freelance work. It’s easy to lose myself in writing to order. Today’s brief is heath-oriented and I already have all the research done. It’s a topic I know well, so it’s the easiest thing in the world to dash out 2500 words in just under an hour.
By this point, I’m tired of the computer and ready to start cooking. Dinner is a combination of taste and necessity, based on what I have in the fridge and whatever I have a yen for. Most days this involves something spicy. Today it’s chilli with salsa, salad, rice and guacamole. It doesn’t take long – my previous incarnation as a chef stands me in good stead, as chopping and prepping takes no time at all.
With my partner home from work at last, the evening is spent watching tv and writing, eating dinner and talking. I write a few pages of my work in progress- a novel inspired by my favourite house- and catch up with social networking. I post on one of my blogs, and note which friends are celebrating, and which are struggling, according to their posts on FB. My other half (my light half, my funny half, holding my sense of humour to the fore and my feet firmly on the ground) flick to a true crime programme – women who kill. This sparks a discussion on domestic violence. Each word shared – brief sentences, significant looks – is a gesture of mutual understanding. There is no need for deep discussion – we each know the other’s stories and we share many of the same opinions. But it feels good to air the questions, make brief comments, consider the issues that we know have featured in the lives of family and friends.
The last breath of the day – dogs out and then to bed, cats to bed, and I stagger up the stairs, clutching the novel I am reading. The alarm is set for earlier for tomorrow, as tomorrow is a teaching and office day. I curl up in bed, the lamp illuminating the small print of this thick tome I am struggling through, and I feel satisfied. Today was a good day. But it all starts again tomorrow.
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