I have this idea that I am going to start working from home. I tried to go into the office. But the only alone time I have in my day is the time I'm not with the kids, and if I spend my alone time with other people, then I don't have alone time and I start to panic, and I do things like tell the guy in the cube next to me that he can't talk to me.
1. Get a spot where you can concentrate.
So I tried working from home, but then I started feeling like I am the most alone person in the world. So I thought I'd change it up a little; I'd work from home, but the farmer's home.
I call him to tell him I'm coming to his house early.
“How early?” he asks.
“Don't you have to work today?”
“I'm not going to the office any more. I don't want to talk to people.”
There is a beat of silence, and I think the farmer is going to say something. Or maybe the silence is long enough that he is thinking I am going to talk. He has asked me to not talk over him, but I have a hard time telling if it is his turn to talk or mine. I start to panic because the rhythm of conversation is getting irregular, so I say, “Okay. Bye.” And I hang up before he can say anything else. I note to myself that this is the fourth conversation in a row that I did not talk over him.
I stop at the gas station by his house. I have enough gas to get to his house, but not enough gas to get lost and get to his house, which shouldn't happen, but if it did, it would be bad because I still do not have a winter coat. I am not sure why I don't have a winter coat. I think it is because it's so cold that I can't stand being outside for more than five or ten seconds. So if I'm only going to be outside for a few seconds then I don't need a coat. The farmer keeps telling me how dangerous it is to travel without a winter coat. I show him I'm paying attention to the dangers of the cold by being sure to not run out of gas on a remote country road.
2. Have close proximity to a coffee source.
I get to his house. I put my stuff down in the kitchen and I make coffee.
The farmer comes in. He kisses me hello. Then he wipes up where I spilled water by the coffee maker. At one point, we had an argument about his wiping up around me all the time.
“I never wipe the table at dinner where you spill,” I said.
“What?” he said. “Are you kidding? I never spill.”
“Yes, you do.”
“No, I don't. You spill almost every time you do anything in the kitchen. That is not normal.”
“I spill more than other people?”
“Yes. Adults don't spill.”
Once he told me this, I noticed that I actually spill something every meal. Sometimes two or three times. I never noticed that other people don't do it until the farmer told me. So now, him wiping up the water on the counter feels intimate: he knows me so well.
3. Have good food, fast Internet, and a sofa for avoiding both.
He tells me that he is in the middle of moving pigs, and he'll come back to the house for lunch.
I want to ask him if he’s working on getting an Internet connection because if I’m going to work from home from his home, I need Internet. But he always feels like I'm pushing, and then he pushes back. So I decide to ask him while he's eating lunch. He is easier to talk to if he's walking or eating and it's too cold to walk outside.
I lie on the farmer's sofa and think. The fields are white and rolling, with bits of old corn stalks poking out. The cattle are far off, almost at the horizon: brown dots moving slowly to yellow dots of hay. I stare out the window long enough that the farmer drives by on the tractor. Stops at the barn. Pets the donkey. Comes in for lunch.
Since this is an impromptu visit, there is no food to eat except beef. That's all he keeps in his house. Well, beef and Frosted Flakes and Dora the Explorer cookies, from the last time that I came here with my kids.
He cooks hamburgers for us.
He tells me he did not notch the pigs’ ears in the last litter because he was so distracted dealing with me. He tells me he has never had a litter of pigs unnotched. Ever. Unnotched is not his word. It's mine. I forget the word he uses.
4. Have a notebook for ideas that you save for when you're with people.
Then he sits down to lunch and I try to not bring up difficult stuff to talk about because I can see that he is already unhinged that the pigs are unnotched.
But after three bites I cannot hold back: “I have a list of things we need to do so I can move into your house.”
He looks at me. Puts his fork down. Takes a deep breath. “Let's see it.”
“I have to read it to you.”
He looks. It's in shorthand. Not regular shorthand but the shorthand I invented to take notes at school because the way I got through school was by memorizing every lecture word for word and then regurgitating it to teachers on essay tests.
I find that my shorthand is also good for writing private notes to myself. Now I can have my list out, at the table, but the farmer cannot read it so I can tell him only the amount of things I think he can handle without going nuts over how hard it is for me to move to his house.
I tell him, “Well. The Internet. That's an easy one.”
He picks up his fork. Takes a bite. “Okay. What else?”
“The heating has to work.”
“Okay. We have to talk about that. About what it means to you to be working.”
“Okay. Let's talk about that now.”
“First, tell me what else is on the list.”
“Not that much.”
“What do you mean not that much? I see you have crazy writing down the whole page. That looks long.”
I tell him it's a secret.
He shakes his head and laughs.
I tell myself I have to develop a shorthand sign for manure, because I need him to not put it so close to the house. I think it's causing a problem with flies. Which I already have a shorthand sign for because I had a history professor who always used the phrase “flies in the face of . . . .”
5. Find balance: Calm/exciting, chatter/quiet, people/no people.
After lunch we sit on the sofa and talk about grazing. He is thinking of grazing pigs with cattle this summer. People don't usually do it. He is not sure how he wants to manage it. He likes to have interesting projects on the farm. He is curious and likes the quirky edge of farm life. But he is always trying to figure out how to balance his curiosity with his need for stability.
He says, “Okay. I have to go back out now.”
I say, “Five more minutes.”
He says, “You're having a hard time transitioning to work, aren't you?”
He says, “Do you want me to lie on top of you?”
I nod yes.
So I lie on the sofa and he puts the cushions on top of me and then lies on top of the cushions, and the pressure from the cushions is like a big squeeze without the social input of feeling a person as well.
The farmer discovered this trick by reading Temple Grandin’s technique for working with cattle. It works with me, too.
Then he leaves and starts sorting pigs, and I sit down at the table and start writing.