Five Things I Learned while Working from Home

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Lessons from Shelter-In-Place

 

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

One of the benefits of my job is that I work from home one day a week, and have been doing so for just over seven years. It’s a wonderful perk. If I ever chose to move to a different job, I’d want to be sure I retained this same benefit as it goes a long way toward my mental health.

As a confirmed introvert, working from home on Friday allows me to get my job done while having a little break from my very extroverted team of peers (all of whom I adore, in measured doses).

So when word came down from my leadership that we are to work from home for the foreseeable future, I though “pfft, no problem, I’m already a pro at this.”

On Day One, I approached my now shelter-in-place working from home days exactly as I approached every work from home Friday, and that was my first mistake.

Since I believe in growing from my mistakes, here are five things I have learned and want to share from the first week of working from home every day:

#1 You must have boundaries 

When working from home just one day a week, the boundaries between work life and home life were never an issue. I’d get up a little later than usual, make the short commute down the hall, and do my job. Since the end of Friday is also the end of the work week, at 5:00pm I’d log off and enjoy my weekend time.

Now that work from home is every day, it’s too easy at 9:45pm to think “oh, you know, I could just dash off that email to my boss that I forgot to do earlier” or when I’m obsessing over the current news at 3:30 in the morning, “I could take one more look at that PowerPoint draft.”

To be honest, it’s very likely that I have used “putting in extra work” as a way to deal with my anxiety over the current events. It feels like I am doing something about it, but I’m not. It’s an avoidance and over time will wear me out when right now I need to find ways to stay strong.

In short: Boundaries must exist between work life and home life.

#2 You must have boundaries

Since my husband is now my coworker five days a week, and since my husband is my absolute favorite person in the world, I find myself wanting to spend time with him as we usually do after work or on the weekends.

This means sitting together, drinking coffee, talking over all the things on our minds, including but not limited to: how cute our cat is, our thoughts on movie, television, or literary characters, what to have for dinner, and most importantly whether or not feeding peanuts to the crows and bluejays in the backyard will cause them to protect us, as a fierce corvid army, when the zombies rise…you know, normal couple stuff.

But if we spend too much time in our usual weekend pattern, then I am not getting work done. Then again, if I spend too much time doing work (see #1 above) then I’m not spending needed time with my husband.

Once again: Boundaries must exist between work life and home life.


Photo by Yann Allegre on Unsplash

 

#3 You must have boundaries

As part of my job I support a team of technical people who are dispersed across the country, so I am very used to using video conferencing daily, whether at home or not. When this new stay at home edict came down, I was already set up on the app, had a good camera to use, and a speaker for sound.

Not so for my peers. For the most part using videoconferencing is new for them, and I find myself giving mini tutorials on every meeting we have.

Our IT department is now conducting four one-hour long trainings a day on how to use the videoconferencing service, but my peers seem loathe to take a course. “Too busy,” they say. So instead they are relying on me to help them. In every meeting.

This is not sustainable. I love to help people but I can’t get sucked into this vortex. Instead of jumping in there when they have troubles, am now sitting on my hands when someone says, “I can’t figure out how to share this document” or “Why can’t I see everyone?”

If they ask me directly, I will help, but if they are just muttering and fumbling I stay quiet because the best way to learn is to do it for yourself. The user interface isn’t really that hard, it just takes a little time to get comfortable with it.

The one exception: The times when a participant has both their phone and laptop dialed in which produces that horrible ping back and forth that escalates into a high teeth grinding sound. The audio equivalent of standing between two mirrors. I cannot restrain myself from jumping in to sternly say “Phone or Laptop, not both, mute one!”


By Elsamuko from Kiel, Germany — inf, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40716759

 

#4 You must have boundaries

At any break at work, I find myself looking at the latest headlines. On every call my peers want to talk about the headlines. In the kitchen while making lunch my husband and I talk about the latest headlines, “So, did you hear that…”

All of this fuels my anxiety and managing this is a big factor in my ability to stay safe and sane, and to be an active, productive employee.

Many years ago I took a meditation class and the instructor told us: “You don’t have to watch, read, or seek out the current headline news. If there is something you need to know, it will find you.”

It has been almost 20 years since I first heard this gentle guidance and it is more true today than it ever has been.

#5 You must have boundaries

On Friday work from home days, I tend to dress pretty comfortably. Yoga pants with a not terrible shirt. Fluffy socks and slippers. Loose but comfy (okay, ratty) sweater.

This is fine once a week, as Friday is the most causal day at work by far, but this is not sustainable for me five days a week. It is really true that clothes impact how you speak, how you hold yourself, how you feel. Clothes matter.

Now, I’m not saying put on a three piece suit and hard shoes every day, but at least wear the kind of “business casual” clothes you might wear to the office. Get up, take a shower, comb your hair, put on some work clothes, maybe light makeup if that’s your thing, and present yourself well. You’ll get your mind right to sit down and do some work.

Then when the work day is done, by all means, jettison yourself right back into those comfy home clothes. You’ve earned it.

