I haven’t had a regular office job for almost a year and I’m still undecided about whether or not it’s a good thing. Sure, the good bits are pretty good. I don’t have to chuck a sickie when I just can’t face going to work. I can knock off early and go to the pub. I don’t have to put up with pen-tappers and leg-jigglers and out-of-tune-whistlers. I can have tea and cake all afternoon with friends who are on parental leave. I don’t have to witness the evidence of other people’s bowel problems. I don’t have to deal with an idiot boss because even when the boss acts like an incompetent fool, she’s still not too bad. I can look at porn on my work computer without being busted by the IT department, because my IT department is at his own job. I’ve always enjoyed workplace banter, so it surprises me that I am not particularly bothered by being alone all day. Sure, when my partner gets home Iwanttotalkabouteverysingle-thingthathappenedontheinternet, but that’s his burden to bear and he seems to accept it in good humour.
But working alone is not all porn and cake. I still can’t shake the feeling that I need to be productive, need to be working, for eight hours every day. There’s a lot of guilt and a lot of chocolate tied up in that feeling. And it doesn’t matter how often I remind myself that people who work in offices don’t actually work all day — they talk to people, they hide from boring colleagues in the bathroom, they look at things on the internet, they go to meetings and use their phones to look at things on the internet while pretending to listen to boring colleagues in meetings — that feeling of guilt still persists. And it’s bloody annoying.
As I was writing this piece, a woman walked past my window talking to someone on the phone but we all know she was really talking to me. (Unlike the man walking past a few months ago who said to his daughter, “you do NOT throw bags of shit at people, especially not at me” — although that is also a good rule to live by.) The walking woman said, “I have to do it to keep the buzzards from flying around my head”. Who knows what she was talking about, but I do need to do this — work alone, plug away at this academic albatross — to keep the buzzards away.
Over the last twelve months, I’ve collected books on writing: How To Write A Better Thesis; The Little Red Writing Book; The Little Green Grammar Book; Writing For Academic Journals; The Handbook Of Academic Writing; The Handbook Of Non-Sexist Writing. I tried reading The Artist’s Way but it was too God-y. Buying books about writing is the same as writing, right? The thing is, writing has always come naturally to me. It’s why I became a journalist and is precisely why you shouldn’t become a journalist. But to be A Writer, with capitals, I should probably view it as a full time job, with a skill set that needs regular updating. In Stephen King’s part-memoir, part-how-to, On Writing, he says that in order to write you need to shut the door behind you. Pffft, what would he know? I leave the door wide open because I like to feel the weight of the apartment behind me. It is both reassuring — familiar, home — and terrifying — nothing to see or do here, move along back into the study and do some fucking work. It’s possible that I’m wrong about this, which may explain why one of us is a best-selling author and the other is not.
It doesn’t matter what you read about working from home, the advice is always the same: set deadlines. As a former journalist, this makes sense. Journalists — confident and lazy in equal measure — won’t do anything until a deadline threatens to kick them in the arse. But who respects their own deadlines? What am I going to do if I miss it — not book me for future work? Bring it up during my performance review? Be disappointed in me? That’s nothing a few ciders can’t fix.
Which brings me to drinking in the day. Or, as most writers like to call it, daytime. I am really bad at this and don’t do nearly enough of it. Talk about wasted opportunities to be wasted. What’s the point of being your own boss if you can’t be your own drunk boss?
I do miss having colleagues around to give feedback on my work. And by colleagues, I mean the people who say “hey, great headline”, not the editor who says “this story is crap” while staring at my boobs. When you’re assessing the quality of work from inside the mind that produced the work, you can get a little biased.
For the first time in about two decades, I’ve started writing short stories again. I figured my blogging and academic writing could benefit from a creative approach because, frankly, making novelty merkins isn’t that helpful when it comes to explaining key theorists in journalism research. Last week I wrote a funny sentence that I was really rather pleased with. So I admired it. And admired it. And then I admired it some more because it was just so damn good. And even after all that admiring I was still able to chuckle at the cleverness of my joke. It’s impressive that I could still read it with my head jammed so far up my own arse. Of course, I wasn’t able to write anything for the rest of the day because every time I got to that line I marvelled at my creative genius. I probably could have waded out of the Bog of Eternal Arrogance, but did I tell you about how clever and funny it was? Think I might open a bottle of wine and admire it some more.