The calendar moves inexorably toward March 2022, marking two years of working from home at my desk on a PC laptop and giant monitor supplied by my job. Each appointment or event that necessitates leaving my home feels exhausting to contemplate in advance and even more exhausting after I return from it.
I try to remember how it was before. Was I so attached to being home? Did I spent as much time online? Did we get everything delivered?
I can't remember very much about the before time. I know I went to the office four days a week and worked from home on Fridays. I know I met colleagues for lunches and traveled to conferences. I know I took one annual trip for a work meeting in Europe--visiting Paris, Italy, London and even Estonia. I know I earned silver status on Delta.
I also remember taking my Mac Air to a local coffee place to write, returning home with the satisfaction that I'd been productive. Maybe this is what I miss most of all.
Is that coffee place open or was it one of those pandemic commercial tragedies? Maybe I could check it out and see if they've put up one of those outdoor dining sheds. Bu it's getting too cold to sit outside and anyway the tables and chairs at most places aren't all that sturdy for the laptop. Plus where would I plug it in?
I could try sitting inside. I have a vax card I can show, a requirement in NYC. But do I want to sit for hours inside wearing a mask or worrying because I'm not wearing one?
No. It's better to play it safe, stay warm and try to write at home.
What I do remember is how bad it was here when this all began in March 2020. The incessant sounds of sirens day and night bringing people to hospitals throughout Manhattan. Medical tents on an expanse of Central Park, pitched by an evangelical, anti-gay group invited to the city by the openly gay head of a historically Jewish hospital. As if an out of control pandemic in the city wasn't bad enough.
At one point in those early months we counted 20 people we knew who were sick, including two who hadn't made it through. One member of a couple was bedridden for two weeks, close to needing the hospital but luckily she recovered. Her wife had a mild case that resulted in months of long Covid.
We were terrified. We bought the best masks, paying exorbitant prices on Ebay; had a friend from Ohio mail us toilet paper; and stocked up on handwipes and antibacterial soap. Our apartment looked like a warehouse and we considered ourselves lucky for that.
We stayed home, both of us working in a one-bedroom apartment, trying not to get in each others' ways. Earbuds, headphones, ambient music on You Tube. We reviewed our work calendars together each morning. We mastered Zoom and MS Teams.
I tried to work on my book and couldn't. I needed a place to write that wasn't the same place where I spent the day at my job.
Taking a risk, I booked an Air BnB in upstate New York. The listing had all kinds of assurances about cleanliness and airflow. It was lovely but the heater did nothing to warm the place up. I was used to the enveloping warmth of a New York City apartment, where I could work in a t-shirt in December. Still, I made myself write and thought that maybe one day in the late spring I could come back again.
Then we took a leap of faith and bought a summer place at an historically gay beach community. My son and his wife thought it was humorous that we'd again bought a one-bedroom co-op instead of spreading out into a more spacious second home. But we loved it, and it ended up being my writing salvation. I worked outside on a wooden picnic table by the pool and inside at a desk, sitting in a comfortable desk chair I bought from Staples.
When my wife had to return to her in-person job at a school this semester, I went to the beach place by myself and wrote some more, adding a good amount to my word count.
Now with the summer in the rear view mirror, I am once again back home in the city, fully vaxxed and less terrified but still wary. I will be working from home until April of 2022, cruising past that fast-approaching two-year mark. I've gotten over my inability to write at home, thanks to an author friend who's also needing to complete a manuscript. We write together everyday, and it's helping.
I worry that all this confinement has aged me and made me too comfortable in my home. I worry that this new normal will be permanent for me, even after the pandemic ends. I worry that I won't want to leave the house and that my existence will forever be lived online.
Before the pandemic, my wife and I used to joke that the worst decision we could make was to leave the house. We liked our little nest. Now, as things begin to resemble the before times, I need to once again not make the worst decision. Though this time, the worst decision is NOT to leave.