I’m lucky to have my own study, my daughter has grown up and moved out, and the cats generally leave me alone. The computer screen doesn’t face the door. But my husband, every once in a while, likes to stroll in, walk over to the window, and look out, or plop himself down in the armchair opposite my desk. He doesn’t see the faces I make behind his back when he comes in. Yesterday, I was particularly absorbed in revising a story. He popped his head in, paused, and said, “You okay?”
“What?” I said, focusing briefly, “Fine.” I could see that he was a little put off by my reaction, but that wasn’t my problem right then.
“I’m heading out to the hairdresser,” he said.
“Sounds good,” I said vaguely after a pause. He may have already left the house by then. I don’t know.
Family members don’t learn from these interactions, unfortunately. For instance, my fencing coach has an artist wife. Last night, I saw that she had brought art work and supplies into the fencing club, which is empty until late afternoon when fencing students come in after school. She told me she had started painting at the club because at home, if she started working, within five minutes either her husband or her daughter would ask her something. They would immediately apologize if she said she was working, but they kept doing it.
I guess we don’t look like we’re working. Something about creative work makes our family members (and our cats and dogs) think we’re available for conversation. Maybe it’s the vacant expression, or the intermittent swearing coming from our workspace. I don’t know.
You don’t owe anyone your attention when you’re working.
You hereby have my permission to stare blankly at your children when they wander in and ask for help. It is okay not to answer your spouse who is calling out, “Does anyone know where the keys are?” You are under no obligation to find socks for anyone, stop and fix dinner, feed the cat, or even answer the phone. Let it ring. If you can bear to shut the door, or if you have an empty fencing club where you can camp out, go for it.
If family members come in and address you directly, I suggest short responses. Don’t try to be polite. Don’t yell at them either, because then you have to deal with hurt feelings. The words, “Fine,” “Don’t know,” and “Okay” are good. Do not say, “Huh,” or “Really?” because those are invitations to keep talking. “Not right now” works for me, as long as I don’t add, “Maybe later.”
You have writing to do and a word count to reach. It matters. It’s worth doing. Keep going.