In Mumbai, it was the crows that did me in. Loud and relentless, their caw-cawing started before sunrise. Like obnoxious playground bullies, they’d stomp and tear at an outcast outside my study window, with no regard for either my essay deadlines, nor my baby’s nap schedule.
If it wasn’t the crows or the crying baby, it was the doorbell, ringing six times a day for the ironing delivery, the fish seller, the newspaper or the security guard bringing a message.
When we moved to Singapore I revelled in the peace and quiet. The occasional whooping mynah couldn’t disturb me. My first kid, my daughter, was preschool age so I had hours of uninterrupted time, finally. Of course then, after a few months, the silence started to close in on me. The echoing days with no-one else to talk to. I wandered through my empty house, looking for distractions, raiding the fridge.
I started going to cafes. Starbucks at first, then I branched out. At Loysels Toy and Kith Cafe I loved the strong lattes and the murmuring conversations around me, plus the sporadic wifi helped to keep me off social media and in my word document. Deadlines were met. Still, though – the cafes were often too cold, or too noisy and I always ate too much cake. And they were lonely, I was lonely – six months in this new city and I hadn’t made many new connections. Most of my conversations were online and unrewarding. My husband worked long hours. My cleaning lady came in three days a week.
I got pregnant again and felt the pressure to produce as I now had a different kind of deadline to work against. At home I had a helper and a mother-in-law who often visited so I switched to working at the National Library. I needed to concentrate, and I needed to get stuff done. I had some new girlfriends and now just needed space and quiet. I had some business ideas brewing but no impetus to take them forward. I still wanted to write, though what was still a problem.
I was twenty thousand words into a book idea when the second baby arrived, a boy. He was delicious and came with that Second Baby combination of relaxed parenting as You’ve Done It All Before but also stress because Holy Cow Two Is Harder Than One. After a few months I grew restless again. I needed to get out and get going. I enrolled in a literature paper, one of the last needed to finish my Creative Writing degree. I opened the book of readings at my dining table when my son was 3 months old. In one hand was his breastfeeding head, with the other had I leafed through an article entitled Alternatives to Bourgeois Individualism in a Tale of Two Cities. The baby pulled off the boob and milk sprayed everywhere. Two days later I withdrew from the paper in time for a full refund.
It was around this time that the idea for Woolf Works started to develop more fully in my head. I’d googled ‘shared studio for mums’, envisioning a beautiful, clutter free shared office full of awesome women supporting each other. I was disappointed to find it was called co-working and I hadn’t invented it myself, but pleased to see a business model for it.
When we opened, in July 2014, it was like I’d birthed a third baby, and I was just as proud. Our space is quiet, clutter-free and inspiring and just what I had been looking for all those years. There are women to talk to by the water filter; natural light; a tree outside the window and no crows. I named it after Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. In the 1920’s she realised women need a space of their own in order to create art and she’s still right today.
Still, here I sit today, back at Common Man Cafe on Martin Rd. When I’m in Woolf Works I’m working on my business, my baby. When I want to write I get restless, I need to go somewhere else. I’ve had two years immersion with my third baby and now I’m trying to reignite my creative writing fires. I’ve re-enrolled in my degree (no Victorian Literature papers this time). I’m surrounded by a murmuring cafe crowd and the fragrance of ground coffee. I’m writing creative non-fiction assignments and reading Joan Didion. After almost five years in Singapore I have my community of women to reach out to for support but today I’m here and tomorrow it might be the library. At least I know there won’t be any crows.
Michaela Anchan is a Kiwi who has been in Asia for thirteen years. She’s mum to two and founder of Woolf Works, a coworking space and community for women in Singapore. She loves helping women juggling the transition between careers or returning to work after maternity leave and has recently launched Catalyst, a program to help with just that. She’s slowly working towards a Masters in Creative Writing though blames Netflix for her slow rate of progress.