Running a business from home. It’s the best of both worlds. One day you can hide in your office behind emails and phone calls; the next, you’re in a public space, listening unintentionally to meetings about meetings, and the steam and grind of the coffee machine.
I naively went into lockdown in March with a confident entitlement. “I am work from home,” I said. “I’ve got this.” Being a homebody, I wasn’t worried about not eating at my favourite restaurant for a while and actually welcomed the crackdown on weekly takeaway. I did a hair toss, checked my nails, and went on with my usual Wednesday afternoon routine of discussing next month’s figures with the dog and the bird on my verandah.
But I started to feel antsy.
I confided in a few small-business gal pals, because it didn’t make sense. I mean, I work from home all the time. Takeaway coffee, dog walk, work, dinner, bed. It’s pretty standard. But then I realised that normally, I temper the reality of isolation with my own illusion of inclusivity: by sitting in a public place and watching the day go by.
As my dad so eloquently put it, “You sit alone, with other lonely people, who are also sitting alone?” Yes dad. Yes.
My go-to people-watching spot is Canberra institution Tilley’s. I choose it because it feels cosy enough to be alone with your thoughts in a booth, but also bustles with a smooth jazz soundtrack, people ordering cappuccinos and hot chocolates, the white-haired ladies playing their weekly game of Canasta, and the clink of coffee cups. Then there are the inner north chums discussing their victory gardens.
BP (before pandemic), I’d go to Tilley’s if I needed to reset. It recharged me with the energy I needed to feel like I wasn’t a total recluse in society, but also allowed me to walk out feeling calm, caffeinated, and well fed on comfort food. Without my Tilley’s fix, I felt the reality of the daily grind that it had previously masked.
And now, this small act of getting out of the house for some societal novelty time was no longer an option.
Once I realised what was missing from my week, I broke it down. And I recreated the atmosphere of my favourite Canberra cafe. I found two playlists on Spotify – Coffee Shop Sounds and Jazz for Study. Having the white noise of a public place in my studio was a game changer.
I also became more aware of the people who walked past my house. Kids were being home-schooled, and bike riding seemed to be the daily saving grace that stopped their parents from cracking skulls.
I realised that there was a fellow border collie family that appeared to walk past our house at a very similar time of day. In a very non-stalker-observational kind of way, I decided to prove my suspicions and write down the time that I saw them walking. For those interested, Collie Watch returned an average walk time of 4:02pm.
Paired with a homemade Nespresso, these subtle changes in my routine started to make me feel ‘normal’ again.
And as I sit here at Tilley’s today, listening to the dulcet tones of The Girl from Ipanema playing over the stereo, it makes me realise how big a part that places like this play in my life.
My curiosity for a stranger’s story, their facial expressions, and watching them interact with the person behind the bar. Questioning their disturbing decision to stir sugar into their coffee and not lick the spoon before putting it on their saucer.
This curiosity sparks colours, shapes, emotions and inspiration that helps my design work, and reminds me how connected we still are – even if you’re a lonely person, sitting alone, with other lonely people.