The Communal Table: An Untethered Office
Every Wednesday morning (before March 2020) I would unpack my roadcase in exactly the same order. The ritual helped to ground me and set me up for the week ahead. First, my computer monitor and then all the cables needed to keep my laptop running with minimal effort. All chargers had to be in easy reach…yet far enough away from the pile of coffee mugs that would inevitably gather over the week.
My monthly desk planner had to be on the right hand side of my keyboard (or the world might just start spinning backwards), and my twelve week project planner must be somewhere on the desk, always just hidden enough that I would have to move everything to find it. Pedantically organised chaos is how I like to describe it. On a Sunday evening, the reverse process happened as I packed it all up and sent my roadcase off to the next city.
Working on an Arena Tour is akin to living in a hurricane (with marginally less threat to life). You know that it’s coming. You are in a state of anticipation. You don’t know what will happen. You do what you can to prepare and then you wait.
When it starts, it’s slow, you are lulled into a false sense of this isn’t so bad. Then it reveals its true nature. Small pieces of innocent debris suddenly become life threatening missiles. Dependable structures crumble. Fear and panic creep in. You have to remain calm. The noise is incredible. Your ears pop from the pressure. And then it stops. Abruptly. The eye of a hurricane is the strangest place I have ever found myself. Everything is wrong…the light…the lack of noise…the stillness. As you begin to breath – it hits again, and this time there is no foreplay. You are at the mercy of nature’s full force. Life on an arena tour is strikingly similar except, unlike my hurricane experience, you are not sheltering from the raging winds. You are part of the swirling drove. You don’t get to watch it happen. You help to direct it. You push it forwards. You find the order and the structure within this mass of chaos.
Working in this way took time to get used to.
My lifeline became the surface of my desk. It became a sacred space. It was my harbour. Having it set up exactly the same every week gave structure to a life working at the speed of a rocket.
I took a break from the blog and podcast over the festive period. The children were not in school and the husband had taken a couple of weeks off work. We are living in a very small house, and we don’t have the luxury of spare room, so I decided not to fight for ownership of the kitchen table which has become my desk over the last six months.
On an almost daily basis I fantasize about what my grownup office will look like.
There are floor to ceiling bookshelves lining the walls, all of my books displayed and vying for attention. My desk would be an old door, securely placed on two a-frame legs with nothing on it except a minimalist computer screen and smooth (non-padded) writing pad. The tropical rainforest I have grown during lockdown would be lined against the large windows, and it would be warm enough to kick off my shoes and walk around barefoot on the wooden floorboards.
As we roll into our third (or is it thirtieth?) national lockdown, I noticed my anxiety levels creeping up. I was relying on the children returning to school, and the husband returning to work to allow me to reclaim my temporary desk and return to my new routine. The announcement of school closures brought shouts of excitement from the children as they concocted plans now that school wasn’t taking up eight hours of their day. The closure of construction brought chats with the husband about the increased training and studying he could get done. I swallowed back tears as everyone else celebrated.
Over the past nine months I have learnt that I need structure and routine to be productive when working alone. It is not glamourous or exciting. I have been rigid in building my discipline and I was learning to work when I had time and not when I wanted to. I was finding a rhythm to this new work life. I was finding the motivation to keep plugging away at the work I was creating. I was starting to see the slivers of light breaking through what had felt like an impenetrable wall.
Now, I feel untethered again. I have an immensely loving and supportive family, and I know that between us we will create a structure and routine that works for all of us. I know that I will have the quiet time I need to work. I know that we will get through this. But, in this moment, it feels exhausting, it feels easier to put my work on hold than to demand exclusive access of our shared resources.
The word resilience was shared a lot as we reached the end of 2020. People waited with baited breath with the hope that the strike of midnight would wipe the slate clean. Unfortunately, as the sun rose on 2021, not much changed, and we take our first few steps into this new year with uncertainty.
When I clean our family bathroom I remind myself that this undesirable task is what self-care can look like. That organizing receipts and household bills is self-care.
That booking the car in for a service is self-care. And so too, resilience doesn’t come from a glossy motivational poster. It comes from dragging yourself through the shit. It is built because you have been in the tough times. It grows every time you pick yourself up off the floor with puffy eyes and tear soaked cheeks. You cannot build resilience without first taking a few steps into the pit of doom.
So in trying to reframe my view and avoiding the downward spiral that will inevitably lead to a perpetual lack of motivation, I’m trying to find my new lifeline during this part of this hurricane. I don’t know what it looks like or what form it will take, but by actively searching for it I know I have a better chance of finding it.
Published in Collaboration with this creative nomad