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 Sometimes we don’t have time to shop, so we end up microwaving a selection of just-out-of-date food from the bottom of the fridge, working on the assumption that if we add enough cream/sauce/butter to it, it’s bound to be ok.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