The four prompts for the essay contest are: Reentry, Death, Work, and Space. Click the link above to see more of details about the prompts.
Right away, the contest was interesting to me. First, the prizes are pretty big with no entry fee. Second, there are some interesting celebrity judges. Finally, I liked that the judging criteria was based on creativity, originality, and quality. That means that the writer’s with the huge following who make thousands a year on Medium won’t necessarily be the winners. Or so I hope, anyway.
After a long dry spell of no writing and really no creativity at all, I was looking for something to spark the desire in me to write again. For some reason these prompts did it.
I set myself of goal of writing an essay to meet one of the four prompts, I already had a story already knocking around in my brain, and then a stretch goal of writing for two of the prompts.
When I’d written the first story, I still had fire so I knocked out the second one quickly. Whew, that felt good.
A couple days later, I had an idea for a third of the four prompts, and I wrote that one a bit more slowly. It took more effort to write but I am happy with how it turned out.
Satisfied, I set all three essays aside to breathe and give me time to come back and edit before submitting.
Lo and behold, while riding in the car back from a doctor’s appointment, I had a flash idea for the fourth prompt. I could hardly believe it and I wrote it easily. I was dumbfounded but proud that I wrote something for all four prompts.
Writing these four stories felt so good. It feels nice to write again.
All four essays have now been posted to Medium. The rules of the contest say we aren’t supposed to post them anywhere else until the contest is over, but they are public and available to read on Medium.
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.
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!”
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!
A little cocoon, snug in a fur coat, warding off the shiver. A magnolia blossom, in very early stages. What is gray and fuzzy now will soon be creamy pink, fragrant and bold, seemingly overnight. Soon. But not yet.
In that one corner of the yard, I’d forgotten the daffodils that grow wild. Their leaves have come on bold and green with the promise of emerging stalks soon carrying butter yellow blooms. Soon. But not yet.
I stop and smile. I remember that December 21st was the shortest day of the year, a milestone that now lies in the past. Even though this weekend promises torrential rain (which the California soil will gladly drink up), gray skies, and gloom, the fact of the matter is that Spring is on its way with rush of color and fresh leaves, activity, joy and warmth.
The sunshine of my favorite season will soon come to push back the gloom and cobwebs in my mind and replace it with tulips and lilacs and California poppies.
I will photograph and paint and pick and sniff all of the riotous wildflowers that California has to offer. I will smile when I see them growing in the unlikeliest of places.
Oh so very soon I will bask in the Spring warmth and smile at the clear skies and feel happy as the sun sets later and later each day.
It’s funny the things that stick with you. The seemingly forgettable details or moments that you look back on with fondness.
This past weekend, I returned home to New Mexico after a far too long two-year personal drought. Life, work, whatever, gets in the way (no excuse is good enough).
The occasion of my return was the high school graduation of my oldest goddaughter. At almost 19 she is no longer that curly-haired blonde toddler who captured our hearts. She is a smart, sassy, funny, talented and gorgeous woman and I’m a bit weepy right now just typing that. I’m so proud of her.
I have been working too many hours and it’s fair to say I dragged my ragged self onto a plane, glad to go home. Sometimes I feel like I wander a little too far away from New Mexico. I forget the foundation of my soul and going home never fails to readjust my mind, my very DNA. It gets me back to remembering who I am and what matters.
Plus I eat good when I’m there, and green chile itself will help anyone get right.
Each time I go home, I’m overwhelmed at all of the things that have changed since the last time I was there. El Paso is growing fast. The area around Las Cruces too. More cars, more buildings, more people. It’s crazy.
So then I start to seek the familiar. What hasn’t changed. What is there that I remember so I can have a touchstone. A “hey, there that particular thing is, just where I left it.”
The feedlots in Vado, for example. I was pleased to find them there, cows huddled under the water misters. The inevitable cow scent on the breeze.
The Organ Mountains. Craggy, uneven, and absolutely gorgeous. I see those mountains that once watched over my college education and smile, glad to say hello again.
So today at work when I was homesick, missing my best friend and the peace of her back patio, I started going through the photos on my phone to help me with the pain.
Did I find photographs of vast mountain landscapes? Did I see the faces of my loved ones? Did I have a whimsical photo of a cow?
No I did not.
All of those sorts of photos are on my actual camera. Weirdly, I took very few photos with my phone on this trip.
So I will share with you the two photos I did take. Memories I’m carrying in my pocket to remind me of home. This gives you an awful lot of insight into my muddled mind:
First, a photo of my goddog. I may have taken one or two photos of him in the past.
The gray hair around his eyes and in his muzzle makes my heart hurt, just a little
The second will take a little more explanation.
You see, to get back to Las Cruces, I have to fly into El Paso and while that’s not my town, over the years I’ve even grown a bit fond of that crazy place.
When I stumble off the airplane and into the terminal I find that nothing much has changed. Then my heart softens a little when I see the genuinely godawful carpet in ELP’s main terminal. Seriously, it’s so bad, it makes me sentimental.
Nothing says “welcome home” like lizard carpet. Apparently, I was so overcome I had to take a photo.
Not conducive to overcoming a hangover
And now I’m glad I did, I just found out today that the infamous ELP carpet is due to be replaced, like this month! Yipes.
That means next time, I won’t be greeted at the door by the funky lizards. And as my goddog isn’t getting any younger, one day I’ll roll up to my best friend’s house and won’t get to experience his side-angled lope and velvety soft ears.
That’s too much to consider. Right now, I will rest easy knowing that hideous lizard carpet and beautiful brown dog eyes remain just where I left them. I feel my connection to home, which makes sitting in this dull gray office just a tiny bit easier to take.