It’s been a difficult week, I think it’s fair to say. There’s a lot of misery, tragedy and anxiety in the world at the moment. The internet (even the classical corner of it) is full of panic.
Well, I don’t intend to add to the gloom. I’m not going to talk about historical plagues or the situation in Italy or even the fascinating worldwide obsession with toilet rolls and social media speculations about the feasibility of the Roman sponge-on-a-stick (although that would make a good future post!).
No, this week I thought I’d welcome you to the wonderful world of Working From Home.
All around me I see people facing the prospect of working from home, some of them for the first time. Whole universities are moving to online provision (and even the OU, as of this afternoon, is cancelling its face-to-face events). So, since I am rather an expert on what is now being called ‘social distancing’ (although my family have always referred to it as ‘hiding in a corner with a pile of books’), let me share what I’ve learned about home-workers in 15 years of teaching Classics from the comfort of my own living room.
1. Home-workers are attractive. We have a Snow-White kind of magnetism. If you begin to work from home, you will soon attract to your side all the animals, children, birds and other small creatures of the neighbourhood. Lock your doors and close your windows, people – because once they get in, you won’t be getting rid of them.
2. Home-workers are people of irregular habits. Keeping a consistent schedule is pretty close to impossible for a homeworker, because Life gets in the way. Shopping needs doing; floors need cleaning; bills need paying. Furthermore, people phone you up. They say things like, ‘I won’t talk for long because I know you’re busy!’, and you, being polite, will reply through gritted teeth, ‘Not at all! I’m never too busy to talk!’. And there goes your afternoon. So you find yourself working till the clock strikes midnight, and wondering how on earth that happened … again. Eventually you end up talking online with other people who are working late. Before you know it you’ve become a card-carrying Creature of the Night.
3. Home-workers are creative. Sometimes we don’t have time to shop, so we end up microwaving a selection of just-out-of-date food from the bottom of the fridge, working on the assumption that if we add enough cream/sauce/butter to it, it’s bound to be ok. We have strange wonderings about which biscuits are the most prone to break into bits when dunked, and we feel compelled to test out our theories. Sometimes we do spur-of-the-moment decorating. Some of us paint Latin on our boots.
4. Home-workers are afraid of books. Also television – but for a classicist, books are the worst. You can lose an entire day to a book, when you fall victim to the ‘Maybe I have time for one more chapter’ syndrome. Keep. Away. From. The. Books. At least until the sun is over the yard-arm.
5. Home-workers are local celebrities. The postman stays to chat, as does the window-cleaner. Every parcel delivery service will soon know that you’re home – and then of course the neighbours will knock for the parcels. The whole street knows you’re there – but since most people won’t ask why (it took my next-door neighbour 10 years to summon up the courage), they’ll develop Theories. Maybe you’re hiding from your enemies. Maybe you’re independently wealthy and choose to spend your days on a sofa eating crisps as a bohemian social experiment. Maybe you gamble or play the stock market – or do something particularly unsavoury for a living. People will regard you with a sense of intrigued caution.
6. Home-workers are devoid of vanity. We often forget when we last brushed our hair. We wear the clothes that are mostly clean, regardless of whether they match, look appropriate or make any kind of sense. We are much concerned with foot comfort, and develop strong feelings about the fluffiness of our socks.
7. Home-workers consume hot beverages in improbable quantities. Every time we have something boring to do, we head for the kettle instead. After a while the kettle becomes associated with a complex mix of relief and shame, and becomes a profound psychological burden. We acquire collections of mugs, to the point where we can pick a mug to suit the mood of the moment.
8. Home workers have a love-hate relationship with the internet. When I started working for the OU (back in the Stone Age), work arrived once a day when the post was delivered, and anyone in crisis would contact me by phone. If there was no post, and the phone didn’t ring, I could watch daytime telly and eat chocolate. These days the emails never stop coming and the work floods in in a constant stream, thanks to the wonders of modern technology. And yet… the internet has cat videos.
9. Home-workers have a permanent sense of guilt. We feel guilty for all of the above: for ignoring children and pets, for staying up too late or having a poor ‘work-life balance’, for not eating properly, for allowing ourselves to be distracted, for not opening the door when somebody knocks, for drinking too much coffee, for watching too many cat videos. My advice? Embrace the guilt. It’s a way of life.
Here endeth the lesson. But since I know that most of the people who read this are distance learners with much experience of working from home (at least in an educational sense), do share your own insights in the Comments below. Let me know that I’m not alone in having a whole drawer full of slipper-socks.
This week from around the Classics internet
(a little sparse, because I’ve been trying to avoid the internet lately)
Trump fiddling, Nero-style –The Washington Post
Rome lockdown – Ciao Bella
More on Rome under quarantine – Apollo Magazine
Saving Classics in schools – TES
International Women’s Day
Women authors from the ancient world – Sententiae Antiquae
Women’s writing in the ancient world – It’s All Greek to Me
Comment and opinion
ACE 2020 update – The Classical Association
Nero and fiddling – Eidolon
Gods at Starbucks (I’d be Hestia) – Idle Musings
Phrasikleia’s tomb –Sententiae Antiquae
Boris and misquoting Homer – Eidolon
The first sex manual? – Mistaking histories
Greek plagues and bad leadership – The Conversation
Eye of the Tiger in Latin – In Medias Res
The end of Classics – Sphinx
The bizarre marriage of Alcibiades – The Historian’s Hut
On the Athenian metic – Classics at the Intersections
Podcasts, video and other media
Agrippina the Younger – Vulgar History
11 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: Welcome Home!”
