For a week and a half, I have been working from home.
I don’t mean my home in Boston. I mean the home in North Carolina where I spent the first eighteen years of my life. I happened to be in North Carolina for a concert last week (RIP). During my visit, the country woke up to the very real threats of the coronavirus outbreak. I was told I’d be working remotely for the foreseeable future. Air travel was deemed risky (and after the great Christmas journey of 2018 chronicled in my second and third blog posts, I will never drive between North Carolina and Massachusetts again). The last time I took a trip to the grocery store, eggnog and Reece’s Christmas trees were still on the shelves, so I knew I didn’t have the supplies I’d need to self-isolate in Boston. It just made sense to stay put in North Carolina.
So, for a week and a half, I have been working from home. Like, home home. Don’t get me wrong, my home is great. There is no place I love more than my hometown. Hear me say (watch me type?) that I am a massive fan.
But trying to do my job at home signifies the collision of the two most contrasting parts of my life. Since day one at my job, I have bent over backwards to give the appearance that I am at least a semi-functioning adult. I tuck in my collared shirts. I keep from laughing when people on the phone call me Mr. Hart. I’m even ready to pull a few lines like “Oh boy, how about that stock market,” or “So when I was making a gourmet vegan pasta dish the other night,” out of my pocket at a moment’s notice.
At my Carolina home, however, there is absolutely no pretending. We all know that I am not an adult. Instead of learning to iron clothing by watching Martha Stewart do it YouTube, I can simply show my parents how wrinkled my clothing is and let them take pity on me. Instead of reading cooking instructions on the back of a store-bought package (that I’ve fished out of the recycling bin because I will never not forget that the directions are on the wrapping), I can simply say “What do I do now?” when I get lost and someone will swoop in to save the day. I fall asleep in the same twin bed I slept in after leaving the crib, and my childhood teddy bear peeps at me through the cracked door of my closet.
In short, trying to pass for an adult in this environment was off the syllabus.
At first, I managed to make it work. When someone on a video call would ask me, “Sully why are you wearing your winter coat inside,” I could simply respond by telling them we were saving money by lowering the heat during the day. They didn’t need to know that my unexpectedly long trip had forced me to make use of my “nostalgia clothes” (the shirts that weren’t deemed worthy enough to take to Boston but that hold too much sentimental value to Marie Condo). It was none of their business that two minutes before the call I realized I was wearing the cast T-shirt from my high school production of Les Miserables and knew I only had time to throw on another layer.
After a while, however, I think my coworkers started to notice something was up. “Is that your diploma?” asked one of my colleagues, pointing over my shoulder at my “Outstanding Woodwind” award that was given to me by my high school band director and that’s been in the same place in my room since I was seventeen. “Um, yes, it’s from my undergrad,” I said as I shifted my computer slightly and made a mental note to take all future video calls in the dining room in front of some very mature paintings of fruit.
Even my morning routine produces different results now. When in Boston, I set three alarms on my phone, shave, shower, and undergo a 45-minute commute, during which I read or check my email on my phone. When I arrive at my workplace (I hate saying “the office” because it just sounds like something Ward Cleaver would say), I’m all set and ready to fake adulthood for eight hours. On the contrary, when I sit down at my home computer fifteen minutes after my mom has stuck her head into my bedroom and woken me up, the energy I emit is a little less “adult” and a little more “teenager who has no idea what he’s doing in life, much less in this job.”
I guess you could say this experience has made me question my roles. I feel less like the child of the family unit when I’m sitting in our house convincing people on the other end of a computer that I’m an adult. I feel less like a grown-up employee when I’m trying to remember where in this house we keep the 409 because the dog got excited, ate her treat too quickly, and threw it back up, all while I’m on the phone with my boss. Nothing feels concrete anymore and I’ve had to be flexible, adapting to whatever role I need to occupy in any particular moment.
I don’t think I’m walking this tightrope alone, though. We are struggling through a time in which many of us are questioning our various roles; our places in what is likely to become our new normal, at least for a while. The extroverts among us — the movers and shakers, those who crave attention and delight in the company of many others — are trying to reconcile the fact that the most helpful thing they can do is stay isolated. The introverts of the world — our quiet thinkers who observe and reflect — have suddenly been thrust into the position of having to teach their ways to everyone. And like me, some children are pulling on their big kid pants and finding their own inner courage while some adults struggle to allow themselves to look forward with the childlike, simplistic hope that everything will be alright.
Below are some links that I hope can help us all identify our roles in the global community as we band together to combat this global pandemic.
Now if you’ll excuse me, this faux-adult is being asked to transform his home office back into a dining room table.