Three days out of every week, I drive 40 miles back to the city. It’s partly because we want Orla to stay at her brilliant, please-be-my-mother childminder, but partly also because I just really like to work in cafes.
Generally, people’s reactions upon hearing of my cafe-loitering will fall into one of two camps: either they think I’m completely crazy, or crazily self-indulgent. & Hey, it’s possible they’re right.
That first response comes mainly from the older generation – my mother and grandmother, for example, whose entire notion of cafes involves plastic tablecloths & ‘greasy spoons’. ‘I bet they get annoyed with you sitting there all day‘ my Grandmother tuts in disapproval.No matter how many times I explain about free wifi, empty afternoon lulls and all the other people doing exactly the same as me, she shakes her head and vocally disapproves. [sidenote: I recently asked my Grandmother for her email address. ‘I don’t know!’ she said, ‘can’t you just look it up?’. Also, this note ??]
But it’s the latter response where I suspect the majority of opinions lie. Honestly, it’s where my own probably falls most of the time – cafes, home of cakes & overpriced coffee and lovely, rainy day ambience! Who wouldn’t love to spend the day there? Isn’t it just ravingly pretentious to lounge in brew bars all day when I’ve a perfectly good desk waiting at home?
What I’ve come to accept is that working from cafes is essential – to my productivity, my gainful employment and maybe most of all, to my mental health.
I cannot work at home. When I tell people this I like to cite all the usual reasons – laundry distractions, the temptation to nap…
These things are real and true, but in my case, they aren’t really the issue at play. The truth is, working from home gives me too much solitude. When it’s just me and my thoughts, my inner critic becomes increasingly chatty until I’m lost in a spiral of doubt, fear and self-loathing. Everything I do is awful. There’s no point even trying to do anything right.
Sometimes I’ll have such a lot on that, despite all of the above, I’ll ask Rory to take Orla out on a Saturday so I can work. Unfailingly, every time, I will call him after several hours in/close to hysterical tears, begging him to come back. I feel broken, both by my negative spiral of doom, plus the added guilt of achieving entirely nothing in the time R has made free for me. He’s so supportive, and I repay him by endlessly refreshing Twitter and picking at the ingrowing hairs in my legs for a day!
When I’m not home alone, however, I can work pretty well – when Orla is having a dance show in the living room, or popping in every ten minutes to invite me to play. My ideal home working environment is a group of people in the living room drinking tea, with me hiding away upstairs, lying foetal in bed with my laptop. I don’t know why this is, but I suspect it’s linked to the same pattern that means I can write most fluently and articulately whilst driving at 70mph, unable to write a single word; Why the best, most beautiful photographs occur to me when I’m trapped under a sleeping toddler and the sun is slipping behind the horizon for the day. Something about the constraints of real life make me more creative, and it’s confusing and fascinating and very, very infuriating.
So, I work from cafes. In cafes I am miraculously sane – Julian, my inner critic (yes he has a name, doesn’t yours?) stays mercifully silent, and though not quiiite as inspiring as a motorway drive, I find it’s a pretty good place to think.
In fact, in cafes I’m so focussed and productive that I often, ridiculously, forget to eat. I work so incessantly that I neglect to change positions frequently enough and get random pains in my back and neck. My coffee goes cold as I bash away, and so I order another, and that goes cold too.
This is such stark contrast to what happens when I try to work from home that I don’t mind the added cost. Yes, the coffee is free at home, but when I’m losing a whole day’s work and ALL my self-belief, it actually winds up being pretty expensive.
So for three days a week, I get up early, I sit in unnecessary traffic burning uncessessary fuel, and work in one of a dozen or so nearby cafes. I visit different places on different days, depending on my mood, what work I have on, or the kind of ‘fix’ I need.
Because cafes are a strange sort of self-medication, I’ve discovered – the scruffy student bar inspires different things to the shiny, on trend city-centre coffee shop. The different music & sounds & smells all trigger different responses in my brain, or something, and I find I’m much more able to immerse myself in whatever I need to create that day.
Ok, I still feel self-indulgent – I’m pretty sure any office with an unending supply of cake and a quiet soundtrack of William Fitzsimmons/Damien Rice would make me feel that way – & I guess I’m still figuring out how to be entirely ok with how much less ‘worthy’ my new life/work is. But it’s a life hack, or a productivity one, and I’m all about encouraging people to go with what works.
For me, that just happens to be cake. I guess I’m just naturally blessed. ??