Ella Knew Before We Did

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Yesterday the masterful local DJ Miles Green served up a Zoom session that brought both hope and healing.

The theme of the day was optimism with music from mostly female artists to honor Women’s History Month.

Miles opened the set by saying, “We gotta get off this Zoom and get back together.”

Too right.

Interwoven with amazing rump-shaking throwback songs, from out of nowhere that singular voice of Ms. Ella Fitzgerald glided into the mix.

She sang the lyrics:

Zoom zoom zoom zoom
The world is in a mess
With politics and taxes
And people grinding axes
There’s no happiness

I almost came out of my chair. What did I just hear?

Wasn’t I lamenting Zoom fatigue just two days ago?

That’s right, friends. Ella knew it before we did.

Written by the Gershwin brothers, their recommendation from 1937 to slap that bass as a path to feeling better remains solid. And valid.

Slap that bass
Slap it till its dizzy
Slap that bass
Keep the rhythm busy
Zoom zoom zoom
Misery, you’ve got to go

So zoom zoom, my work-from-home weary friends.





 Ella Fitzgerald – “Slap That Bass”





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

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

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

 

Stream of Self-Consciousness

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A Modern Fable

 

Photo by Alex Parkes on Unsplash

That moment when you are sitting at stoplight as a pedestrian crosses with the light in front of your headlights and you notice that the early morning sun is giving this gentleman a solid backlighting. As he strolls directly in front of your view, you notice that the hairs that extend well past his nostrils are beautifully set to glowing by the golden California sun rising in the east.

And you think to yourself, “Oh wow. That’s…well that’s something.” And you laugh alone in your car because why not. You can sing in there so why can’t you cackle like a dyspeptic hen in there?

As you turn the corner and head into the parking garage you think to yourself. “Don’t laugh, sparky. There but for the grace of a nose hair trimmer go I.”

So then you surreptitiously check both barrels of your own breathing device to see if the protective filtering is tidy and in place.

And you realize that, you know, you could use a little trim yourself.

So you sit in the car facing east and while the morning light of a California sunrise floods in through the windshield and you use the scissors from your small Swiss Army Knife to give a quick clip, just enough to let your sanity rest during the day that lies ahead. Because no one should have to worry all day long about the nostril streamers that suddenly seem to grow with less control than they once did.

And when finished, you feel both satisfied and mildly crazy and kind of blind because why didn’t you notice a trim was in order when you looked at your tired face in the mirror this morning?

But alas, you did not. Then you vow to take care of this problem more fully later tonight. And you should probably put on your reading glasses and give the eyebrows a check too because I bet those are out of control.

And then you get out of your car and walk into the office and enter this crazy day in a crazy way with crazy hair growing in crazy places.

Did you ever have a day like that? Yeah, um, me neither.

Because this is just a fable. Or a morality tale. Or a work of fiction…right?

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.”