Working From Home: On the Burden of Productivity

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‘Collective Dreaming’ in the Time of COVID-19

Under normal circumstances, you could say I work from home. Sure, the BmoreArt team meets at the office on Mondays, and I go in a couple times for meetings throughout the week. I drive around town and to DC and have meetings in buildings and drink coffee outside and take phone calls sitting in my car. But I also spend a lot of my days in a second bedroom-cum-studio sitting either in the back-supportive desk chair my husband bought me two Christmases ago or upright on the standing mat he got me for my birthday using the standing desk topper that was this year’s Christmas gift (in the days since we were all ordered to “stay home” I’ve seen many friends asking for work from home chair and desk options and I fully endorse all three components of my setup, hence the links here).

Under normal circumstances, working from home is fine, and in many ways, I prefer it. I get to spend a lot of QT with Theodore Roosevelt, our 2-year-old rescue pup, taking him on walks throughout the day as a break from staring at the computer or rubbing the side of my face against my iPhone. I can get the laundry and the dishes done while writing and I can go to the grocery store at off-peak hours. My superhero friends with kids also accomplish childcare while working that they would otherwise have to pay for. Working from home is nothing less than a 21st-century miracle for a productivity-loving multitasker—a description of me I absolutely embraced until last week.

Last week, like so many others in Baltimore and around the world, I stayed home. And it was mostly fine and a little bit terrible. Fine because I absolutely still got as much or more work done than I would have working from an office (come on Boomers, the anti-work-from-home attitude has got to go out with COVID-19, amiright?). Terrible because without the checks and balances of a regular social life, I am a terrible boss to myself. When unfettered from my usual programming of friend dates, gym and exercise classes, shopping for goods other than food, and being able to stop and pick up a coffee from somewhere other than my own refrigerator, I decide that every moment I am not working for someone else should still somehow be #productive.

This saw me piling on tasks that perhaps never need to be done into my already full days. On a lunch “break,” I designed an album of wedding photos from my recent wedding. One wild Saturday night I went through my studio flat file and replaced non-archival newsprint with archival mylar. Before watching the first episode of the new (and excellent) season of Westworld with my beloved, I needed to also take up weaving again. Am I glad my wedding photos are half-organized now, my drawings from undergrad better stored, and I’m actually using that damn yarn I have sitting around? Sure. Did it all have to happen in the first week of our new normal while I was learning Zoom, working as usual, and creating an entirely new syllabus for the remainder of the semester? I have no idea.

Screenshot of Suzy's wedding album; photos by Laurie Wilson (@fromsfwithlove)

On social media, my friends are coping in similar ways, tackling long-delayed home improvement projects, organizing pantries, and making Quaratinis. One friend commented that we’re all well on the way to putting on the “Quarantine-15,” we’re so into our gourmet meal prep and baking that we don’t need to be doing with no one around to share the results. The last three times I’ve gone to the grocery store it’s been completely out of flour, among many other things. Still, the difference between staying at home because you’re an introvert and it’s cold out and staying at home because the CDC says it’s mandatory is utterly apparent after the first 48 hours. By and large, we are low-level bored and anxious all the time right now. Right now, my ratio of sick friends to friends treating our foreseeable future as the staycation they didn’t ask for is 1:9 but I’m trying to brace myself for that to flip. More people are going to get sick. We are going to be home for a long time. People have lost and will continue to lose their jobs. The economy is going to be in a downturn for a while. These are all facts that are just starting to sink in for many of us. 

On a Google Hangout with my Brooklyn-based artist collective this past Sunday night, a good friend said we should think about this time as the patriotic challenge of this generation. Instead of being asked to go to war or buy American, we’re being asked to stay home, take care of ourselves and our families, and if we have a little bit of extra cash or resources to share it with someone else who has less. When you look at it that way, it all feels a little more manageable. And regardless of how you feel about the current administration or government at large, the motto “don’t be a dick” is always a pretty good one to live by.

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