Ever since I transitioned entirely from being a college professor to a freelance writer, I have enjoyed a very particular work environment.
Steve and the boys would leave the home at around 7:00, and barring some emergency, I would have until 3:00 — seven full hours a day — to work, get home chores done, take an exercise class, throw in a load of laundry, make phone calls to take care of some paperwork for Ian.
At first, it was weird to spend so much time by myself, but I gradually got used to it. The TV was always on in the background to keep me company. I had you punks popping up in my comment section and email. My BFFs called regularly. I would chat with the other work from home parents on the block. I was alone, but never lonely.
Over time, a very specific routine formed. Having the benefit of a split level home with its separate zones for differing activities, the entire downstairs, which was originally designed as the zone for children, became my zone for work. The walk down the stairs through a neglected extra family room to my office signaled to my brain that it was time to get shit done.
When I was in the midst of great thoughts, I would work for hours without looking up from the screen, sometimes startled when three or four hours had passed. When I was in between great thoughts, I would do various mindless activities, like reading cheap novels or playing some supremely dumb video games. But I was thinking while doing those activities, so after a two hours of games that make my children shudder with scorn, I would get some revelation and figure out some nice phrasing for the nutgraf of an article.
In March 2020, a horde of family members entered my peaceful world. At first, it was too chaotic to even think about getting work done. Steve’s job and the kids’ school and mental health were, of course, the priority. While I love my work, the low pay of a freelance writer means that my career was not a family priority. I did a couple of articles this spring and certainly did lots of blogging, but managing chaos was my primarily job.
Steve moved into my office. After three or four shuffles of desks and filing cabinets, we had an arrangement of furniture that gave him some elbow room and an angle where his workers wouldn’t see me in my sweats during Zoom calls.
But that didn’t solve the big problem. The big problem is that he drinks water VERY loudly. Gulp, gulp, gulp. And it interrupts me when I’m thinking. He also has a job that involves short intense periods of thought, rather than long creative rambling periods of thought. So, he does his stuff, then gets up to get another glass of water or does a lap around the house. And every time that he walks past my desk, he pisses me off.
Sometimes he looks up from his desk and sees me playing one of the dumb video games, and assumes — wrongly – that I am not working and asks me what we are making for dinner or whether he need to go to the store for more milk. UGH! INTERRUPTED THOUGHT! World War III!
Now, we could have figured out how to deal with this problem. Earplugs would have worked. But the biggest problems happened last Thursday. We had dueling Zoom calls. That day I had two phone interviews, a Zoom call, and a webinar. He had four performance reviews with workers. It was a zoo.
So, now we’re having a trial separation. I have moved my computer up to Jonah’s bedroom. It’s a temporary move, because like all writers, I am rather superstitious about changes to my work routine. Can I write in another space? I am not sure. Also, Jonah will come home around Thanksgiving. Earlier, if the virus rates spike in his area of Jersey. When that happens, I will have to move a desk into our bedroom.
Still, things are going pretty well so far, so I think we are moving towards a permanent office space divorce.
I am fantasizing about turning our basement, which is now a furniture graveyard and storage for camping equipment, into a maze of little offices with sound proofed walls. I believe that Steve will never go back to his city office. The boys may have virtual jobs, too. We might need to seriously rethink how our home functions in the next year or two.
We are living through massive changes in society, economy, political life. All this is not temporary. What is happening now? It is forever.
For us, at this particular moment, it is working out. Sure, we have this office space divorce, but, as a whole, having Steve and the boys home has been awesome. More on that later.