Michael Bettencourt | Scene4 Magazine | www,scene4.com

Michael Bettencourt

I can attest to the truth of the adage these days that people are less "working from home" and more "living where they work." While I have no desire to sit in my work cubicle again (this time masked, Plexiglased and Team meeting'd, the physical bondage the outward sign of the inward bondage all wage slavery imposes), WFH has its mental, physical and emotional abrasions as well, all of which have been documented in articles by everyone from business writers to academics pumping up their publishing credits.

For me, the hardest task has been drawing lines between home and life, a task accomplished before by a commute and things like doffing my work clothes and slipping into home clothes as soon as I got through the door. Doing that crossed my body and my brain over a clear(ish) border between the work gulag and my homeland.

With WFH, that border turns blurry because phones and computers tether me to the work in a way that puts me "on call" all the time and makes me feel that I can't/shouldn't step away from any device on which I can be contacted. (From the bosses' end, the expectation is definitely that I should be on call all the time because where else do I have to be if I am working from home except at my desk and at their beck?)

But this presents less of an actual problem than it sounds—it just means that I have to create new disciplines to fend off work incursions into my real life. Thus, my regimen of multiple 10-minute walks a day around my neighborhood without phone in hand, leaving notes in the WhatsApp group that I am taking my lunch break and signing off for the evening to that same group are some of signals I've sent out to say, "This far and no further."

Whether or not these line-drawings set the notice I want them to set to those who need to be notified, they set the notice for me, reminding me to to pretend I have agency even if I don't have it fully.

These new working arrangements also have their meta-level of discussion, beyond the instrumental: What is work? Why are we working like this and not like something else? Why do we tie income to work? And so on. At this level, one topic that has occupied me has been thinking about how we map out these territories we call "work" and "home" and how we now allow—in fact, have been forced to allow—the former to substitute for the latter, as if "work" is the primary answer to the question, What is my purpose in life?

This is all appropriate for a capitalist system, but it's nevertheless vexing to get no relief from the regime of working by switching from a cubicle to my home desk—in fact, I've let the fox slip inside so that now I have to pay for arrangements to make the fox comfortable, payments that I won't have reimbursed—upgrades on computers, internet and phone service, increased utility costs—as well as changing physical set-ups to accommodate more bodies in a restricted space (requiring new desks and chairs).

And I'm a lucky one in this lottery because I only have myself, the Marvelous María Beatriz and four cats to arrange. I can't imagine what life is like for people with more restricted means and spaces—families packed into small apartments or having to sit in the Taco Bell parking lot to get the free Wi-Fi to be in online classes.

So, I shouldn't be complaining, but I am, because while many are discussing how the pandemic has irrevocably shifted the shape of how we live, in many respects that's just a surface rearrangement. We're still being governed by structures that limit the creativity and ingenuity of our lives, in some respects even more than before because of the ways the rulers have used the pandemic to restrict freedoms and curtail resistance. While some may see the disruptions of the old guard as the start of new ways of doing things more freely and widely (e.g., colleges and universities may no longer be able to gatekeep who gets the credentials to get into the club), it's more likely the case that the disruptions of the old guard will just lead to a new guard playing the old scarcity and austerity games in new ways.

But for the moment the metrics are good: I have a job and food on the table and my health. But it's difficult not to feel the ghost weight of the other shoe waiting to drop, hard not to feel that disaster shuffles in the wings, and hard knowing that I have so few protections at my back when the collapse comes.

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Michael Bettencourt | Scene4 Magazine | www,scene4.com
Michael Bettencourt is an essayist and a playwright.
He writes a monthly column and is
a Senior Writer for Scene4.
Continued thanks to his "prime mate"
and wife, María-Beatriz.
For more of his columns and articles,
check the Archives.

©2021 Michael Bettencourt
©2021 Publication Scene4 Magazine


Scene4 Magazine: Perspectives - Audio | Theatre Thoughts  | Michael Bettencourt April 2016 | www.scene4.com


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