Save the Ears, Save the Girl

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Learning to manage my audiophobia

 

Photo by Jaee Kim and found on Unsplash

I remember following my mother into a large department store in the Winrock Shopping Mall in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As the doors opened, I winced before stepping inside. I shuddered and pulled at my mom’s hand. There was a high-pitched noise and it hurt my ears. I mean really hurt.

My mom didn’t know what was going on with me on that particular day, but after it kept happening, she figured out that the security alarm in the store gave off a noise that most people couldn’t hear, but I could.

I’ve always had sensitive ears. I like to blame it on the fact that I had a lot of ear infections when I was a baby and toddler, but maybe that is counterintuitive. As an adult, I had some ear issues and when an ENT looked deep into my ears they reported that I had a small scar on one of my eardrums. Likely due to all of those ear infections.

Then the doctor looked at my hearing test and commented that I have strange hearing. I hear very well at the very high end and at the very low end, beyond to so-called normal range, but my hearing in the mid-range is far less acute.

This personal auditory feature was endlessly annoying to the musician I once dated. I would pump up the bass and treble on my cheap aftermarket car stereo and drop the midrange. It sounded better to me. He was constantly fiddling with the equalizer to suit his ears dulled by years of standing in front of a guitar amp turned up to eleven. As soon as he exited my car I’d set it back.

So to put it blunt terms, I have weird ears. I always have. I figured I would lose hearing capacity as I aged, and I do think that has happened some, but I still have ears like bat. At my, ahem, advanced age I can still hear those so called “mosquito” tones aimed at shooing away teenagers.

This also means that I have to manage my ears, which has come to my mind lately due to working from home every day and spending four to eight hours a day using Zoom. I share a space with my partner, so I have been using a good pair of in-ear headphones for the many, many Zoom meetings I attend each day. Those in-ear devices fit right up in there. Piping the sounds of Zoom very efficiently and forcefully to my eardrums.

At the end of last week I hit an audiophobic wall. After participating in a lot of work meetings it felt like my head and nerves were jangled. I found it hard to concentrate. I found myself restless. I found it hard to understand and respond to simple questions asked by my partner.

My immediate reaction was to chalk it up to stress, anxiety, and fatigue. And that is not completely wrong, but there was something more going on. I realized that my ears, my tender little ears, were overstimulated. I had hosted my coworker’s voices all up in my head all week long and I couldn’t stand one more sound agitating the cilia. Not one more.

Going outside and sitting in the sun for a little while helped. My neighborhood was gracious in its momentary silence, providing a sliver of peace. I could hear the birds in the trees. I could hear the unmistakable “toot toot” of a BART train in the distance. And I could hear no human voices. It was nice. More than nice, it helped me regain some sanity.

I realize that Zoom meetings aren’t going away any time soon, and my ears aren’t changing anytime soon either. Better managing these adorable little audio problems on the sides of my head is going to be key.

A new set of over ear and noise cancelling headphones has arrived. Switching the types and timing of using each kind of headphone is being considered. Finding time to rest my ears at the end of the day is also being planned.

Next, I need to figure out these hips joints that are tired and cranky from sitting in a not terrible chair in front of a Zoom screen all day long.

I love working from home, but it is not without some costs. Zoom fatigue is real.

This item can also be found on Medium, and you can see more of my work @karenfayeth over there

When The Word Artist is Used as an Insult

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The Careless Use of a Beautiful Word

 

Photo by Елена Можвило on Unsplash

As both an artist and a career business professional, I embrace both and switch back and forth in my brain, depending on the situation. One pays the bills, the other pays my soul.

I am currently on a business trip for a fairly important meeting and at these events it is customary to have a group photograph taken by a professional photographer.

To that end, yesterday we were told to gather in the lobby for this year’s group photo. We were told we were going outside where it was a bit cold, so the photographer was going to arrange us inside then we’d head outside for the shots in front of a lovely green space.

Immediately the carping began “Why are we going outside, it’s cold out there!?” The photographer’s answer, “Because it’s very pretty outside and will make for a much nicer photo.”

“Can’t we just do it in here?” The photographer’s answer “Yes, but we want a really good photo and the lobby isn’t very nice.”

Then the photographer began to evaluate the shot and arrange us by height, clothing color, and other aesthetics he wanted to see.

Herding about 20 bossy people is no small task, but this photographer is an old hand and firmly took command.

“You in the blue shirt, would you switch places with this person in the charcoal jacket?” and so we’d switch around, moving forward and back as he studied the pose.

More than once I heard a comment along the lines of “Artists, sheesh! Just take the picture!”

Or “Why all this fuss, let’s get on with it!”

Or “This is an awful lot of trouble for a picture, can’t we just use a cellphone and be done with it?”

With this, my hackles began to rise. You see, a business professional is what I do, an artist is what I am. To hear this kind of careless talk is not unexpected, but fully disheartening. I took it personally.

Maybe people don’t see photographers as “real artists” or maybe because the photographer is employed by our institution and not hired from outside he is subject to coworker’s careless talk, but I found the comments rather tactless.

