On the Road Again


It’s on the tram on Monday morning that I realize I’m having something of a lowkey panic attack. To be fair, I’m not hyperventilating and my heart isn’t racing. It’s more that I am sweating and wishing everyone around me would magically rush off the tram at the next stop.

It occurs to me that it’s because I am doing something for the first time in two years. I am going to work. In pants. Oh, like many, I’ve worked solidly throughout the pandemic. I’ve taught, edited, given workshops, and written coursebooks and magazine articles consistently over the last 19 months. All online. All in loungewear. There is very little traffic between my bed and my computer in the living room twenty feet away. I have to contest with a grumpy cat and a permanently hungry dog, but that’s all.

This is the first time I’ve been on public transport, surrounded by commuters, early in the morning in almost 18 months. And I don’t like it.

OK, I like it a little. I’m out of the house, I’ll see other people today in person. This means I can pat a friend’s shoulder or, theoretically at least, pummel into oblivion a student who refuses to do their homework. My lunch is in my bag, my shoes are tied, I am reading. I feel almost like I’ve been removed from the workforce and this is my first day back, which it sort of is. I decide to enjoy it.

I do. But I don’t. Did you know that when students are sitting in front of you in the same room, they can see when you scratch yourself? They can also hear the aggravated asides you make even if you hit the ‘mute’ button. There’s no escape. There are no breakout rooms. You can’t put students into breakout rooms to talk while you go get a drink of water. And there’s very little chance of a cat walking across the screen and cheering everyone up.

By afternoon, I am exhausted. I’ve only taught two classes, but I’ve been on my feet all day, a thing I’ve only just remembered. I tuck myself in the corner of my office and plan for Tuesday. My colleagues and I chat while I do it. I am taken away from my work by a couple of questions and by the time I get back I have to fully work my way back into what I was doing. I cut my tomatoes and eat my lunch without the benefit of a sitcom I normally watch while eating. And at the end of the day, very tired, I head down the steps towards the tram stop and home.

On my way down, I try to find the positives. They are there. I am rewarded by my Fitbit for reaching 10,000 steps, which would have been rare when I taught from home. I leave work, happy to leave the building and my day behind, but understanding full well that that’s exactly what I am doing: leaving my work day behind. In the home teaching months, work and home blended and were only separable by when I finished working and planning. Now, for expediency’s sake, I have to plan before leaving, so when I leave the building, I am done. It’s a nice day and I am enjoying fresh air, another point in favor of going to a place to work.     

The secondary school has let out and while I wait, roughly 82,993 students between the ages of 12 and 17 pile out of the building filling the air with curses in broken voices and smoke and covering the ground in spit. That’s one for working at home – not dealing with the public. The loud, crash teens, the maskless who think they are a pillar of individual thought but who really just look like total assholes. The downright unpleasant.

I have almost soured from my position when I get on the tram. I sit away from the kids and open a book to enjoy 40 minutes of uninterrupted reading time while someone else drives me home. And it’s work in the office for the win.   

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