Let’s start with a confession. I spend a lot of time in public libraries.
I like libraries, but that’s not something I would ordinarily brag about. Being a library regular is not the sort of thing people bring up on, say, a first date. There is something a little musty about public libraries, a little creepy. The books have all those mysterious old stains on them, and the periodicals room is full of dozing senior citizens. And then there’s the lonely guys cruising the stacks, muttering to themselves.
Still, I keep coming back. I depend on libraries for my work, and to feed my addiction to magazines and out-of-town newspapers. And I like to think of my time in the periodicals room as good training for my approaching old age.
But mostly I keep going to libraries because they’re open. I work out of my home, but I have been making an effort lately, for my sake and for my wife’s sake, to find other places to work. (The assumption here is that there is such a thing as too much togetherness.)
Getting out of the house is no problem when I have meetings and appointments and interviews to do, but some days I just need to sit somewhere and get my assignments written. Today is one of those days. And out here in the remote suburbs, there just aren't that many places that seem like a good place to spend a few hours with a laptop. I sometimes go to a local coffee house, but I feel a little conspicuous there—often I’m the only guy typing away at a laptop. Often the only guy at all, in fact. I’ll try hotel lobbies, too, though they have their own problems.
So I end up at the library. It’s a good place to work. There’s one near my house with a couple of good fireplaces, a nice view of some woods and some small study rooms that I sometimes use as a temporary office.
But still, it’s a library, with everything that implies. And I wonder if there isn’t part of me that slightly undervalues my work because it’s done not in an office building or a conference room, but in a public library.
This is one of the dilemmas of being self-employed and working at home. Each day you have to resolve the question of where to physically situate yourself. You have to figure out where you belong.
I love working on my own and I consider myself unpeakably lucky not to have to go into an office every day. And, yes, it's ridiculous to complain about working in a comfortable home, surrounded by a loving family. But here's the thing: As a male, I’m not sure that I’ll ever feel entirely at home in the domestic world. There’s always this sense that I’m an interloper in my wife’s world, in my kid’s world. I work at home, but I don’t quite feel like I belong at home.
Social scientists talk about kids needing a “third place.” Not home, not school, but another safe place to go be a kid.
What I need is a first place.