Historically, you all seem to like when I’m miserable. “Like” as in “engage heartily with the newsletter when”, not “am happy when”. So I’m sorry to say that I’m not especially miserable today. It’s warm enough out to call it so, and although I just had to walk through the concrete wastelands of the needlessly-differentiated ‘city’ of East Providence, it was a walk in warm weather, and that’s a very good start.
I’m writing from the other American turducken: a Starbucks inside a grocery store inside a strip mall. It was the least-horrible option in walking distance of the service center where the vehicle I don’t want to own is being serviced. The little light came on and I punched the mileage into a thing and it said it needed this and that and the other, based on how far it’s been driven so far, and I said fine, fine, let’s do all that. What will it cost? $200? $400? Sure.
You’re supposed to gripe about the cost, “what a rip-off!” and “hate spending money on that kind of thing” and such, but what am I going to do? Get out a manual and crawl about, hunting for oh-so-many mechanical clitorises, all of which respond to different and varied pumps and twists and applications of torque before they’ve loosened enough to say “okay, I’m ready, give me fresh fluids”? No. No, I am going to pay Men, Men with grease under their nails, Men with short names on their shirts lest they forget them, Men who are curt but kind, Men who are better than I even at simple mechanical tasks like getting the key off the ring. I am going to pay these Men to do it for me, and, like a true and good cuckold, I am going to enjoy it.
(Sorry, sorry. I watched Bros last night, which was fine, and I think my explicitness meter has gotten misaligned.)
Anyway, I delight in having things done for me. Even when money is tight as it is now, when the smarter thing would in fact be to do it myself, or find “a guy” to do it cheaper, or do without a little longer. But it’s such an easy high: make the appointment, spend the money, sit in a chair, have The Thing Get Done. Have you ever left the barber in a bad mood? I haven’t. Even if they fuck my shit up, I can still cross “get haircut” off the list.
More seriously and perhaps instructively, doing my own work is easier when I am in the presence of other work. Of any sort, really. The Men are working on my car, so I am writing. The robot is cleaning the floors, so I am unloading the dishwasher. And even Things you can’t work during, like visits to the dentist or barber, still add easy wins, easy momentum to the week.
I wrote a great deal of my book to the laboring hum of a washer, dryer, dishwasher, or all three. Having machines running, having work happening, having a non-arbitrary clock outside of my brain ticking away, helps me focus in a way few other methods can. I’ve never seen “run your dishwasher” in a book of writing advice. In fact, near every description I find of the “ideal” writing environment is, for me, just plain wrong. I could not write from the cabin in Elmira, unless perhaps gardeners were trimming the hedges nearby.
I sought feedback from the Twitter peanut gallery — which, I mean look at that clause; self-evidently the wrong move — a month back as to whether the coworking space I was considering would be worth it. A few smart folks suggested “try it and see”. Many more vented their hatred for office spaces, the waste of a commute, the myriad ways I could better put $300 to work for my mental health.
And they were probably right…for them. For me, I’m telling ya, the last few weeks of being in a space with other people doing day jobs have been more productive than the last few months before that, trying to work alone at home, even with my machines.
At the space, work is happening. Or at least what seems like work. And further, the trash does not need emptied by me, the fridge does not need cleaned by me, the communal dishwasher I diligently load my mugs and forks into does not even need started by me. The space does not have any of my things in it; none of my unprocessed mail, none of my un-put-away clothes, none of my little piles of little things I can’t quite find a place for, all tugging at my attention. I arrive, and unpack, and I work, and I eat, and I pack, and I leave. It’s wonderful. Perhaps it should not seem a revelation, but it’s been a minute since I’ve been in an office, and the one I was in before that, God bless you all who know who you are, was not precisely a place conducive to sustained focus.
If there’s any deeper lesson here, I suppose it’s that there’s smart money and stupid money, yes, but you might have to find out for yourself which is which. A Mopar service appointment and a $5 coffee isn’t the cheapest way to write a letter, but it got the job done today. And $300 a month on a shared office space when I already have an unused one at home really isn’t the cheapest way to work. But it’s a better deal than not getting the work done at all.
Until next time,
P.S. Speaking of work and good deals, I should make mention of my upcoming design and content training workshops. Being User-Centered, a content design workshop for everybody on your team, is coming up February 27–28. It is a very good workshop, refined over many years and many events. After that is Writing for Designers, the first public workshop based on my book of the same name. Both have sliding scale seats available for $250 — which is more than an oil change but less than a month of coworking — for 8 hours of professional development training. (Friends, that’s a very good deal.) You don’t have to work in UX or on a digital product design team to benefit from these workshops; if you have business of any sort, we’ll get down to it.