Homebody Cara Van Miriah comes up with a strategy to deal with the pain of living 24/7 with her outgoing hubby Ivan.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

No clubbing, no going to the cafes and bookstores? No problem. Nine years of homin’ (work from home: WFH) has prepared me for 2020-style “house arrest”.

The best parts of WFH are often overlooked. No more wasting two hours in the mornings getting dressed and commuting to work – and another hour to get home. A day in the office translates to three hours wasted. That’s 15 hours a week going up in smoke – which would be better spent on reading, daydreaming and doing something more productive.

But what was nagging at the back of my mind: How was I going to survive all that time with my extrovert husband for weeks to come? Couples who don’t work together usually don’t see each other 24/7, and this was going to take some getting used to.

Sure enough, Ivan’s face has turned hilariously pale… then white – whiter than Edward Cullen’s. “Omg, another four weeks to June 1... it has been what… three weeks already! I can’t go out with my friends,” he yelps, almost going into a state of shock.

We share nearly the same group of friends. The difference is: They’re loud, and they love to crowd – I don’t. Hell, they make merry anywhere, any time – bars, coffeeshops and even at each other’s homes (except mine, of course).

I roll my eyes, and continue going about my business, while he paces up and down the living room where my work desk is. I put on my headphones and go back to the e-mails that were warning me of the near-death deadlines.

I must say, mornings are the most blissful. I love ’em: pin-drop silence from 5am to 8am. While the humans are in deep slumber, my two American Curls would greet me from a distance before retreating to their familiar corners. It’s the time of the day when I’m most productive.

11.30am – Time to “armour” up as my extroverted half regains consciousness. “Hello cats!” his voice booms, startling me and the felines. They make a face and go back to sleep. I gleefully reach out for the headphones – a newly purchased noise-cancelling set that has justified its $200 price tag. A lil’ confession: I sorta tricked Ivan into buying me these last month, making him believe that my old set was faulty. Truth is, the source of the disturbance has to compensate for my temporary loss of peace and quiet. Well, somebody has to pay.

11.45am – “Rizza, what’s for lunch?” his thunderous voice asks our live-in helper.

Don’t look up, Cara, don’t. I crank up my headset volume to 80 per cent to block out the noise. He heads into the study to work. Phew.

2pm – The coast is clear and I attend a tele-meeting.

At 4pm, a knock on the table jolts me to a dreaded conversation. “Coffee?” Ivan offers. As I’m about to take a sip, he asks, “Am I getting five stars for this great service?”

“Huh, excuse me?”

“You heard me, how many stars?” he smirks.

“Fivvve... now please go away,” I groan. I then print a “Do Not Disturb!” card to place on my work desk.

11pm – At last, time for Netflix. I curl up in bed with one hand holding on to my smartphone. “Shall we watch it together?” somebody uninvited asks. He’s dumbfounded when I flip over. “What the hell?” Ivan stares at me with disbelief. I am wearing a mask this time.
My Reading Room
“I then print a ‘Do Not Disturb!’ card to place on my work desk.”
My Reading Room

Bored to tears at home, extrovert Ivan Lim finds entertainment doing domestic chores, much to the chagrin of his wife Cara.

Long before measures were implemented to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, I had made changes to my lifestyle. Well, I had no compelling urge to get myself killed by a virus we still know so little about. But more than self-preservation, I didn’t want to infect those I love.

So two weeks – okay, it wasn’t long but it felt like a lifetime – before the circuit-breaker took effect, I put a moratorium on an important part of my social weekend: I stopped going to the bars and clubs that had become a big part of my life, in case they precipitated the end of it.

Meanwhile, on weekdays, my work as an editorial consultant allows me to operate from home. Way before circuit-breaker kicked in, I was already working from home for half a day – years before WFH became a thing.

I did enjoy meeting writers and clients, though, so I had to adapt. For instance, it felt weird initially to be unable to pat a subordinate on the back for a job well done. But I realised quickly how this could be replaced by a text message or an e-mail. And I could still scream – over the phone or on a video call – if the task was poorly executed!

The great thing is, with meetings conducted only over Zoom or Skype, people have finally realised how much time (including travel) and space (booking a room) they’ve been wasting all their lives.

With the massive time saving from travel and weekend shenanigans, the only social I contact I have is spent almost entirely with my wife Cara, who also works from home.

And it’s driving her nuts.

She loves an occasional chat. However, I give her plenty of face time. And since she practically has my undivided attention, it has become in-your-face time. When she starts to ignore me, I begin conversations with our cats. Which is fine, normally. But lately, I wait for them to answer – the very same questions she ignored.

Then there’s the incessant cleaning up. Cara doesn’t like doing the dishes, but I have no such problem. I’ll grab the plate while she’s chewing the last of her meal and start washing up. And I’m always making sure she has fresh coffee on her desk. She’s relieved she doesn’t have to make it herself but I would deliver it and then ask for a five-star rating for service. She giggled a little at the first two mugs but now she stares straight at her computer screen when she sees me approaching.

When Cara really needs a break from me, there are books. And Netflix. And then there’s the classical guitar.

No, I have not succumbed to productivity porn memes to set myself ridiculous goals such as learning the entire classical guitar canon. I just learn and play pieces I like, as I always have.

I do, however, miss some of my friends, but the surge in popularity of such apps as Zoom and Houseparty has allowed me to be in touch with them.

I also miss the weekend drinks. On the first weekend of circuit-breaker, I broke my own ban on drinking at home alone when I poured myself a whisky. The first one went down easily. The second, well, I struggled to get through it. It’s not the same drinking while watching Netflix in the tranquil setting of my study, instead of the rowdy atmosphere with blaring music in a bar or a club.

I washed the whisky glass, capped the bottle and made myself a pot of tea. And a cup of coffee. For Cara. And went back to my favourite pastime – annoying her.

My Reading Room

“I would deliver coffee and then ask for a ‘five-star rating’ for service.”