Where to next, dear sinner?

My old audit office had adopted this policy it called hotelling. Hotelling. Neat word, aye? The first time I heard that word, black and white images of standing at the reception of The Norfolk Hotel came to mind. With Daudi Kabaka lending the image a necessary soundtrack.

It was nothing close to this.

Allow me to tell you how hotelling works: You check in. You find a vacant desk. You take out your laptop. You plug in the laptop charger to the power slot on your desk. You connect the Ethernet cable. You log in to the workstation to activate the Cisco IP phone on your desk. You take out your notebook and a biro pen, a calculator maybe. A coaster for those whose knickers got in a knot for outlines of tea cups and glasses left on the desk (which turned out to be me only). You bring the files, reviewed and annotated reports maybe, from your locker. You start your day. Then you toil away. Snacking was allowed at your desk. Lunching, not a chance in hell.  Something about the whiff of packed lunch which didn’t favor the suited big boys. And at the end of the day – which could vary from 4.30PM to the following morning, depending – you pack up your tools and leave the desk clear. Clean. Again, a policy for this: a written clean-desk policy.

I embraced this hotelling over time because I got a sense of closure at the end of each day. And every morning, I would start the process afresh on a different desk. On a clean slate. I separated myself from the weariness that yesterday’s sins, on yesterday’s desk, brings. Those desks, that hotelling policy taught me how to detach myself from the falsified idea of permanence.

The nature of audit work meant I carried this hotelling with me. The audit team spent two, three maybe four weeks at a client. Ruffle some IFRS feathers, then leave to the next one. Leave to start the process all over again. The detachment reinforced and the attachment, well…the attachment never really existed in the first place.

An auditor is essentially a man who has no attachment to a desk. Or to an office, his or otherwise.


I have now a new office. I have also a desk. My desk. It has a desktop computer I have pushed aside because words seem sexier when they are typed on a (borrowed) laptop (thanks JC) than on a clunky keyboard. Besides, I don’t want to feel like an accountant with that click of the mouse (no offense Kimani, from Accounts. That short-sleeved baby blue shirt looked great on you).

I am considering making my desk more reflective of my persona. You know, leave personal stuff behind and build some attachment, like my new colleagues have. Stuff like a framed photo of my folks. A battered and dog-eared Bible. Flip-flops which will come in handy those days I wish my toe polish to dry easy after a lunchtime pedicure. A tea thermos. Souvenirs and knickknacks with sentimental tales behind them. Violent art from my niece spelling my name out wrong.

The detachment in my new office is found in a story, not in a desk. Once I send a story to publish, any attachment goes with it. My slate is wiped clean. I start to think of the next story, the next idea. I open a blank page then start the process anew. It has become frightfully easy moving forward detached from the last story.
So before I send to publish, I like to sit quiet with the story one last time. I comb through the words and sentences. I applaud and appreciate the creativity behind them. I realize the futility of trying to put my mind back to the frame which thought them up. I relish these final moments of attachment. Then – like a Japanese lantern, lit and destined for the sky – I let the story go. Then walk away.

From where I sit, a writer’s life is one huge cycle of attachment and detachment. Writers are in transit to the next story.

I am concerned to how this constant detachment will affect me in the long run. Because, as we speak, I have been running. I sit at my desk – chin in my hands, eyes cast to the traffic beneath me, my mouth in a small frown – and ponder years past: my adult life has so far been defined by stints in disparate fields. Bingeing then leaving. Where to, nobody knows.

But it’s me. I run. I show myself out. No one asks me to leave. No one makes my four-year stay unbearable, unwelcome or unexciting. No one sends me threats and warnings. No one drops me horrific hints. No one marks a calendar that counts down the number of months I have left. No one does.

I pack up. I leave. I do. I decide I have outlived my strategic usefulness so that the only thing left is to find my way out. And find my way out, do I.

So here I am now, in a field where I oscillate unforgivingly between attachment and detachment. Peachy. So what happens to the other spheres of my life where permanence is what we all yearn for? In husbands, homes and housemaids. In careers and callings. In religion and all its righteousness. In friends for fog and fair-weather. What happens when permanence is my next and only option?

One thing is certain, though – the contemplated attachment to my new desk needs to immediately stop. Each item I leave on this desk builds to its attachment. Attachment leads to permanence. Permanence is a sin I am now too wise and willful to commit on a temporary desk.


I am now done. With my day (I am packing up my entire desk). With Kimani, from Accounts (he didn’t take it kindly that I mentioned his shirt here). With JC (she needs to use her laptop for the next ten days. Out of town project, her text said).

And with this story.

Dog-ears and libraries
Baiskeli, and nothing

Comments (18)

  1. cyndi

    lovely piece….”Ruffle some IFRS feathers, then leave to the next one. Leave to start the process all over again. The detachment reinforced and the attachment, well…the attachment never really existed in the first place.”……so true………so admire how u r following ur passion! u should give some of us motivational talk some day

    • fra

      Humbling words right there Cyndi, thank you.

  2. Savvy Kenya (@savvykenya)

    Hotelling I guess is what we call hot-desking here.

    I think it’s okay to build an attachment to your desk, I mean you will spend the best hours of your day there. The longest and most productive. It’s like a second home.

    • fra

      A second home only for the best hours of your day. Only those.
      However, office and desk detachment is an extra cycle of grief you needn’t experience. Avoid it all together if you can.

  3. The chess muse

    The attachment-detachment vis-a-vis a story resonates – I can’t bear reading my own story once I’m done with it, even though it consumed me while writing it…

    • fra

      It’s such a fascinating thing, right?

      Here’s a piece from The New York Times that also captures what you speak of: http://nyti.ms/18KvNMt

  4. SmileyKimwana

    I like that you draw from personal experience in your writing. Your blog reads like a memoir, with your growth/learning curve clearly discernible. I like that about it.
    As to whether this comment is an objective assessment or mindless fanboy banter, I do not know :)

    • artfullyContrived

      Very very true.

      Either her writing has noticeably improved.

      Or we have become accustomed to her ways. And in the process lowered our standards and expectations.

  5. Steve-O

    Writers are in transit to the next story….and so should all our lives be. Permanence should never hinder our next big life story.

  6. Wangechi

    Hahahaha…hotelling! I know that all so well. It works here but for once I look at it differently :-)
    You have a way with words…

  7. Mama Imani

    Am loving the way you write Flo, the flow you have great wit it all reads with so much ease. Well done Flo we are all so very proud of you.

    • fra

      Thanks a bunch.
      And pass my warm regards to Baby Imani.

  8. Double M

    Fra,I now have permanece,a desk at the corner (wish it was a corner office) and a laptop permanently tied to the desk (wanted a desktop but was told something about those close to the big boys in corner offices need a laptop to take to meetings-guess am the official minute taker) except for friday evenings when it gets locked inside or carried home for the weekend.I also have a deskphone (should change the ringtone to something like those new songs you see youngsters bending to in clubs) Also an intray which is always full and an outtray which hardly has anything,A new high back swinging arm chair.The problem with permanence is having to say “Hi Boss” every morning and “have a nice evening” every evening (should stop coming in after my Boss and leaving before him).The best is having the time to write this while looking at the clock wondering when will 5.00 oclock be here I dash out and start the weekend.I guess I have embraced my new status.

  9. MIMI

    Hotelling…I also had flashes of buffet and cocktails the first time I heard that, only to be totally shocked…
    I’m a walking office ready to perch wherever and whenever need be, which is more often than not.
    and I love the concept of non permanence, It gives one wings to fly,, anytime.

  10. Charles

    Lovely….especially your words on permanence..

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