Editor’s Note: The following humor piece by Lisa Higgins is part of our collection of “classics”–technical writing articles that stand the test of time no matter how many technologies come and go. Lisa wrote the “From the Sidelines” cloumn back at the turn of the century, and her humorous take on all things technical writing rings true more than a decade later.
Telecommuting: Your Boxer Shorts Will Start to Lose Their Glow
I’ve done two stretches of full-time telecommuting–the first for about six months, and the second for about three months.
My home office is impossibly glamorous. I have one of those executive oak desks from the 1950′s with a little shelf thingy on the front to hold my trophies. I have a ceiling fixture I made out of chicken wire and plastic beads, a series of turn-of-the-century tobacco card pictures of boxers, and rotary dial telephones in a veritable rainbow of colors. I can burn incense and drink beer and wear glow-in-the-dark boxer shorts and listen to Guitarwolf without headphones if I feel like it. And yeah, sometimes I feel like it. And yeah, sometimes a couple rounds of Solitaire do help me to refocus. And can’t nobody say nothing about it, either. It’s like being Zsa Zsa Gabor or something.
And it makes sense. I have more room in here than I do in any cubicle. I am less distracted without the colorful marketing types darting about in the periphery of my vision, with their twittering Nokia mating calls and their crazy “homologation” talk. I can concentrate. I can work on my own schedule, I’m not pale and palpitating from my commute among countless psychopathic yuppies in SUVs. I’m not eating out of a vending machine and drinking bad coffee, and I don’t have to wear shoes. Man, I hate wearing shoes.
For the first couple of weeks of telecommuting, it’s incredibly liberating. You get up and do the Cabbage Patch whenever the mood strikes. You read your work emails aloud in bad French accents and growly monster voices. You twist your hair up into little Devil horns for good luck every time you work on your project schedules. And if that doesn’t spell productivity, well, then I just don’t know what does.
But then, after a while, you realize that you’re not leaving the house anymore. And things like showering are just a big time sink. So you acclimate yourself slowly to a life of solitary toiling.
The boxer shorts start to lose their glow, you’re pretty sure that Battling Nelson from the tobacco card is talking about you behind your back, and you start thinking that maybe Guitarwolf had a point about being a wild zero, and inevitably, you find yourself, cowering naked and filthy in a corner, trying to warm yourself on a freshly eviscerated pile of postman entrails, and you realize that you need to get out of the house and go romp in a field of daisies or talk politics with some old guy at the coffee shop for a little while.
So you do that some. You get all tarted up, your hair done up like a Victorian birdhouse, Baby Jane makeup, and a half a bottle of Eau de Pathos hanging over your head like a cloud of sweet chemical doom, and you mince into the grocery store for a can of beans, and you come home to a denouement to your Great Bean Buying Adventure that looks exactly like where you started.
Like I said, I’m an expert. I’ve failed at telecommuting twice. I learned a little bit from the first time. I almost completely and almost imperceptibly made the transition to being nocturnal. All of my correspondence with my clients was by email, and my only ventures out of the house were late night jaunts to a print shop in a little warehouse district in Denver by the old airport. I worked all the time.
The second time was a little better, if only because by that time, more people had keys to my house, and would come over without calling. I made it a point to go to lunch with my brother at least once a week, and sometimes, I’d go out at lunchtime and just wander around aimlessly for an hour or so. But I was still out of the loop. When I went back on site, things had changed. People I knew, but wasn’t currently working with, were gone. There was a new intern. My old officemate had gotten into the habit of turning those infernal florescent lights on, and I had to reaffirm my No Florescent Lights Ever policy a couple of times before I got her fully retrained. (I quit shortly thereafter, and my moles tell me that, indeed, she turned the lights back on. If you’re reading this, “S,” I know about the lights.)
I still telecommute sometimes, but my job is different now. I have to talk to people more often, I’m on shorter term projects, and I have to be at meetings and keep my ear out, if only to avoid being the poor absentee schmuck who gets stuck with the emergency projects. I probably couldn’t telecommute more than a day or two a week, even if I wanted to. And that’s a good thing.
Just to be on the safe side, though, I’m keeping my eye on that Battling Nelson fellow.