A desk lit by a lamp
Sonia's desk

Putting the issue to bed: home and the workspace

Image description: Sonia’s work from home space. 

No one ever tells you that being optimistic is a challenge. It is something I wish I’d learned when my personality blossomed in youth. Generally, it is a lot easier to be pessimistic , and there is something to be said for slipping this into the teachings of our future young ones, particularly alongside the history of the global pandemic. Brené Brown describes this as “the courage to be imperfect” in her TedTalk The Power of Vulnerability. Particularly nowadays, I am finding it more important than ever to recognize those things that are just inherently unfortunate. You can accept where you are without reveling in it and embrace that vulnerability itself as a win. 

This is not to say I have lost all hope in my optimism. It persists, if not grudgingly. For example, in learning that I would once again be entering the realm of virtual university, I cleaned my room. I made it the dust-free, softly lit, organized space that parents dream of, then laid back down with my laptop to enjoy the freshly cleaned sheets. The optimistic angel on my shoulder was activated. This doesn’t have to be so bad, she reassured me. Look at this lovely space you’ve made. I conceded. My home can be cozy. 

 Sadly, when Hilary started, the paradox of the “stay at home” order reared its ugly head. I didn’t want “cozy” anymore. I wanted the cold drafts of the Bodleian to keep me on my toes. I wanted the loud freshers in the library and the shriek of steamed milk at my favorite café. I missed those awful motion-activated fluorescent lights. Once, they turned off as I was falling asleep at a library desk, and it actually woke me back up.

My optimism now extends to appreciating moments like these: when the imperfect bits of life would snap you back into an intimidating yet charming present. Now, I could adjust the heater according to my own comfort, and no one policed my mid-work phone usage with judgmental eyes. It is everything an introvert could want, yet I still couldn’t revel in it. 

I read the New York Times article “Working from Bed is Actually Great” in an attempt to reignite my appreciation for the cozy workspace. If you haven’t read the article, it consists of several interviews with the world’s “working professionals” who have now given in to the bedroom office. Now, while I agree with the sentiment of the “zoom meeting from bed” as an attempt at remapping professional standards in the Covid era, I’ve been finding it difficult to truly view my bed as a productive space – and I don’t think I’m alone here.

I am privileged to live in a warm, comfortable home with all the resources I could need. I am grateful for this: up to a point where It feels wrong to complain about my productivity levels whilst the world suffers through this pandemic. More than anything, I wish I could write about how I learned to adapt to my home as my workplace and how you can too. Yet, this is where my optimism fails.

My optimism now extends to appreciating moments like these: when the imperfect bits of life would snap you back into an intimidating yet charming present.

I am still working this all out, too. It is a process of navigating solutions and learning what I can and can’t get done in my childhood bedroom: a space that used to feel like home, but now has an atmosphere of punishment simply because it isn’t in Oxford. Heidi Mitchel in the Wall Street Journal grants importance to a sleep/work distinction between the home and workspace: “one concern is that being cozy in bed brings on sleepiness, which may compromise a student’s ability to retain information.” However, experts further assert that there is no single ideal study environment. At least for me, this just wasn’t it. If I have an option to sleep over nearly anything else, I will inevitably sleep.

Next, I tried a coworking space but found it to be too expensive at the moment . I found a café (in the U.S., some are still open) but could never really make it a home base. I’ve found that I can do certain tasks in bed, such as  attending my tutorials and reading novels: however, it’s never ideal.

Finally, I made a little desk area in my attic. There’s a heater to my left for when it gets freezing up here, and an old lamp with this Victorian-style ceramic couple and their dog sitting around the base. I put a framed picture of my family on my right side, and a polaroid of me and my friends on the quad rests against it. I bought some chocolates to snack on, but they’re nearly gone. The rings from my cups of tea are starting to find their home in the wood of the desk. Undoubtedly, I will  spend some long nights up here: finishing essays for the next day and cramming 400-page novels. Eventually, I’ll come up here and the news of virtual Oxford will hit me all over again. In the end, it is not ideal. None of it is. I’m just trying to accept that and allow myself a bit of pessimism for once.

There is no right answer to the “working in bed” dilemma. If you’ve adapted to it, consider yourself lucky. If you just can’t seem to, try to craft a new space for yourself. Invest in a nice lamp and put up pictures of Oxford to remind you of where you should be. Accept your productivity for what it is and buy yourself some chocolate as a reward. You don’t have to love it, but we will get through it. Until then: be angry, cry, carve your name into your childhood desk, or write that essay. Allow yourself some well-deserved vulnerability – then find a way to get back to work. It’s no Bodleian, but for now, it’ll have to do.

TEDTalks: Brene Brown – The Power of Vulnerability, Ted.com, 2015, https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_the_power_of_vulnerability?language=en#t-540124.

Taylor Lorenz, “Working from Bed Is Actually Great,” The New York Times (The New York Times, December 31, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/31/style/working-from-bed.html.

Heidi Mitchell, “Is It Healthy to Study in Bed?,” The Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones & Company, February 13, 2019), https://www.wsj.com/articles/is-it-healthy-to-study-in-bed-11550077336.

Image: Sonia Richter