We have no idea how long this current stay at home edict is going to last. so it is important to build good boundaries now to help stay sane over time.

And just because you work from home, don’t neglect washing your hands!

Hey, you: Stay safe and stay productive!

This item first appeared on Medium, find more of my work @karenfayeth over there

 

The Gift of the White Elephant

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The Holiday Game that Highlights the Best and the Worst

 

Photo by James Hammond on Unsplash, and slightly modified by the author

“Okay, everybody take a number!” she chirps while walking around the room holding a small jute bag containing blue slips of paper with numbers ranging from 1 to 25 written in black Sharpie marker.

25 slips. 25 people. 25 gifts that range from boring, to gag, to “oh that’s sort of nice.”

I draw my folded slip and put it in my pocket. I’m in the middle of telling some nonsense story that gets a laugh from my coworkers, spinning a yarn in between sips of good red wine.

It’s the annual holiday party. It’s the boss of my boss. We are at her house and enjoying catered appetizers. Two weeks ago we were commanded to attend and to bring a $15 gift. Pay for play. “Remember, $15 is a ceiling and not a floor!”

The White Elephant is among us.

Some people love the White Elephant. Some people loathe the White Elephant. One thing is for sure, there are no set rules for playing the White Elephant’s dangerous game.

How many steals, how many rounds, what value, and what is proper etiquette depends on who is running the game. The Ring Master controls the Elephant.

My favorite annual White Elephant game is played with a group of salty network engineers. Instead of using slips of paper with numbers, they use two decks of playing cards. It lends a little gambler’s air to the proceedings.

Today it is slips of paper and when my story is told and the laughs die down, I head to the kitchen to refill my cup. Only then, alone with bottle and corkscrew, I allow myself a peek at the blue slip in my pocket.

I groan. There on a background of robin’s egg blue is the number I least wanted to see. A single dark slash on a pristine paper background.

My number is 1.

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

(I’d have shown you a photo of the actual slip if I hadn’t washed it in the pocket of my jeans in the weekend’s laundry run.)

I have been chosen to start the game. Fate has determined that I select the first gift. How the game opens sets the tone for the entire White Elephant event, and that responsibility now lies with me.

I nervously gulp red wine from the plastic cup, tannins bitter on my dry tongue.

I recalled a day several years ago when I — a confused, jet lagged, and nervous American — rode a busy commuter train between Reading, UK and London. No seats available, I stood in the packed rail car near one of two doors. At each train stop the other door provided egress onto the platform, so I felt safe by the door across the aisle.

But as the train slowed, making its approach and then stop into Paddington Station, a train car filled with intense British commuters turned to look at me. I was unprepared for my moment, which demanded that I quickly and without delay lower the window, reach outside, turn the handle to open the door and usher these good people on their way.

It was a terrifying yet exhilarating event. I’m glad to say that day in London I executed the door as well as any foreign traveler could be expected to.

I drew from that memory to find my confidence on a rainy holiday evening in Northern California. My coworkers now turned to me to open the door to a successful White Elephant gift exchange.

I doubted myself in that moment just as I had doubted myself in Paddington Station. I knew I needed to stay grounded. I needed to visualize my way through the process. I needed to control the speed of the game.

And I needed to smile genially and do my best.

When the time was right and all were seated around the tree, my number was called. I raised my hand, saying “right here” and the crowd roared “oooooooooooh! Karen has number one! This should be good.”

I slugged back the last of my cup of wine and allowed the game’s host to refill it with champagne. The bubbles were too festive for such a solemn task, and I carefully set the newly full cup down on a coaster and stepped up to the tree.

Its genuine pine boughs welcomed me under its skirts. Salt and flour dough ornaments with a child’s paint job gave me a true horizon to focus on while I got my sea legs. I paced the half circle around the tree, side to side, like a caged panther scanning my holiday wrapped prey.

“Let’s see, what present looks good?” I said aloud, encouraging suggestions from the audience in the style of Price is Right.

Finally, when I felt I’d eyeballed every present under the tree, I made my selection. A long narrow box tightly wrapped in red and gold paper. It was crisp, clean, and inviting.

Quickly I skinned the paper from the gift and found an Amazon box. Cue a round of jokes about “Does anyone shop in the stores anymore?” and “Why would we? Amazon has everything!”

I pulled at the clear packing tape sealing the box and with no small amount of trepidation parted the flaps and peered inside. Would a pearl lay inside the cardboard oyster? Or only rotten sand?

My eyes landed on the treasure that lay within and my shoulders fell. Hope died when I saw clearly the item that began our game of chance.

I withdrew it from the box and said:

“I believe I have found the gift that will be coming home with me.”

With left hand firmly on hip, I took a solid stance and raised my right hand high above my head in the style of Lady Liberty, then announced to the overhyped crowd:

“It is a Donald Trump toilet brush.”

The crowd roared and the White Elephant smiled, for it was the perfect holiday gag gift.

“And with that,” I say,

“We are game on.”

