Illustration by Justin Tran
Illustration by Justin Tran

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Roxane Gay on how to work from home during a pandemic

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Published on July 07, 2020

Illustration by Justin Tran

  1. Remember that you have a home office even though it has become, as of late, a storage unit for galleys, technology accessories, contributor copies of work you appear in, puzzles, audio equipment and anything else you can’t or don’t want to find a place for.
  2. Buy a new computer even though you don’t need a new computer. Why? Because you’re working from home now and to do your best work, you need the best tools.
  3. Spend several days setting up the new computer on the desk you must clean off in order to use it as an actual desk. Organize your computer files, diligently. Make sure everything is backing up to Dropbox and that all your Dropbox folders are also neatly organized.
  4. Bake, a lot. Tell yourself you can get small, manageable tasks done while doughs are rising and things are baking or chilling or setting. Somehow manage to not accomplish many small, manageable tasks. 
  5. Read the news, obsessively, because it is important to stay informed, because there is just so much news and responsible adults stay well informed, because knowing what’s happening beyond the four walls of the home you rarely leave, offers a semblance of control over the unpredictable and uncontrollable.
  6. Develop a system for responding to emails and a series of form letters for common queries you receive. Forget what that system is. Develop a system for responding to emails and a series of form letters for common queries you receive. Forget what that system is. Develop a system…
  7. Watch marathons of Law & Order: SVU and Chicago PD. Keep track of how many times you see any given episode. 
  8. Buy two large whiteboards and hang them on an office wall. Write down every project you’re working on and everything you need to accomplish, along with deadlines (ha!).
  9. Despair.
  10. Come up with three exciting new projects even though you have a dozen unfinished projects awaiting your attention. Work diligently on these new projects.
  11. Get into shorts because you work from home now and no one can see you and it doesn’t matter what you wear. Marvel at the roominess of basketball shorts and the utility of cargo shorts. Divide your wardrobe into hard clothes (to be avoided at all costs) and soft clothes (to be worn at all times).
  12. Look forward to visits from the mail carrier or delivery services. Treat checking the mail as a real event. Feel profound sadness when there is no new mail.
  13. Complete one very small, simple task. Feel Herculean. Take the next three days off as reward.

Get into shorts because you work from home now and no one can see you and it doesn’t matter what you wear. 

14. Enjoy weeks with an empty calendar after years of an overwhelming calendar and then feel the existential dread once more as the world begins adapting to everyone living in isolation and your calendar starts filling up again.

15. Discover the Zoom video conference feature where you can enhance your appearance. Select this feature as a default setting.

16. Learn how to stare into the camera and not the Zoom window. Learn how to look like you’re paying attention while doing other things during Zoom meetings.

17. Judge people’s backgrounds in the tiny zoom windows during meetings. Don’t bother to organize or neaten the cluttered background of your own tiny zoom window but bristle when people (rudely) comment on the clutter. Explain that it is mostly books as if that somehow is absolution.

18. Practice closing out of Zoom sessions quickly to avoid that awkward pause after everyone has said goodbye and you have to click on “Leave Session.”

19. Get a ring light to improve your lighting on video calls. Rue that you have started caring about lighting. Keep a nice top in your office to throw on when you feel like you need to step it up.

20. Participate in a couple documentaries. Watch the camera crew set up and put the producers, on a laptop you can see, as they stand six feet away from you with bandanas over their faces like bandits holding a boom microphone over your head. Marvel at how quickly nearly everything has adapted.

21. Mourn the loss of black lives at the hands of law enforcement over and over and over again. Follow the worldwide protests against police brutality. Write furiously about how desperately change is needed. Attend, via Zoom, a meeting with your city’s police commission and realize just how much of a fight lies ahead.

Learn how to stare into the camera and not the Zoom window. Learn how to look like you’re paying attention while doing other things during Zoom meetings. 

22. Realize what you have always suspected, that your work is profoundly inessential, and have a crisis of faith about what you should do with your life.

23. Read countless articles about improving your productivity while working from home. Do absolutely nothing to change your work habits. 

24. Complete another small, irrelevant task. Reward yourself, generously.

25. Leave your house to run an errand. Wonder if you’ve entered a dystopian nightmare as you liberally apply hand sanitizer to your gloved hands. Decide that leaving the house is overrated. Return home quickly.

26. Write in furtive spurts, a few hundred words here, a few hundred words there. Lament that each new piece of writing is the worst thing you have ever written until you write something new that is, somehow, even worse than your worst.

27. Hang a bird feeder in the backyard and spend hours watching the birds swoop in for a snack. Realize that your backyard has become the hippest avian spot in town. 

28. Listen to your partner working in her office upstairs, note how diligent and responsible she is, her impeccable work ethic. Vow to be more like her, maybe tomorrow or the day after that. 

29. Record a few episodes of your podcast. Hope the world hasn’t changed too much by the time the episodes air.

30. Inventory your office supplies and try to organize them. Give up after fifteen minutes. Research professional organizers. Research vacations. Research Joni Mitchell. Research James Taylor. Research the history of recipes. Research celebrity gossip. Fall down a rabbit hole. Hours later, try to remember where you started. 

31. Delete emails where your name is spelled wrong.

32. Download language learning software. Take up puzzles. Buy a guitar and virtual guitar listens. Learn how to fly a drone. Vow to improve yourself and expand your hobbies and interests…soon.

33. Write an essay on how to work from home during a pandemic. 

 

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