I wake up at 7:30, go for a walk and read a book. It took two weeks of social distancing to realize that rolling out of bed at 9:25 for a 9:30 work start was a disaster for mental clarity. It's not an option today: My editor wants a column.
I shuffle into the kitchen and pour a cup of homemade cold brew. I put three servings of coffee beans in and it still just tastes like water. I miss morning coffees, perking up through caffeine and the thrill of talking to work people about other work people. I miss commuting to and from the office and how it creates a physical barrier between life and work. I still don't know what to write about. Maybe gratitude in theera could be a column?
Two of my four housemates, Dan and Esther, walk in. The power couple of our Sydney house. Working in a shared home is great -- when people aren't around. But now, because of the coronavirus lockdown, everyone is in the house. All the time.
They ask if I want to go on a run. They ask every morning. I politely decline. I haven't gone on a run since the '90s and I'm not about to start now.
OK, time to get to work. I can't use the living room table. Esther and Rachael, another housemate, decided to use it as a puzzle station. That leaves my room or the table on the veranda. I try the veranda table. The Wi-Fi doesn't reach it. I sigh. I take the awful coffee water into my room. It's embarrassingly dark in there. People laugh at me in Zoom meetings.
I change course from my gratitude idea and decide to write a column on working from home. But it's hard to think right now. Life, literally every aspect of it, has changed in the last month or so. As is no doubt the case with millions of others, the chaos is a lot for my brain to process. Basic tasks that used to take 30 minutes now take over an hour. Brain fog makes thinking hard. Nevermind complex tasks like writing 2,000-word feature stories or a memorable column -- I find myself racking my brain just to find a better adjective than "good."
And I'm one of the lucky ones. I'm healthy, no one I know has contracted COVID-19 and. I still have my job and I don't have kids to homeschool. I'm in an incredibly fortunate position right now. A thick feeling of guilt blankets my feelings of uselessness.
"What are you up to?" asks Dan, breaking me out of one of my daily emotional spirals. Dan, who makes an admirably conscious effort to be an offline kinda guy, doesn't understand the concept of working from home and reacts with suspicion when I say I'm working. Aon my lap with an empty Google Doc doesn't help. He asks if he can play on my PS4. I search Twitter for column inspiration while he lays next to me robbing cowboys and hunting alligators.
It's time for lunch. I feel like I've done nothing. I'm stressed. I listen to lectures on Chinese history while cooking, under the guise of research for a story due next month. I'm learning new things about the Cultural Revolution as I fry eggs and sauté mushrooms. This is the most productive I've felt in hours.
But in this house, in these times, surrounded by this group of 20-something year olds, you can't get more than five minutes alone in the kitchen. Hugh, the last of the housemates, walks in. He's gotten into bread baking and is to blame for flour being unavailable in the local supermarket. He recently tore ligaments in his leg while surfing. I feel obliged to take off my headphones and show a gossamer-thin interest in his musings on sourdough.
He's talking about fermentation. I'm thinking about China, dreaming about finally writing something good.
I eat my lunch in the living room. A mushroom rolls off the plate and onto Esther and Rachael's half-finished puzzle of Venice. Miraculously, no one is around to see it. I don't clean the mushroom smudge off the puzzle. I hate the puzzle.
Since most people in the house work odd hours, usually it's rare for more than two people to be home at the same time. Usually. Since social distancing went into effect in Australia in March, all five of us have been home almost every night. To celebrate the novelty, we've done a family dinner almost every other night. Tonight is my turn to cook.
I buy food for seven -- myself and four housemates, plus Garrett (Rachael's significant other) and Charlotte (my significant other). Garrett's a nice man. Charlotte doesn't think I can cook for seven. I think she hates me.
The gang's all here when I get back from the store. I'm whipping together portobello mushroom burgers for everyone. I don't really know what I'm doing. Half of the house is vegan and most work in bars or cafes. A tough crowd to cook for, but things are going well. The mushrooms are garnished and grilling. The fries are baking. The guacamole … tastes strange. I realize I confused a garlic clove, as called for by the recipe, with a garlic bulb and now the guacamole has 700% more garlic than recommended.
Charlotte was right. I should have never tried.
I serve dinner an hour late. Everyone likes it. No one says anything about the guac. The table is talking food. About spices, produce and how to give different dishes a "kick." I smile and nod. I'm tired of socializing. I wonder when I'll get a chance to finish watching Peaky Blinders. Cillian Murphy is so magnetic as Thomas Shelby.
Someone's asked me how my day was. I tell them how I struggled to write a column. They have ideas. Hugh suggests writing one about my kitchen struggles. Dan wants me to review A Way Out, an obscure 2018 co-op game, so that we can play it together during work hours. Charlotte brings up a column I wrote about last year, just to remind me she thinks it felt "too contrived." She does hate me.
I tell them I'm thinking of writing about how futile being productive in a sharehouse feels. They say I'll never be able to get that published.
I bet them I will.