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Prompted By Going to Work

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I wish my home office was as uncluttered as this one.

I’ve always hated commuting–more so the idea of wasting precious time traveling to and from work. Maybe it’s because I saw my dad getting in the car in the dark of morning and returning in the dark of evening. I’ve been fortunate that, in most cases, I could arrange my life to live relatively close to work. There were tradeoffs to living in more convenient but expensive areas (roommates and studio apartments, for example), but it was worth the time saved.

I was ready to go on my own, with my office in my apartment--my studio apartment.

Only once did I have to take two modes of transportation to work, for my part-time job in graduate school. After class on the UC Berkeley campus, I hopped on a tram called Humphrey Go-BART (alas, no longer operating), which took me to the Shattuck Avenue BART station, where I took the train to 12th Street in Oakland. The next year, when I got a job in San Francisco, it was too expensive to move, so I took the AC Transit bus line B from Grand Avenue in Oakland to SF’s East Bay Terminal. There were many “regulars” on that bus and we made nice friendships. From the terminal, it was just a 15-minute walk to the office at California and Market Streets. No need for a gym, good exercise and relaxing decompression time.

After that job, I commuted by car, but not more than 15 minutes, and minimally on freeways. When I interviewed for my last full-time job in 2006, the stars aligned. We had recently moved to our house in Santa Clara, and the office was an easy 12-minute ride to San Jose on an expressway. Hallelujah, that sealed the deal.

Long before telecommuting became practical and COVID made it necessary, as a writer and editor who needs focus, I’d always wanted to work at home. In 1983 I was thrilled to be laid off from my employee job and ready to go on my own, with my office in my apartment–my studio apartment. I used my kitchen/dining table by a window and set up my typewriter, and later my portable PC (a heavy piece of equipment the size of a microwave that I called a luggable PC), and sometimes squeezed in a daisy wheel printer.

In the ensuing 20+ years, in various homes and apartments, I worked in kitchens where I used cabinets as office storage, and later, in larger places, in spare bedrooms. Because no one came to my office (I would visit clients, but I don’t consider that commuting), my accoutrements were not glamorous. In my Menlo Park house, which I’ve written about in several stories, I used a tiny bedroom that was intended as a nursery. My then brother-in-law worked for the state of California facilities department and “liberated” a metal desk that was tagged for destruction. It was the ugliest monster imaginable but free of charge.

My cute condo, which I bought in 2000, had a small den-like room with a tiny closet, where I stored office supplies. A few months later I got a large retainer from a client (very unusual for a writer), and encouraged by my then boyfriend, treated myself to a huge Scandinavian-style L-shaped desk and matching set of file drawers. I love the desk and files, and they are solid wood and indestructible. However, they are really heavy, in fact, the heaviest pieces of furniture we had when we moved to our current house. Now I have a comfortable office in an upstairs bedroom.

Although I went back to work for a company from 2006 to 2017, I kept my home office, and it made the once-weekly permitted telecommuting very easy. When I transitioned back to my own business, it was seamless. And with COVID and all the Zooms, it’s useful to have a room where I am not bothering others. Do I miss offices away from home? Not at all, although I miss the people sometimes.

I must remind myself of the immense privilege of having the type of career that permits me to work at home, unlike so many whose jobs depend on a specific location. However, the powers that be have learned through necessity that working, rather than going to work, is most important and can be very productive from home. Bottom line, knowledge work can be wherever your skills are, no matter where your derriere sits.

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.


Characterizations: funny, well written

Comments

  1. Laurie Levy says:

    So true, Marian. Since I retired and started writing, I love my home office. In fact, when we moved to the condo last year, I pretty much replicated it by surrounding a guest bed with all of my office stuff, down to the last photo and stapler.

  2. Good recap of your working and commuting life Marian!

    My husband began working at home years before Covid. He goes out to biz meetings and biz lunches or dinners, and when he needs to host a meeting or dinner he uses his university club or a restaurant.

    We’re all different certainly, I love retirement, but altho he likes working from home he misses the commute, the daily live interchange with his colleagues (especially now). and the daily routines.

    Sometimes he’s still in his PJs at noon, no good!

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Thanks for taking us through all your various commutes, Marian. I’ve been retired for 33 years now and don’t miss the commute at all. Still, I stay busy with all sorts of projects and volunteer work, have a very cluttered office (I finally cleaned it last spring and saw parts of my desk for the first time in years), but don’t have my own computer. I write on the “house” computer (the one in Newton is in the den with the big TV, the one on the Vineyard is in the kitchen), so both are in public spaces, which can be a problem, both in terms of concentration and privacy. I think your options are great!

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, Betsy. Truth be told, the office also currently serves as my home gym, so there is a miscellaneous pile of yoga bolsters, dumbbells, and resistance bands in a corner. That way I can follow classes on my large monitor, and I certainly wouldn’t want to do that in the public spaces in the house.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    Your description of commuting from the East Bay resonated. There was a time that I would attend at the family practice residency clinic once a week, and got to learn to “casual carpool” system. I would pick up random commuters in a line on Park Blvd, sail through the toll plaza into San Francisco, and return midday to Oakland when the traffic was light. Worked great! Your description of your lovely home office makes me look around at all the piles and boxes crammed into mine, and how I really ought to try to tidy up someday!

    • Marian says:

      Khati, I’d almost forgotten about the casual carpool, which I understand still works to this day. The B bus route was so efficient I didn’t have to use the carpool. As I mentioned in my comment to Betsy, my office now contains all my home gym props, so it looks rather odd.

  5. John Shutkin says:

    Really a good persepective, Marian, and so nicely told. Your last sentence bottom line really says it all.

    Unlike you, I always thought that working away from home was a necessity — I felt I needed that separation in my life. Now, between retirement and COVID, I, too, have learned to love my home office. And, indeed, the thought of ever commuting again would be a real disincentive to ever taking another job (which my wife has convinced me ain’t gonna happen, anyhow).

    • Marian says:

      Commuting gets even older as we do, John, and I found that in the last few years I’ve refused any freelance project that required on-site work (this was before COVID). Now people realize it’s not necessary at all. I do miss meeting people face to face, though, at least once. Many freelancers develop “transition time” rituals between work and the rest of life. Mine used to be exercise workouts after my work day was over.

  6. Suzy says:

    I always loved the Humphrey Go-BART, which one might not realize without saying it out loud is a play on Humphrey Bogart. Sorry to hear it’s no longer operational. Thanks for this story about the “going” to work, as well as all the workspaces you created so you wouldn’t have to go any more. I was envious of the home office in your featured image until I read the caption and discovered it wasn’t what yours really looked like. πŸ™‚

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