the end of the no-pants era (or, how I stopped telecommuting and learned to love the office)

I telecommuted 1,865 miles to work, full-time, for three years, three months and three weeks before starting a new (in-person) gig at a place that’s 2.5 miles from my house.

My transition to telecommuting coincided with an even bigger experiment: moving from a big city in Texas to a small town in California. I was lucky to be able to keep my job of three years when we moved, going from being the person who cracked inappropriate jokes IN the office to the person who cracked inappropriate jokes on conference calls WITH the office.

Though I consider both experiments to have been successful, I learned some valuable lessons about telecommuting that I’ll keep in mind if I go down that road again. If you’re considering making the transition, maybe something here will help you.

  • Stay in the same general location as your employer. That way, you can pop into the office for important meetings, meet new coworkers in person and attend the occasional boozy after-work function (the cornerstone of any successful team-building effort).
  • Lean on your friends. Whether you like your coworkers or not, you’re still getting a certain amount of human interaction from being around them 40 hours or more a week. Once you’re working alone in your home office, you can quickly feel isolated. Hit your friends up for the occasional coffee, lunch or happy hour so you don’t go full-hermit.
  • Break for lunch. Though you might have fantasies that your at-home lunches will be a rainbow of healthy foods, freshly prepared, the reality is you’ll probably grab whatever’s easiest to munch on and eat it at your desk while continuing to work. Regardless of what’s on your plate (or, more likely, wrapped in a napkin), taking a real, 30-minute lunch break is important for your mental health. You don’t have to leave your house–just get far enough away from your desk that the crumbs that fall from your mouth don’t land in your keyboard.
  • Ignore the haters. No matter how much work you crank out, there will always be someone in the office who thinks you roll out of bed around 11AM, smoke a bowl, watch cartoons and occasionally call in for meetings in your underwear. Because that’s probably how they’d do things. As long as the person who signs your paycheck knows how much work you’re doing (and you never miss a deadline), you’re good.
  • Take a shower. Though being able to go an entire week without putting on “real” clothes can be wonderfully freeing (you’ll be surprised at how quickly you grow comfortable having calls with your coworkers while wearing a startling lack of clothing), keep up your commitment to your morning toilette. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself on the back end of a long, busy day feeling gross that you haven’t gotten around to bathing yet.
  • Find safety in numbers. The more telecommuters at your workplace, the more comfortable everyone feels. If there are a handful (or more) of you, the people tethered to the office get more used to the idea and roll with it. Your telecommuting coworkers are facing similar challenges, so check in with them to lend and gather support.
  • Keep it professional from the waist up. If you have video calls on the regular, you don’t have to go full-professional. A nice shirt and clean face can pair just fine with shorts. Just remember not to stand up in the middle of your call.
  • Hide your desk/computer. Your office is part of your house, which means your job is always just kind of there. Lurking in the background. If there’s a way to put work to sleep for the night and weekend, like shutting the door to your home office or covering up your computer, do it. The stronger the division between work and personal life, the happier you are with both.

There are some great perks to working from home, from the mundane (not having to take time off when the cable guy is scheduled to show up) to the meaningful (being able to take good care of an elderly, ill dog). I did the best work of my career so far working at a cramped table in my kitchen nook, and I’d absolutely consider telecommuting in the future. But for now, I’m enjoying the ebb and flow of in-person officing. Surprising even myself, I like being part of a team.

I’d love for this to be a resource to future telecommuters, so if you have experiences you’d like to share, please leave a comment.

turn, turn, turn

A few months ago, I decided I couldn’t consider myself a playwright anymore. Though my desk houses a little orange plastic box full of index cards scribbled with story ideas, potential titles and bits of dialogue–a box I add to on a regular basis–I hadn’t done any real playwriting in a few years. I just wasn’t moved to open a Word doc and make that blinking cursor cruise across the page.

To actively call yourself something, it’s a good idea to actively be doing that thing.

(I’m not talking about meeting people and saying, “Hi. My name is Crystal. I’m an Aries, a dog lover and a playwright.” I’m talking about internal definitions. The way you place yourself in the life you’re living.)

There was relief in no longer being a playwright. I didn’t have to keep torturing myself about not having a project percolating. When friends asked if I was working on anything, I could say with conviction, “I’m not writing plays anymore.” My lone full-length had two great productions and a much-needed learning experience production, so there was a sense of completion. And it was okay.

Story shouldn’t be forced. It should knock on your door in the middle of the night demanding to be let in. I’m a believer in what Mr. Bukowski says about writing:

if you have to wait for it to roar out of you,
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

I waited patiently, but no one arrived. I turned the porch light off, turned on my sound machine and went to sleep.

Then this election entered the picture. This ridiculous, infuriating, absurd shitshow of an election. I saw friends get in fights on Facebook with their friends and family that I’m not sure they’ll be able to recover from. With each passing presidential “debate,” I watched our country slip further and further into a pool of tepid, flat Budweiser America, with only a raft of soggy Cheetos and a copy of Playboy to hold on to. Each day brought a new low, when I thought we’d already dented the basement floor.

That’s when I heard a knock at the door.

10-year blog anniversary: potpourri

all workWe’re almost to the end of this journey back in time. One more post tomorrow, and then it’s back to the present.

This post is about how pussified writers (and many artists, actually) have become. How they need constant reassurance and stroking to put pen to paper, when so many who came before wallowed in obscurity (and even filth) but still managed to crank some good shit out.

You would be amazed how many people google “did phil collins witness a murder?” They find an answer in this post, which was born from a question my brother Mason submitted to my fake advice column on houstonist.com called “Ask a Dilettante.”

I’ve always promised to be honest in this blog, and I’ve mostly succeeded. This was a rare creative writing entry not based on reality.

First I fell in love with Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. Then I got a cold splash of reality that maybe it was a little more fiction than reality. Then I realized that most memories are at least a little bit fiction, even when we’re recounting them shortly after the fact, because we’re constantly placing events in the context of our own reality. And my reality is likely different from yours, even when we’re standing right next to each other and maybe I’m a little closer to you than I should be and it’s making you slightly uncomfortable.
https://cryjack.com/2011/01/03/want-a-copy-of-travels-with-charley/
https://cryjack.com/2011/04/12/travels-with-charley-redux-the-conflicted-edition/

Back in the day (2012, in fact) Google search terms that brought people to my blog would show up in a list on my admin dashboard. They were always way more interesting than my blog, so I was sorry when Google went dark on search terms.