This past summer and fall, as workers across the country resumed their commutes and began dutifully filing back to their offices, I decided to spend a few months working remotely at a friend’s house, located in a small ski town in the Colorado Rockies. My surroundings were idyllic. Soaring peaks, some taller than 14,000 feet, would often glow pink with the setting sun; thick green forests of pine and aspen, which had just begun turning a brilliant, fiery gold, hosted a seemingly infinite network of hiking trails; and a nearby creek, whose clear, flowing waters were often occupied by paddlers and fly-fishers, snaked right by the house on its way into town. The whole place was a peaceful outdoor paradise—conducive, my thinking went, to the type of work that we do at Commonweal.
I had everything I needed. My friend’s home contained a dedicated office, which became my library, conference room, and podcasting studio. Her adorable new puppy, preternaturally well behaved, kept me company during Zoom calls and editing sessions. On bright blue afternoons, I’d sit outside in an Adirondack chair on the porch, reading submissions as friendly neighbors, one a Commonweal subscriber from Texas, played fetch with their dogs at the park across the street. If I ever got restless, I could simply drive over to a nearby coffee shop, or take the bus to the local co-working space, which boasted a restaurant, gym, fitness classes, and an entire room of outdoor equipment for rent—a “seamless blend of work and play,” according to the brochure. I didn’t avail myself, but I was glad to know it was there.
Everything seemed perfect, like a snow globe custom built for remote workers like me. Inexplicably, though, I wasn’t happy. The work itself was going well—I was about as productive as I’d been in the office in New York—but I felt increasingly disconnected. It wasn’t so much that I was missing anything crucial: many of my colleagues were also working remotely (and happily) from locations across the country. It was that subtly, without my being aware of it, a split had begun to develop between my working and personal lives. Gradually, instead of reading, writing, or editing, I found myself distracted during the day, more interested in the trail run I wanted to do that afternoon, or the camping trip I was planning that weekend. Work came to feel like an obstacle, something that prevented me from taking up the countless outdoor opportunities offered by my alpine surroundings. Why care about the war in Ukraine or synodality with the bright Colorado sun shining down on millions of acres of unexplored terrain?