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.

The security

“Hey Liv, did you see the new security guy?”

I looked up from my desk, mouth full of noodles. It was another lunch-at-the-desk day. I’d just hit submit on the report I’d been working all morning, and had turned to stuff my face into my meal-prepped lunchbox. 

Spaghetti in a sautéed tomato-mushroom sauce. Homemade food had never tasted so good. Perhaps Pinterest wasn’t kidding—maybe cooking on Sundays is a better idea than brunch with friends. I even managed to get the laundry done, and folded it for good measure.

I shook my head at Jesse’s raised eyebrows. She’s not the kind who’d bring up the security guy unless it was important. Perhaps he was cute.

“Nope.” I supplied swallowing the carby goodness. “Why?”

“It’s an old man!” She almost shrieked, sitting down on my desk, despite knowing how much I hated that. But she didn’t seem to be in her right mind today. Her usually straight black hair was bouncing off her shoulders in curls. Her mascara was a little too much to look at, and she’d force-matched her tiered skirt with a pair of high heels she looked terribly uncomfortable in. But she was gleaming with joy. Unable to figure it out, I decided to wait for her flamboyant explanation later.

“So what if it’s an old chap?”

Everyone needed money. It’s possible that this man didn’t have enough retirement funds. Or his kids weren’t around to help him. After all, I’d seen a lot of older folks struggling to make a living. It was sad, sure, but certainly didn’t warrant a hiatus during lunch. 

I went back to my noodles, ignoring the penciled eyebrows glowering at me. After a while, she gave up and went back to her seat. And I turned to the pile of reports that still needed finishing, verifying, and submitting.

Sigh. It’s going to be a long day.

For the rest of the afternoon, I carefully avoided running into Jesse in the bathroom or the vending machine. I knew she ached to discuss the old security guy. It wouldn’t be the first time—she imagined herself an upstanding citizen being the change she wanted to see. A couple of weeks ago, I’d spent an hour listening to her lament the fate of migrants working casual jobs and unconventional shifts. All because she was drunk on a Friday night and ordered pizza. Her delivery guy was an African hoping for a permanent stay.

My escape was short lived. Just as I stepped out in the terrace, glad that I’d finally completed the week’s backlog, I jumped. 

“I spoke to him.”

Not seeing her crawl up behind me, I turned ready to punch her shrugging childish face. Before I did however, she continued, eyes rounding in sadness. “He was missing his daughter. He took the job so that he’s not bored and lonely at home anymore.”

She was Puss in Boots begging to go with Shrek.

My frustration deflated. It was no use fighting it—she wouldn’t rest until she’d gleaned a response from me. 

“Yes,” I rubbed my stiff neck hoping she’d take a hint. “That is sad.”

Thankfully, that was the end of our conversation. I went back to doing some light reading and recipe hunting before heading home to Netflix.

As the office doors swung shut behind me, I saw him. A tall man in a khaki suit. He didn’t see me approach him—something through the window seemed to have caught his eye and he peered, his shoulders hunched.

“Have a good night!” I faked a cheer, pressing the elevator button. I was exhausted and famished.

He swung around, taken aback. 

“Dad!”

The wheel

“Yo cartwheeler!”

That’s what those kids called him. Who could blame them? He was, after all, the man pushing shopping carts at the supermarket. Not that it was anything to be shamed of, he told his reflection every morning navigating floss around his teeth.

But he had a name.

Ruman. 

Growing up he’d often wonder if his parents detested his existence so much so as to bestow upon him such an uncharacteristic name. Not a childhood day had gone by without him repeating and spelling it out for people to understand.

And even then perplexity clouded their face whenever they uttered it. As if they’d rather not. As if something wasn’t just quite right.

It was still better than “cartwheeler” he thought.

They even told random shoppers about his nickname, pointing him out, the long, brown, migrant who stumbled through the car park collecting empty carts people thrust away. Shoppers who’d smile jovially at their juvenile innocence—they were just school kids, hanging out at the mall during the holidays.

It was all good fun for everyone, of course. Seasonal cheer hung in their air, overnight rosters hung over his.

Three years of regular supermarket shifts had served him well, though. With the weekends off, he’d taken up to flipping burgers for additional bucks. He was now the proud owner of three high-visibility vests, a third-owner car that needed service, and a son who’d be starting school next year. He was already a year behind others of his age. Ruman’s wife had taken a second job too, to save up for school. 

He seldom had time to talk to her. 

Never mind. He’d be cartwheeler as long as it took. Nothing mattered more than a good school for his son. Whatever necessary so his son didn’t end up at the mall catcalling another migrant, “Yo cartwheeler!”

Hold the brakes

I don’t take breaks often. I’m so used to working 12 hours a day and still being available for questions after hours. What’s more, I’ve spent entire nights working, forcing myself not to fall asleep and ignoring the rest my body needed. All because I felt work was my primary concern.

And then I moved across the world. I relocated to Australia, and for the first three weeks, I had to put a pause on my work. I didn’t want to, of course. But I had no choice—I didn’t have a laptop. I felt crippled, but I had to deal with it in silence. It’s only for a few weeks, I assured myself, even though my inner self rejected all assurance. Regardless, being helpless about the situation, I realised one important thing about myself and my work.

I was way too uptight.

Having worked for almost six years without a proper vacation, I didn’t even know what it meant to be free and rid of work pressure. For the first time in a long time, I couldn’t do anything about the work that remained back in the office. My managers were so understanding and supportive. And to be fair, there was already a well-equipped team covering for me. And most of my tasks weren’t urgent either—they could wait well until settled and was ready to take over again.

And yet—it bothered me that I couldn’t work. That’s when I understood how much I was addicted to my job. I work as a marketer and writer for a software company. My everyday tasks involve creating content, reviewing, managing social media and customer support, and answering any questions the new members in our team had. I was missing all that action, and it made me uneasy.

To my utter surprise, however, I survived. I got through over three weeks of doing nothing, and I was still sane. In fact, not only did I spend three weeks unscathed, I was relieved even. It was the first time I wasn’t feeling overworked, and with every passing day, I sensed, as the temperature fell, I also cared less and less about my work. I still appreciated and loved my job, but unlike before, I wasn’t consuming me. I started to see work as just that—work. I realised I could have a complete and enjoyable life outside of work, which I was once so obsessed with and dependant upon.

So—take a break. Please do. It’ll help you distance yourself from your fixations and see that the sky is far brighter than you’ve seen. But then again, I moved to Canberra, and of course, the sky here is bluer than Chennai, south India, (where I lived before) could ever imagine.

Town hopping

From one place to another
hopping towns all the time
just for the sake of work
scraping fun on the side
oh, what a life it must be
wonder people every where
widening eyes in jealousy
hoping for a bargain swap
pursing lips some scoff
showing off hatred so clear
oof, who cares, wave it away
work’s hard and so’re trips
good food, and great scenery
but who else hears the drama
of early morning scrambling
or rushed midnight madness
who knows the searing pains
or the teary, runny eye balls
from a heavy lack of sleep
and an overload of coffee
oh, the world never hears
jet lagged hallucinations
or the airline knee pains
so’s the life of a traveller
who hops town for work
and hopes for pleasure too