Of working from home

I’m a remote worker. And for the first time in a long time, I spent an entire day at home. Working.

Writing for work, without a break, hoping to get the damn thing finished so I could spend more time writing more stuff—poetry, opinions, random strings of sentences I wish would make a reasonable story.

Then, I’d edit my works in progress, expecting to get a lot done, as much as I could, within my limited daytime.

As I wrote on, my heart longed for the great outdoors. Through my window, soft breeze and cloudy sky called for me. After three months of bushfire smoke haze, the rains of last week had cleared the air and people’s lungs of deadly particles. It was, at last, beautiful outside.

Over the last week, it seemed like summer had decided to call it a day. The temperatures had cooled down, delaying sunrises and expediting sunsets. Though I still saw the light at quarter to eight, the sun had already retired, taking much of the heat with it.

And all the while, I sat on my desk, typing away, taking a minute or two to distract myself on Facebook or to tune into the radio to hear the last of the daily quiz show.

Just as I finished my work stuff, I realised I hadn’t showered in two days. Though my pedestal fan prevented any perspiration, I was still uncomfortable in my own skin. A bath later, I remembered I still had to meal prep for the next couple of days. As the light waned in the garden, I let my imagination and hopes melt in the heat of the stove. All the stirring, sautéing, and the dishwashing that followed left me drained.

Nothing worse than when the body is able, but the mind has already shut down for the day.

I felt claustrophobic, even with so much light and ventilation. It was like being in a cubicle, shut off from the rest of the world. I love my home, but it drove me crazy. It felt wrong not to go out, to interact with people, walk, or rush for the bus. As if everything normal in my life had taken a sudden break, crippling me.

That’s when I realised: working from home is great, as long as you’re not in your home.

Of sinks

One of the most important things to me in a home is having a big sink. When I say that to any of my friends in Canberra, I get rolling eyes and raised brows in return. 

The reason: they can’t fathom why I’d want a bigger sink when the one in the kitchen is as wide as a trash bin. 

As for my unaccustomed-to-the-first-world self, I can’t—for the life of me—comprehend how people live with tiny sinks in which you can’t even rinse a wok without whacking your elbows in the sides.

Over the last six months, I’ve seen many kitchens and sinks. When I learnt I’d be travelling for over a week, I moved out of the expensive place I was staying in. And so, for almost two months, I’ve been house hunting, walking all over the beautiful suburbs of Canberra, peering through overgrown bushes to find door numbers, lighting my way at night with my iPhone, desperately hoping the flashlight’s battery wouldn’t run out, and stopping every now and then during the day to gawk at and photograph early spring blossoms breaking away from their tree houses.

Every place I saw—from old, creaking, leaking buildings to new, renovated, refurbished townhouses—had small, impractical kitchen sinks.

When I mused about this phenomenon, one of friends pointed out people nowadays use dishwashers. (Don’t even get me started on the prices of dishwasher tablets.)

Oh, sure. But what about things that can’t go in a dishwasher—like an expensive bamboo chopping board? 

Some of the older houses don’t even have a dishwasher, rendering the argument moot. It makes sense, too—the dishwasher is a modern, economically well-off person’s fancy house appliance. However, it still didn’t explain the economy in sink size.

When I lived in a fancy house, I never used the dishwasher once. It was useless to turn on the machine when I cooked (meal prepped) only for myself. It’d take me weeks of cooking to fill up the dishwasher. 

Hand washing is easier and more sensible. If only the sink designers were as sensible as I.

The feeling of home

It’s been just over two months since I moved to Canberra, and I’ve at last started to feel like a local.

It’s nice too—I can now walk to the shop nearby without having to look at a map ten times along the way. I like knowing how many signals I need to cross before reaching the mall, and which entrances are be open later in the night. I find myself analysing the various walkways to my destination and choosing the closest or the most scenic depending on my mood.

It’s empowering in a way that I don’t have to rely on someone or a some technology to help me navigate, to help me get through every day.

That’s the life of a local—knowing the right bus stops and the frequent routes, not because you’ve memorised them but because they’ve become part of your routine. I even shrug off the little things that a someone new in town might roll their eyes at; well, that’s Canberra for ya, mate.

But it also means that I no longer feel the city the same way as a traveller does. And I felt that way for quite a while. Everywhere, I saw something worthy of a jaw drop, a closer look, a lingering moment. Everything fascinated me, and I’d willingly walk an extra kilometre to read the street names and stare at the buildings.

I don’t do that as much nowadays. Sure, I still walk four kilometres everyday around the lake just because I want to experience the many wonderful trees and birds and noises—they’re so enchantingly different every time.

However, I also see the other side. And resonate with it.

I see the things, the little annoyances, jitters, that a common person sees. I understand more about why some people don’t appreciate the new bus routes. I loved them when I arrived—extra buses, free services for a month, what’s not to love, I wondered.

Now I know how it’s affected some people’s lives. How a small change in their schedule has toppled regular commuters who find it difficult to adjust to the new system. I’d never have understood that a couple of months ago. Now, though, I can sympathise with them. And now when the old lady sitting at the bus stop tells me that the previous bus never showed up for some reason, I realise what it means to her. And the best of all, I’m now local enough to agree with her and tell her about the time I sat waiting and the bus never showed.

It’s the little things like that that make home feel homey. My lifestyle has melded into the ways of other Canberrans, so much so that I’m now a regular spectator at a local Morris dancing practice. The dancers identify me so that if we run into each other someplace else, we’d exchange a warm hello. I have events and things to do every week—people to meet, shanties to sing, writing clubs to be accountable to—things I look forward to. Things that make living in a society enjoyable and worthwhile.

That’s what it means to be local.

Welcome home

Somewhere above Canberra, Australia

A ray of sunshine

streaming through the drooping eyes

for home coming champ

Photo: Somewhere above Canberra, Australia.