Wednesday, February 23, 2011
I’m an ill-disciplined fellow, which is not a good thing to be if you work mostly from home. Maybe that’s why I do work from home. The freelancer – let’s call me that – has to be a self-starter, wily and adept at avoiding the many pitfalls that will keep him from the task at hand: chewing toenails, gentleman’s websites, destroying wasp nests with an aerosol flame-thrower. These are just a few of the distractions that are hard to pull off in an office, but will pull your nose from the grindstone at home. Then there’s YouTube, an endlessly reductive maze that’ll suck you in and swallow you like Poe’s Maelstrom.
You know the drill, you’ll need to do some serious academic research for a piece you’re writing, and so turn to the highest scholarly authority available - Wiki. You’ll be browsing some details on, say, Mussolini’s death, which will then necessitate some further scholarly delving into whether there’s any footage of IL Duce and his squeeze being strung up by the legs in a service station forecourt (a foretaste of poor Silvio’s fate?). It’s all legitimate research, of course, in the name of nailing the story. But lo, by some weird process of YouTube osmosis you find yourself, three hours later, viewing chucklesome footage of a couple of Norwegian toddlers beating each other to death with rakes. How did this happen?
DMR, or Discipline, Motivation and Routine, are apparently what you need, and the things they keep banging on about in writer’s advice manuals: “Grahame Green said write five-hundred words a day … blah, blah, blah.” There’s rarely a good time to write and a thousand excuses why you can’t stick to a schedule. Taking out the garbage, scrubbing shower recesses and plucking nostril hairs all become appealing alternatives to going snowblind in front of a blank page or screen. Apparently Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky or another of those cheery Ruskies said “I don’t like writing, but I like having written”. I suppose in that respect writing’s a bit like doing the washing up.
Norman Mailer said “if you wanna write, don’t drink the night before”. I say if you wanna write, don’t have kids the night before. Of course I love my tykes and wouldn’t trade them for Vegas, but they do cramp my style. They make demands, they don’t understand me. “Ok”, you say, “so write at night when they’re asleep. There are lots of good hours going begging then”. But what if there’s an Everybody Loves Raymond marathon on the box? I’d be a fool not to enjoy that with a glass of wine or two. Plus, night is when I have to read. To be a good writer you have to read, right? So I try and read a page or two of writer’s advice manuals before falling asleep from too much wine, promptly forgetting what I’ve just read. It’s like this: out of three things - Writing, Drinking, Kids - I can successfully maintain two, but not all three. I could have kids and drink and elect not to write, or I could drink with no kids and manage to write during the day. Or I could have kids and write at night so long as I didn’t drink. Kids, I hate to break this to you …
But nah, much as I’d like to, I can’t just blame my kids. They’re imprisoned in daycare and school for great chunks of the week. Also, I realise that wasting time writing a blog about not having enough time to write really puts the iron in irony. But still, some solution to my lack of discipline needs to be found, and I think I may have hit upon it in Rent-a-Boss. Rent-a-Boss is an agency that hires out a boss to come to your home to supervise and structure your day. He’ll keep you chained to the desk and make sure you’re not skiving off by timing your tea, toilet, lunch and ciggie breaks. He’ll crack down hard on personal phone calls and eBay browsing, keep the keys to the liquor cabinet and guard the wine rack like a junk yard dog. Rent-a-Bosses would come in all makes and models, tailored to suit your profession. Thus, a patched-elbow academic for your writers, besuited white-collar boss for your IT bods, a fluro-vested, big-gutted site-foreman for your home renovation and landscaping projects, and a domestic dominatrix to keep you cooking and dustbusting. If you want to get adventurous feel free to mix and match. Perhaps an abattoir overseer in a hardhat and offal stained coat would be the ticket to keep your Reiki Massage or home manicure business on an even keel.
If you were nostalgic like me, you might go retro and opt for a good old-fashioned public-service boss, like George. Ah, how fondly I remember George and my time working as a lowly shit-kicker at the Tax Office. These were the days when blue uniformed tea-ladies with names like Betty and Dot brought round urns and pastries on clattering trollies at break time; a golden age of punching on and off on Bundy clocks, when ashtrays overflowed on desks and a blue Peter Jackson fug hung in the air like a Somme gas attack. These were the days of George. With his burnt Spanish features, dead eyes and bad greasy comb-over George was not a dynamic man. He was in his forties and still lived at home with his mum and dad. He wasn’t all that high up the tax office food chain, but I was the mercury-laden mud at the very bottom and so that made him my boss. I can’t remember exactly what I did, apart from doing as little as possible, which was impossibly little, apart from write poems that I’d hide as George approached. Then I’d pretend to get back to inputting whatever data it was I was supposed to be inputting. If George queried the seemingly untouched pile of files I could always claim a computer malfunction. The machines, like George, were slow, bulky and primitive, except George didn’t come with a blipping green Pac-man font. To distract him from my slackness, I’d try and humour him by faking interest in his weekend’s fishing exploits. Along with Lotto, fishing was George’s hobby.
George’s other hobby was smoking. George smoked a lot. Everyone in the Tax Office did. If you never saw George smoke you’d know he smoked from the smell, which was handy as you could get wind of him approaching. It wasn’t just his breath, but his clothes and body, right down to the very fibre of his being, the ashtray of his soul. George smoked for six, which was good, as around this time the OH&S Nazis decided that, rather than turn the eight floors of the tax office into a blackened lung, it might be wise to encourage smokers to smoke outside. So between his supervising duties, George spent a fair amount of time either outside smoking, or in transit to or from another smoking engagement, which gave me a decent amount of time to work on my poems and flirt with the tea ladies. Even so, George caught me skiving off enough times to occasionally have to threaten and reprimand me. All in all, just the kind of balance I need these days in a hired Home-Boss. I could stick a Bundy clock on the wall to punch on and off, and George could keep a lazy eye on me from a desk in the dining room while I wrote. He’d still have to pop out to top up the tar, and I could use the time productively to conduct vital YouTube research into an Otter attacking a Pitbull. Now, if only I could afford a tea lady …