What stings me the most is when the word “artist” is said in an unkind and sarcastic way. As if being an artist is somehow bad.

It is not the first time I’ve run across this in my work setting, only the most recent.

I have been at my creative work for a long time, and I’ve long since grown past any discomfort or sheepishness I have in calling myself an artist. In other words, I own it and I’m well beyond trying to defend it. It just is.

However, I somehow have not gotten past people going “pfft, sure” when I describe myself that way.

Photo by naeim jafari on Unsplash

I think there is a perception that an artist is a hippy-dippy, flowing skirt, wacky hair, free spirited, out of touch soul. And why not? But in my experience a working artist is also a nuts and bolts, down to earth, hardworking soul with enormous amounts of self-discipline, organization, and drive.

In this instance, I get that people don’t like having their photo taken, but if a photo is taken, people certainly want it to look nice. Good work takes work.

People love to consume art, but for some reason underestimate the work it takes to produce quality art. A few minutes in the Choosing Beggars sub-Reddit offers a few sobering examples.

I do sometimes feel like there are two of me walking around in a one-human unit, and that’s okay. My business side brings some discipline to my art and my artist side brings some creativity to my business work.

So while I grimaced a bit and noted the careless and arguably rude undertone in the use of the word artist, I chose to move past it (under the guise of “pick your battles”), moved where the photographer told me to stand without comment, and thanked him when we were done.

Because artists must support artists, always.

Who is a Good Dog? YOU are a Good Dog! Yes you Are!

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It’s amazing how little it takes to motivate me.

Here’s my story:

About a month ago I was sitting in staff meeting with all of my peers and my very high performing manager. She is a take no prisoners, get to it and get out kind of leader. She has been an executive for a long time and knows her business inside and out.

In the course of the meeting, there was a review of open projects that took me by surprise. It was on the agenda, but I misunderstood what was listed and as a consequence, wasn’t prepared. When a tracking spreadsheet opened up on the overhead screen, I was shocked to see my project listed first, and doubly shocked to see that the team project manager had listed my project with a red status.

To put it in the terms a bluesman would understand, I was not on the good foot.

Execu-Boss of course took one look at the screen, her eyes snapped to the red status and she whipped on me like a guard dog, then asked me what was going on with my project.

Ill prepared, I wavered into a not very good answer. Now smelling blood, she went in for my jugular. And connected.

Not to cross metaphors (but I’m gonna) on that day I was fitted with a brand new pooping device. Oh yes, I was taken down like a gazelle on the Kalahari.

This, understandably, upset me greatly.

Execu-Boss then wrapped up her slaying by saying, “Clearly you are not ready to discuss this. You’re on the agenda for next week to come back with some answers.”

Through teary eyes I wrote a note in my notebook and I felt really poorly for many days after.

But, I rallied. I stepped back, cleared my head, and over the course of the next week I put together a short PowerPoint slide deck showing a nice road map with milestones achieved, where we had gone off track and the very good reasons why, next steps and recommendations. Then I got feedback from a few peers and made changes.

I had only a short week to prepare, but I was ready. As luck would have it, the next meeting was cancelled.

The following meeting was taken up by a guest speaker so I was pushed out again.

At the meeting the following week, I was nervous as hell and really not ready to give the presentation. I had my slides ready to go but it just didn’t feel right. Luckily, after missing two weeks of meetings, our agenda was full and as we got to the end of our allotted time, I graciously agreed to push out my presentation again.

Then it was Fourth of July last week and we had no meeting.

I mean really, a four week stay of execution? Not bad.

Today I was on the agenda front and center, but there were some other pressing matters. For a while there it looked like I would get pushed again. No, I was ready today. Damnit, it was time.

: cue the Rocky theme song :

And so, it came my turn. I was handed the video cord for the overhead projector, and I plugged it into my laptop and my slides came up.

All in the room sat back and awaited my words, remembering the brutalizing I had received just a month before.

I said my words exactly how I’d practiced. I made clear at the beginning what I wanted from this presentation, I made my points, I asked for the support of the team, I answered questions and I wrapped it all up in less than ten minutes.

When I said “and that’s it” at the last slide, Execu-Boss looked me square in the eye and said, “Nicely done.” I swear to goodness fireworks went off in my head. Elation filled my veins. Jubilation washed over me.

I felt like doing a mic drop and walking out of the room. Karen has left the building. Thankyouverymuch.

That’s all it takes to motivate me. Those two words will keep me going for WEEKS!

Something to remember as I manage my own team.








Gif image found here.





Very Good Reasons

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Whew, and wow, and holy cow and other explicatives.

So here I am, back here at the ol’ blog and oh-so-happy to be back.

This past week was the first time I’ve ever taken a break from My Fair New Mexico in the six years I’ve been at this game. It was really hard for me to step away. Really, really difficult.

Writing somewhere around a thousand words a day about whatever is on my mind is what keeps me sane. Well…as sane as I can be. Which isn’t much.

Here’s the low down on the time away:

As ya’ll know, I’ve started a brand new job, in fact I’ve been here just shy of four months. Still a total newbie and trying to make a good impression.