 

 

New Year, New Week, New Monday, New Macro

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For the past month I have been participating in a Macro Monday project. The goal is to produce a new Macro photo each week. There is a theme and the photo must be shot during the week. It’s giving me a lot of discipline about shooting and staying active with my cameras. Right now I am learning a lot about light and shadows. I have the perfect corner in my home that gives me the best place to experiment. Though I have been using my photo corner a lot lately, so next week it’s time to stretch and work on more techniques and different locations.

This week’s theme is “From the Kitchen” which is perfect timing because I have been wondering for a while now how to make this citrus zester that rattles around in a kitchen drawer look interesting.

I love working with shadows, and in this case I used an led pocket spotlight to make cool multiple shadows through the loops.

Anyhow, I’m having fun shooting and sharing what I am working on over the weekends.

Happy New Year to you and yours! ¡Feliz Año Nuevo a todos!




©2017 Karen Fayeth





Butterfly Maiden Bokeh

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The job that pays the bills has been especially nutty this month. Around these parts, Santa is saying “Ho, Ho, Hoooooly crap I have a lot of work to do.” Thankfully, I managed to get through to the end of the week and now get to enjoy a bit of time off for the holidays.

And so it’s best to balance all that work with some fun. Which can also be work, in a way.

This week, my photography takes a turn toward bokeh, the sort of blurry backlights seen in many an Instagram photo. I’ve seen a LOT of photos with bokeh, it’s quite popular. When I see these kinds of photos they always seem fun, and those blurry lights look like they would be so easy to shoot.

Easy was not the case for me. I figured I’d waltz right into some fabulous bokeh photos, but I really, really struggled with this challenge. The photo’s subject was photographer’s choice, it just needed to have some nice juicy bokeh in the background.

Curse words were uttered. Cameras were called names. Swears in English, Spanish, French and British English (bollocks, bollocks, bollocks!) were all employed in the making of this photo. Finally after several Google searches and articles consumed, I stumbled onto a good suggestion for creating lots of sparkly light, and it worked.

In the end, I’m pretty happy with how this turned out. The photo features a Zuni Pueblo fetish carved by a Native American artisan named Dilbert Gasper. His Butterfly Maiden is carved from black marble and inlaid with turquoise. Since Christmastime is when I miss New Mexico the most, she seemed to be a good subject for my trials and (many) errors in learning a new technique.

I hope I did the little Butterfly Maiden and master artisan Mr. Gasper their justice.

And with that, a hearty Feliz Navidad to all!



©2017 Karen Fayeth




Good Things Come In Twos

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A two pack of good news! No, not Tupac, may he rest in peace, but a jam-packed, happy, good thing, ain’t-it-grand, times two!

I have been waiting a REALLY long time to share the news that over the summer two of my stories were accepted for publication.

Now both are finally published and out there in the world, flapping their little wings and taking flight.

I am SUPER proud!

Here’s the details:

You can find the magazine cover and link to each of the stories in the first column on the right side of this page.

Or…

I’ll just tell you.

The first is a story called “When Opportunity Knocks You Down” and it’s published in The Griffin Literary Journal, 2015 edition.

I wrote this story over fifteen years ago and I have always just loved and truly believed in it. The words capture a lot of what I was feeling in those first years living in the Bay Area and prowling the streets of vibrant San Francisco.

I have edited and shopped and polished and shopped this story for so long, determined to find that one person who got what I was trying to say.

Turns out it was the editor of The Griffin, Dr. Donna Allego, who was the one I’ve been waiting for. Seeing this story finally make it into print is just beyond my wildest dreams.

It’s a real testament to tenacity and accepting that a story will get a lot of no’s (like about 150 of them) and can still eventually find a yes.

Whew!

Here’s where you can go to read the story

Or go to the The Griffin Literary Journal main page for the link to download the entire edition.

Yay!






The second story is a little bit of a surprise. It’s such a quirky little tale that even as I was submitting it to a lot of magazines, I was just sure no one would pick it up.

To my utter shock, it was quickly snapped up on it’s first round of submissions by Ragazine.cc, The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment.

This acceptance process was a one eighty-degree turn from the one above. Sometimes that one quirky story is just in the right place at the right time.

The story is called “The Seal” and the genre is a bit of a departure for me. It was written for the final round of the 2014 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest. I loved the story and really believed it would do well in the final round of the contest.

We were just twenty writers who made it through to the final round, whittled down from a starting number of about 1,500. My odds were good.

Turns out this little story didn’t even place in the top ten. I was irked. There and then I decided that the best revenge for that stinging loss was to have the story published. A royal eff you to those judges.

I just had no idea it would be accepted so quickly! Double eff you! LOL!

I had a lot of fun writing my story about the Inuit god of icebergs and I hope you have as much fun reading it!

You can find the story here.

While you are there, poke around the other corners of Ragazine.cc, it’s a really cool place.




So yay! Give ’em a both read when you have a moment.

I’ll be over in the corner celebrating times two!