I was a house husband in the 80s (when it was a weird thing to do) as my wife had a career she loved and wanted to persue – so it was me that looked after the babies. I set up a company from home and it did OK, enough to pursuade Mrs we were self sufficient. By now she was on the verge of burnout as she had a job managing numerous offices meaning she was doing about 80,000 miles a year.
So, not only are we married but we have our own company and have worked together, from home, since 1994. She hasn’t killed me yet and even picked up the slack theoughout my BA, MA journey. We even go to Rome and Naples at least twice a year (with laptops) and she hasn’t got bored yet.
So, lets hear it for the home workers, harder than it sounds as motivation and the lack of talking to others in real life can be wearing – my excuse for going to conferences, lectures etc anyway (again she comes with me to those!).
The only other thing is, if I skype, I must remember to get dressed.
Wow – you sound like quite the team! Not killing each other is indeed a remarkable achievement.
I second the ‘getting dressed’ point. Have seen some things I can’t unsee…!
Hi Cora, I’m about to find out for myself what home teaching is like as we are going online here as of next week. Thanks for the tips (reckon I may need to get a cat or two) 😁
Would be happy to post you one of my cats…!
Good luck with it – I’m sure it will be an interesting experience…
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Point 7 for me when faced with something that needs doing i.e. currently the TMA04 lurking waiting to be written, means picking up any piece of cross stitch that’s within reach, cuddling the Fred Dog, or playing stupid games on Facebook. Much more fun than doing critical analysis of someone’s bit of writing on a subject that is slightly mind boggling and confusing
Can’t argue with that! Although I do look forward to marking those ones – because some people get into the critical spirit with extreme viciousness!
Dear Cora Beth
I’ve been working from home part-time since 15 years (roughly). It started of with two days a week, which, over time, increased to much more than that. Working in a big global company meant having colleagues in many different time zones. In order to talk with China or India, just as an example, meant early t/cs (company speak for “telephone conferences”), whereas meetings (of the virtual kind) with colleagues on America’s West Coast required late evenings. It is simply not possible to cover all that from the office – a certain amount of working from home is needed.
This change in culture, i.e. a shift to accepting home work more, was demonstrated by the company’s attitude to home offices. In the early days it was seen both as a “privilege” and as something you could expect recompensation for, to pay for e.g. for the electricity you’d use, your chair/desk at home, etc. This changed dramatically after a while – the office space in the company buildings was reduced by >30%, so that it wasn’t physically possible anymore for all employees to be/working IN the office at the same recompensation for your home equipment was cancelled, too, with the argument that working from home was, after all, offering you “flexibility”, and thus did not deserve any extra payment. The sheer fact that having to work across the globe made s style of working mandatory was cheerfully overlooked 😉
Regarding your point 9, I can only agree. In fact, I might even go a step further and suggest an attitude of pride (if that’s the right term). In many professions wfh is nowadays simply part of the job, if spelled out (spellt out? Sorry, I can never remember that one) in the job description or not. It also offers ample opportunity to quickly do the week’s shopping (which wives/husbands, kids and pets certainly appreciate), laundry, and the many other odd jobs which help you to take a break and switch off for a short while, enabling you to focus fully on your next meeting again.
I also relate to the issue of dressing, part. as video calls are the norm today. I’ll never forget the day when I had the interview for a new, higher-ranked position with the divisional head in the States, who was, as everyone knew, a strict old-time conservative Christian. It dawned on me halfway through that I was sitting in my room at home in my old Sex Pistols t-shirt (“Never mind the b….” – you get the picture), with a poster of “The Damned” (does anyone remember them?), probably visible for her, on the wall. Needless to say that from my sight the second half of the interview felt a bit strained …
Also, remember NOT to forget that you are on a video call! Like Cora Beth, I have seen things I’d rather had not, where folks clearly forgot that they weren’t just talking to me on the phone, that the camera was switched on, too. Part. difficult this becomes when people suddenly remember the camera and hecticlly fumble for the switch off button …
Sounds like you’ve seen a lot of changes over the years! It’s funny how habits shift; it’s only when we look back that we see how big the changes are.
I love the job interview story – that sounds very like something I would do! Did you get the job in the end?
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To my amazement: Yes! Rumour had it that none of the interviewers expressed any objections to hire me for that job, so I came to the conclusion that the lady had a great sense of fairness.
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Wonder how long the Corona virus threat will necessitate Universities having to organise alternative online educational provision? Might prompt an interesting (re-)appraisal of the whole traditional on-campus student experience (and cost!). Not, perhaps, before time, either… 🤔 😉😁
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Saw this on twitter …