I hadn't realised until today how much I slip into writer mode when I leave the house in the morning, whether I'm writing or not. This morning I said good-bye to my husband and son, walked out the door and entered the novel world. It didn't, as I had always thought, start when I got to the office and turned the computer on. It started as soon as my feet touched the footpath outside my house. I didn't go very far. I had a casual appointment with a research subject whose business is not far from home, just near my bus stop. He let me sit with him for an hour or so while he worked and I asked lots of stupid questions, examined his workspace and just sort of hung out. When I decided I'd seen enough for one day, I left and popped into the cafe next door for a take-away coffee while I waited for my bus. There, I chatted to the cafe owner about the research I had just been doing.
As I was leaving, my husband walked in, wheeling my son in his pushchair. I was of course delighted to see them, but after a quick cuddle and play with my son, I found I would not be deviated from my path and left to catch that bus, much to the confusion and annoyance of my 18-month-old, who had to say good-bye to me twice in one day.
Once on the bus, I questioned myself about why I hadn't stopped and had lunch with them - after all, a girl's gotta eat. I even called husband to check on son, but after a few tears when I walked out the door, son had quickly recovered when his fluffy arrived. So I didn't have to feel guilty anymore, but I wondered why it hadn't even occurred to me to linger for a while.
But then it became clear to me. I wasn't in mummy mode; I was in writing mode. Despite not actually being at my desk, I had just spent an intense hour immersed in one of the subjects of my novel and I was still ticking over everything I had seen and learned. I was free to chat to near-strangers, but seeing my family unexpectedly like that threw me a little bit. It meant a sudden shift of gears, which I didn't handle particularly well. It was fine, nobody was traumatised, but it just brought home to me how absorbed I am in my work as soon as I leave the house, not just when I get to work, and how I leave it at the door when I return home each night. And rarely shall the twain meet.
It's different when I know it's going to happen - after all, I look after my son on Thursday mornings and only after I've dropped him off at creche in the afternoon does the writer's mantle descend. I guess I have proved to myself that I have finally learned to switch it on and off - although only if scheduled in advance - something that only comes with the luxury of near-fulltime writing, and a skill I hope I can carry over when I am back to part-time writing.