From the day I started this gig, I was told that there was this really Big Deal coming up at the end of April. The big deal is an audit.

A big whopping audit that looks at our department top to bottom. The review includes our systems, our files, the cleanliness of our socks. All of it.

At the end, the head office decides if we get to keep doing what we are doing, or if we are so out of alignment that every project we do requires executive oversight and approval. (there have been entities that have failed the audit in recent history)

Yeah. This is a huge deal. Basically if we failed the audit, our department would face massive cuts, and being the new person on board, well…make your own conclusions.

Only a tiny amount of GIGANTIC stress.

On top of that, my own sub-team had a massive project due on Tuesday of the same week and one of my (senior level) employees was just not getting her job done. Worse, she seemed not to care one whit that we were going to miss the project drop-dead deadline.

Missing the deadline would mean incurring the wrath of the Chief Information Officer of the company, a formidable person. At four months of employment I am still on probation, so incurring the CIO’s wrath now wouldn’t be a good look for my future here.

And so I was worried. Really worried. Walk the floor at two in the ay em kind of worried. I was getting little to no sleep, working very long days, and filled with massive amounts of stress and worry. This of course, just a short week after The Good Man and I had finished moving to a new town. So no stress there either. *harumph*

To make the long story short, we passed the audit. Yay! And after some yelling and application of heavy doses of guilt my employee finished the project (just barely), so we dodged that bit of unpleasantness from the CIO. I did get a good butt chewing from my boss for letting it get to the very last minute.

So by the end of that week of hell, more precisely by Friday about 10:30am, I was sick with hundred degree fever and sinus pressure so bad I thought my head was going to pop like a kernel of corn in a frying pan.

Brutal. Just simply brutal.

From Friday until yesterday I haven’t even been on the planet. Between fever and Theraflu I think I went on some sort of vision quest. I may have seen my spirit animal, I’m not sure. And the Theraflu dreams. My god the angels and gargoyles that haunt my fevered mind.

Today I am mostly back. Running at about 80% perhaps which is a damn sight better than where I was last week, but still not good.

And so, my dear and loyal readers, that is where I was when I urgently posted on April 30th that I wouldn’t be writing on the blog for a while.

It made me sad to have to post that and walk away.

Let’s not be apart like that again, ok?

Ok.






Image found here.




What Hell Has Been Wrought On This World?

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Dear Robert Gaskins,

It took only one short Google search to learn that you are credited as being the inventor of a little software program known as PowerPoint.

I’m sure you are a very nice man, Mr. Gaskins, and your idea and invention started out as something good. Positive. Meaningful.

From what I’ve read you sought to make the business presentation easier and more professional. No more copying slides and text onto clear plastic film and showing it on an overhead projector.

Your idea was so good that you got venture capital from Apple and ultimately the product was acquired by Microsoft. Your little dream is now loaded, by most estimates, on over a billion machines.

This software program was a big step up in terms of sales presentations and other business presentations. It brought a layer of graphic design and professionalism to the talking points of any business meeting.

However, today, on this eve of Christmas in the year two thousand and twelve, I am no fan of yours, Mr. Gaskins.

To be fair, it’s not your fault that the business world has taken something you created for good and bastardized it, but as with eliminating pesky vampires means you have to make sure you get that one lead guy, you are just going to have be the focus of my ire.

As I sit here working in my mostly empty office building, the one thing I have to accomplish this week is a PowerPoint deck.

Let’s stop here and discuss all the names for what to call a PowerPoint presentation. Apparently we’re all too cool to call it a PowerPoint presentation, it’s a deck. A preso. Slides. Slideshow.

Whatever. It’s evil. It’s probably evil mostly because we in the business world are all too uncreative to really use the software as it is meant to be used, as a tool to emphasize talking points when giving a presentation.

But it’s not that anymore. Oh no. It’s the whole presentation.

Last week I had a meeting with the boss to talk him through my rationale for why I need three additional headcount on my team. He nodded, gave me feedback and generally agreed.

Then he said, “Put that all into a deck so I can send it to Big Boss. No more than three slides.”

One hour of persuasive conversation needs to be put on three slides with no more than six words per bullet and six bullets per slide. Then these three slides are to be emailed to another person and I don’t get to explain any of my rationale. No, the Big Boss is just supposed to try and figure out all the crannies and crevices and nuances of my business case from just eighteen bullets (six bullets per slide, only three slides).

No one can be expected to make heads or tails of an eighteen bullet point slide deck without someone to walk through it. But decisions will be made based on those eighteen bullets. If I craft them correctly, I get much needed help for an overwrought and overworked organization.

Get those eighteen bullets wrong and we get another year of exhaustion and not enough hands to do all the work.

What was always intended to be an aide to the conversation has now become the conversation.

And that’s just crap.

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas, Mr. Gaskins. Because of your little invention, on this Christmas Eve I am cranky as hell and worried about the fate of my team for the next year.

I feel the weight of eighteen incomplete sentences with cool transitions and maybe even a fun graphic weighing heavily on my mind.

You’ll forgive me if I don’t offer you any egg nog.

Besos,

Karen








Image from Call Me Cassandra.