One of my closest friends back in New York is dealing with a pretty traumatic breakup. She was with her boyfriend for several years, and they were one of those couples that you always found yourself referring to when you lay awake at night, wondering why God cursed you with a flat-chested, five foot tall frame and bisexuality, because there’s no way anybody will ever truly love you in your life, you’re not destined for that kind of happiness like them…Anyway, yeah, they busted up. And my friend, who is not only gorgeous but also one of the most hilarious writers I know, is understandably sad.
“I think I want to arrange it so that I can just work from home for a while,” she said.
This is conceivable since the small internet gaming company she works for is so close-knit that she has, in the past, vomited at her desk and seen her boss wear sweatpants around the office.
“I mean, I’ve called in sick for two days, this is my first day back and I just can’t focus,” she added. “You’re lucky. You don’t ever have to worry about getting to work.”
Oh, if she only knew.
When I started thinking about moving out of New York in order to “get my shit together,” part of the motivation was the commute. Every weekday morning in Park Slope I used to wake up at 5:50AM. I got dressed in the bleary darkness of my way-too-small apartment, swallowed two cups of coffee from my programmed Mr. Coffee percolator, and hopped in my VW to begin the harrowing commute from Brooklyn to Nassau County, Long Island, where I worked as the sole legal assistant to a real estate lawyer. My day job, while not nearly as spiritually fulfilling as my nights spent trying to get laid at poetry slams or writing, was manageable. I got paid every Friday, took an hour long lunch daily, and did what I was told. I also ritualistically broke the Xerox machine twice a week, probably as a passive aggressive display of rebellion.
My commute, however, was enough to sandwich each day between two anxiety attacks. In the morning, over the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, I swore loudly, bit my nails, and weaved in and out of traffic like I was Keanu Reeves trying to bump uglies with Sandra Bullock. Every night, at five-fifteen exactly, I would take the exit ramp onto the Long Island Expressway and sit in traffic as my MPH gauge went down and my blood pressure rose. My commute to work? A minimum of forty five minutes, maximum of an hour and a half. Commute home? Minimum of an hour, maximum of don’t even fucking ask. I had three car related scares towards the end of my legal career: a blow out going sixty near the Kosciusko Bridge, a terrifying breakdown on a day when God’s wrath took the form of a flood, and, finally, a wreck that totaled my car and turned my left shoulder into a one-joint drum circle.
Everyone in Portland has a bike, which is one of many improvements to my living situation. Also, my apartment out here affords me two rooms, a room for making out and a room for working. This one, the working room, I sometimes call my “office.” Each morning I get up whenever my body decides it’s ready to kick some ass – usually between eight and nine – and then I eat breakfast. Afterwards I toddle across the hall to the work room and start my day. My commute takes thirty seconds, give or take a pit stop to drain the snapdragon.
No, the commute is no longer the problem. The focusing, however, is a different story.
In this day and age of clusterfuck social networking sites, WEBoggle, Scrabbulous (R.I.P.), Twitter, Perez Hilton, Gawker, and so on and so forth, one’s ability to simply accomplish a menial task on a computer is on par with asking an ADHD riddled kid without his prescription to tie his shoes in front of a GameStop in Times Square. Ain’t gonna happen. Already it has taken me three hours just to type this far into the post, and that’s only ‘cause I was updating my Facebook status and trolling Craigslist for a New Era Composition hat*.
If Simon and I broke up, well, let’s just say that this blog post would be made out of macaroni and Elmer’s glue from within the padded walls of your local sanatorium.
Working from home, for me, is almost as difficult as battling through rush hour traffic on the LIE. There are fewer acrylic tips and vanity plates, sure. But damned if I don’t get distracted by just about everything.
Beyond the computer there is my kitchen, with the siren song of a whistling tea-kettle and ever-present snacks. In the living room there is my roommate’s flat screen HDTV. Not to mention that there are windows all around the house that beg me to stare out at the spectacular Pacific Northwest rain. And birds. And retired, talkative neighbors.
While we clock our hours spent writing, I’d have to speculate that it takes double the amount that we charge just to get us to focus. Okay, maybe not “us.” Maybe just me. Simon and I have learned the hard way that we can’t work in the same room together.
Working from home seems glorious and, don’t get me wrong, every day that I find my teeth being ground down as I search for clients, or try to balance my checkbook, I remind myself that airbags are not soft, but my full-sized mattress is. Although I may never really be able to take a sick day, and I still find myself fighting the temptation to just bring the laptop into the bed (trust me, Simon takes his iPod under the covers and it makes me want to go on a estrogen-fueled crusade against Apple, even if that dreamboat Merlin Mann is a fan of the monolith) I appreciate the myriad comforts that are part and pajama parcel of working from home. But when things get rough, when the two of us indulge in one of our infinite curse-laden arguments, when I’m on the rag and just want to sob about how much I resemble a hippo, when Shia LaBeouf gets arrested or Ellen Page does a magazine cover and I find myself one hand short of a full QWERTY, well, it’s just as impossible to get anything done in my humble abode as it would be in an office.
This is not to say that I don’t accomplish tasks on time, or that I knowingly procrastinate, or that I do not go postal daily in fear of not being productive enough. It’s just that somewhere along the way I need to make a little pitstop at Failblog, or hop on my bike and get a non-vegan burrito with another home office lackey like myself.
A side note, just like the break room or the famed water cooler of yore, hanging out with other people who work where they live/eat/cuddle/cry helps to put things in perspective. No, you may not want to shit talk the boss in fear of seeming crazier than usual (“God, I suck today. Totally breathing down my neck. And I’m wearing that same ugly dress that I wore yesterday, gah.”), but shooting the shit with someone who can sympathize does seem to lend itself to the sense of an actual workday.
So I suggested to my friend that she talk to her boss and let him know that this week she’s feeling sub-par, or she could ask if she may take a few other sick days, but that she should not stop working at her usual time and place. I also told her that I don’t think that working from home will fix the problem, unless the problem is agoraphobia. Especially if a breakup is the catalyst for a severe alteration of your occupation situation, working where you two held each other and watched Joe Versus The Volcano ain’t gonna make things better. At least I don’t think so. But what do I know. I have two other tabs open this very minute, and one is Craigslist, and the other…well…
* New Era Composition cap, size 7 3/8.
One of several gifts I am stalking but cannot find for August 16th, otherwise known as 30 Years Of Simon Goetz. I am not so good at shopping for birthday presents. Drop him a line or, better yet, follow him on Twitter. Though he can’t unwrap attention I’m sure he’ll appreciate the gesture.
Pass me a note. AinsleyDrew the gmail one. It’ll give me good reason to be distracted.
Thanks if you Donate! All proceeds in the hat this week go to hats.