Office life isn’t for everyone, which is probably why these days of sheltering in place are not driving me crazy. In fact, for the first time in my nearly 40-year career as a freelance writer, I don’t feel lonely.
Some people envy me for being able to work in my pajamas, not having to commute or tiptoe through minefields of office gossip. Yet, the professional life I have chosen is not easy, and I’m not talking about the feast-or-famine flow of work and income. I’m talking about withering beneath the weight of professional loneliness.
From the moment I knew that I wanted to write for a living, I knew that I would need to do it alone. Writing, after all, requires solitude. What’s more, I am naturally industrious and self-disciplined. I bristle when anyone looks over my shoulder. What’s more, any job requiring an office presence conjures in my head the jangle of a jailer’s keys in the cellblock door. Nothing is less conducive to my creativity.
Yet, nothing smothers my spirit quite like loneliness, which makes my chosen career a very mixed bag.
Yes, I schedule my own workday, which begins before the sun comes up, when my typing and the gurgle of brewing coffee are the only sounds in my house. Yes, I swim morning laps when most people are logging onto their computers. Yes, I stroll through the woods in the late afternoon instead of guzzling a cold brew to kickstart my brain.
But I crave community. I like having colleagues with whom to share excitement or commiserate over a project. I enjoy the physical symbols — an office with my name on the door, dress-for-success clothes — that say I am someone. I know this because I’ve worked as a staff writer for various organizations over the years. I have dressed for success and elbowed through crowds of fellow Starbucks-crazed New Yorkers en route to my private office. And every job has reminded me that I’m happiest when I work for myself, by myself.
This realization has repeatedly returned me to my freelance life — and to the intermittent loneliness that causes me to stare out my home office window, watching neighbors leave for work, wondering how I ended up without a team, catching myself praying for a robo call or two.
Of course, that was all before Covid-19. Thanks to the virus, I’m neither lonely nor envious anymore. My street, usually barren during the work week, is jammed with the cars of my now-telecommuting neighbors. The hiking trails I usually trek alone are packed. My husband, who is rarely home, works in the kitchen and our grown son, in the living room. I have a whole new community — one that will vanish once this public health crisis ends. Then I will return to the normal I know and that, despite the drawbacks, I choose.