Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Opus Interruptus

Working from home. Oh, glory! The snag is, it’s not only your own home you're working from, but also the home of the other people who live there but work somewhere else. So you become the natural troubleshooter and all-purpose person to deal with everything of any description concerned with that location.

It wouldn’t be like that, living in a shed. There would be no phones to go wrong, no wiring or plumbing challenges, no painting and decorating, and only minimal repairs. Shed life is my heart’s desire.

I asked the magazine Woman Alive if they would like a regular column on living simply, and the editor thought that might fit in well with their vision for the development of the magazine. She offered me a regular column of 290 words in length, and after some deliberating I said ‘yes’. The hesitation was because it’s mighty difficult to convey or discuss a concept in 290 words – much harder than if you have 1,000 words, or even 500. Part of the reason I said yes is because it isn’t easy; it’s a writing challenge, and I like that.

The last few weeks have been full to overflowing with family and house matters – looming especially large was the interaction with estate agents and the preparation of our home for sale.

FINALLY today offered a clear space for some writing, and this had to be a Good Thing, because today is also the deadline for the copy for December’s issue of Woman Alive, when my regular column begins (though I do also have an article in this month’s issue, about my new book which comes out in September).

Yesterday, at teatime, the telephones in our house ceased to work.

This morning I phoned British Telecom and had a lengthy interaction with a very nicely spoken female automaton. The outcome of this call was an assurance that an engineer would fix the problem by tomorrow, and that updates would be texted to my mobile phone in the meantime.

I thought that was okay, and went to hang out the washing.

When I came back into the house, there were letters on the mat – I had left the front door open, to be friendly and so the postie could drop in any parcels, knowing I was at home. One of the letters was a Post Office card explaining that, as I was out when the postman called, the parcel he had brought (which had to be signed for) would be taken back to the sorting office. The card had a time written on it – 3 minutes before the time of my reading it. I grabbed my sandals and dashed out to look for the postie, knowing I might have to be at home the rest of the day waiting for BT, so not be in a position to go to the sorting office. No sign of him anywhere up and down our road, or in the next road. Hey ho.

I gave myself a pep talk. ‘Why are you so stressed? Why do you get so het up about these things? What does it matter? There will be time to get the parcel, it’s no big deal! For goodness sake calm down, Ember!’

Resolutely, I set myself to the tricksy task of saying something useful, inspiring, interesting and intelligent in 290 words.

I fired up the computer, set up a file, typed one sentence, and the house phone rang, just one little trill, then stopped. A short while later, it did it again. ‘They must be testing the line,’ I thought – and addressed myself again to the task in hand. Then my mobile phone rang. It was BT to say they had an engineer not far away – would I be home later on? Yes, indeed.

I returned to writing the article, and began to warm to the task. Then came a knock at the front door. ‘Ah!’ I thought – this must be the BT engineer.’ But no – it was a man come to read the gas and electricity meters. The gas meter presented no problem, but the electricity meter lies deep within the cupboard under the stairs where we have put all the junk to be disposed of in the course of preparing our house for sale. I heaved it out to the point that with the help of a powerful torch he could get at the meter. Then put it all back when he went.

My computer had started to play a quiet little piano tune to itself when I returned to it, but I jerked it back to reality and read through what I had written. With some effort I felt my way to the state of mind I had been in before. Then came another knock at the front door. ‘Ah!’ I thought – this must be the BT engineer.’ But no – it was a delivery man with a large parcel from Amazon for the people at No 31 who are cunning enough to work in some other place than their own home, and were therefore not available to take delivery of their parcel. I felt a certain sense of injustice that things had so fallen out that I had missed my own parcel but been home for theirs; but, hey.

I signed for the parcel and gave the man back his clipboard. He gave it back to me. Could I please print my name in that box too? I did.

Then I went back and once more interrupted my computer’s harmless little ditties, and read through what I had written. To my astonishment, it seemed okay. I wrote another sentence.

A text message came in to my mobile phone. Assuming it to be one of the promised updates from BT, I opened it. It was a message from Orange to tell me I could now text anyone in Europe for 10p. I deleted it, and returned to my article. I wrote another sentence. My mobile phone rang. It was BT. The engineer would be with me in five to ten minutes. Was that okay? ‘Yes,’ I said through gritted teeth – ‘that will be fine.’

I finished the sentence I had been writing and shut down the computer. The engineer arrived. He needed constant attention. All the phones in the house had to be unplugged and plugged in elsewhere. Two of the sockets were behind large bookcases, one of which could be accessed only by moving our lodger's stereo speaker, which stood on a heavy and unwieldy metal stand fixed into the carpet with prongs and supporting a tall thin candlestick and a houseplant. And then the engineer asked for a cup of tea. Since he had done a nice job of fixing the phone I made him one, and gave him a cake, both of which he enjoyed slowly, while pursuing a conversation of considerable length.

‘D’you work locally, then?’ he asked me. This was an improvement on what most people say, which is: 'Day off, is it?'
‘I work from home,’ I replied.
‘Oh,’ he said; ‘what do you do?’
‘I am a writer,’ I said.

We then had the usual conversation – he has a fourteen year old daughter with a rich imagination; what did I think were her chances of becoming a writer? And we had the other conversation –

‘What does your husband do?’
‘He is a publisher.’
‘Oh, right! So that’s how you got your books published!’
‘No. No, not at all. After twenty years of writing books, I married my publisher.’

Then he tested the phone one more time and went away.

I switched on the computer. It was sulking now and didn’t want to play any pretty tunes. It has to be left in peace before it feels like playing little tunes to itself.

I opened the file with the article. It was looking good.

There came a knock at the front door. ‘Hello? Hellooo! HELLOOO!’

It was Melissa from No 31. She had come for her parcel.

For some obscure reason, my mind has just made a connection with a Christmas card my sister sent me when our children were small. The first four lines of text were on the outside, beneath a cartoon showing Father Christmas with a child on his lap. The last line was on the inside, discovered when you opened the card:

‘You’d better not pout
You’d better not cry
You’d better not shout, and I’m telling you why:
I have a gun.’

I have finished the article. 290 words exactement. I have submitted it, invoice attached. The phone is working. The sun is shining. I am off to the sorting office to collect my parcel. Howzat!


Buzzfloyd said...

I think you did very well. I would suggest that it's OK to say no to things. though, when you have work to do, especially on the day of a deadline. Because even if you are at home, you can still treat your work as your work and not allow yourself to be interrupted. As we've said before, there is always a choice. You don't have to allow yourself to be guilt-tripped (especially by yourself) or fly-tipped into doing too many things. "Not now, I'm working," is an acceptable thing to say.

Ganeida said...

Um, as a stay~at~home parent it is assumed that I am available to do all the grubby jobs other parents get out of by going out to work but no! I am a homeschooling parent. Do not call. Do not ring. Do not bandy my name about to do anything. I am NOT available unless it's a major emergency ~ & even then think twice before you interupt me. I do not take kindly to interruptions. Just showing solidarity here.

Ember said...

Yes - something I learned early when I started writing was that part of the deal was discouraging casual callers. A lot of homemakers keep life cheerful by dropping in for coffee and a chat, which works well if one's main occupation is care of the home, because though that work is valuable it doesn't require sustained concentration, and most chores can be picked up where they were left off.
I find with writing that it takes several days solitude to gather my wits sufficiently to begin, then a sustained period of solitude - weeks - while the main part of the book is laid down.
When I am living in a setting with several people or where folk may drop in whom I wouldn't want to discourage (eg family or friends in trouble) I have found the best system for me is to start work early - maybe 5.30 or 6.00am - so I get ground covered before the rest of the world gets moving.