When I began freelance writing 9 years ago, I did so, at an ugly plywood computer table, sunk into a papassaan, with the Brat ensconced behind me. As he grew a little bigger he began to hold his head up and sit up and play with my hair, my clothes, as I typed. I’d lift him around to the front to nurse and then prop him back behind me. It was attachment parenting of a kind because he was an absolutely good baby, happy to lie close to his mother and smell her as she worked. I’m convinced it’s one of the reasons he’s grown up very secure and sure of himself, of my presence in his life and absolutely unclingy. I could be wrong, but I’m sticking with this story.
What it did to me as a professional though, is ensure that I never allowed myself to come first. I’ve always let the kids play in the room as I’ve worked and it’s worked out fine. At one point the Brat’s favourite thing to do was crawl up to my UPS and switch it off. I solved that problem by putting the UPS on top of my table.
We moved to Delhi, the Bean was born and soon she crawled around as I worked, too. Never once getting her fingers smashed under the rocking chair that I upgraded to as a work chair. I lost my back to the poor office furniture I had but they doubled up as great places to nurse and rock colicky babies back to sleep.
As the years went by and the babies went to school I got a swivel chair and an escritoire from my parents (remember, I blogged about it here?) and that became the final office set up that I’ve used for years now. For the last five years I’ve been attached to one institution or another on a work from home basis and I spend practically my entire day with my butt glued to the chair.
The OA often says he envies me. I have a dull but well paying day job for the money, freelance work for the joy of creativity, the comfort of working in my tracks, time with the kids when they come home and the flexibility of working while we travel too. I guess when you put it that way it sounds great.
However, my resume is patchy and my biggest grouse is that I don’t get out of the my bedroom. My work table has been there since the kids were born because I’d often lie them down in my bed to sleep, I’d nurse them while I worked, I’d keep an eye out for disturbed sleep and pat them back if I needed to. It was just more convenient.
Even good friends don’t realise I work because I rarely sound stressed about it. And they always see me in my pajamas! I have my inlaws come in and watch TV while I’m trying to work. When I pay for big ticket items people stare in slack jawed surprise because they don’t really imagine I’m earning anything! The worst though, is my own fault. Since the table is in my bedroom I end up taking on more and more work and working late into the night while the OA reads or watches some telly.
But – it drove me nuts because all I saw were the four walls of my bedroom. I slept there. I worked there. I lay in bed and read at night. The kids, like all kids, insisted on hanging out in our room when they had nothing else to do. I had cabin fever.
And so a couple of weeks ago I told the OA I wanted to convert our formal living room into my office. And turn our house dining cum family room into a dining cum living room. The truth is, no one ever bothered to sit in our formal living room and for some reason it didn’t have any personality. Perhaps because it wasn’t lived in. And being east-facing it’s a comfortable, cool room and ties in with my desire to not use air conditioning unless absolutely necessary. I just needed a room of my own where I could get away from our personal life and bedroom and TV and chaos, and work.
The OA groaned, but agreed readily that it was the need of the hour. And then we shocked ourselves by carrying most of our furniture ourselves. My mum was mad when she heard I’d done that with my bad knee, but I was too eager to get it done right then and I like doing stuff around the house with the OA instead of calling in help.
My new office is fantastic. It looks out into my lush, east facing garden and is quiet, peaceful and cool. I might not win a Booker while working here, but it makes me less cranky. The kids know that when Mama is in her office, she’s really working and they rarely walk in there. It just doesn’t have the informality of my bedroom.
I have a reading corner, a work corner, a put-the-babies-to-sleep-if-they’re-sick corner, an awesome iPod dock, a refrigerator and kettle. I walk out into my little garden if I want a breath of fresh air and it’s great for smoking friends too! All I need is a swing now but the OA will probably put up a fight before he lets me get one.
And to quote Ms Woolf, I finally have a room of my own.