Managing the Café Domestica

I work from home as a writer. Surely this means sleeping in, slumming around in a dressing gown  till lunchtime… coffee on tap… hmm… The sight of me in a dressing gown, bleary-eyed, hair unbrushed, high on caffeine, is enough to scare  the postman. Writers never wish to scare the postman. Although there are others that I may well wish to scare when I am trying to work. The truth about writing from home is less like a teenager’s idyll and more of a falling between the gaps in other people’s lives. Domestica is a muddle of responsibilities and distractions. It is harder to think of work as work when all around are the sights, sounds and smells of family (and neighbourhood) life and the telephone of despair.

When my husband works from home, he is permanently attached to a conference call and the house resounds to manly banter and the cruel pounding of a keyboard (never lend him your laptop). He cannot understand that I find it hard to work in an environment that is full of other people and their noisy and messy activities. Of course, some writers like the ‘café’ enviroment, but in a cafe you are a customer, anonymous, allowed to sit peacefully and undisturbed, drinking your coffee – not the manager who is there to provide all manner of cafe services, like coffee and lunch and generally keep the shebang running smoothly. Let the family do it themselves you say; oh but they do, and give rise to the wondrous noisy and messy pageant that is the Café Domestica. There is nowhere to hide in one’s own home (unless you have a labrynthine property, priest hole or secret attic/cellar). A  demand as to why there is no more red top milk/biscuits/ready-made three course lunch whilst in the fragile stage of creating a piece of writing is like a hammer to an egg. You’ll not have an omelette but something for forensic examination. A writer once worked here…

Creative writing is often done ‘on spec’ not because someone has asked for and proposes to pay you to do it… but in hope that one’s masterpiece will attract payment. Herein lies the flaw in the machine. Until the circuit is closed, the light does not go on. Being creative without payment is seen by the salaryman as a hobby not a job. Intellectual and creative activity for its own sake is fine in Utopia, but not in Domestica. Pure intellectual effort does not appear to have value in itself. My time would be spent working in someone else’s cafe and being paid for it…

However, complaining does nothing to improve the work environment nor the pay, despite unionisation in other industries. I try to regard it as an incentive to be more successful and grist to the mill. But for at least some of the time I could do with an ‘sanctum’ – inner, upper or under to hide for a few hours without the distractions of cold calls, conference calls and courtesy calls, not to mention noises both inner and outer and the café manager’s job.

Arnold Bennett spoke on the productiveness of the writer of the efficacy of ‘application of the seat of the trousers to a chair’ or something like.  He had a point, and possibly a numb bum. It  has to be done. But sitting all day is not good for the health.  Doing mundane tasks helps to some degree to free up creativity, but a writer needs time and personal space for the bum numbing part – the application of fingers to keyboard, fingers to pen, chisel to stone. Whatever it takes to get the words out.


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