Saturday, April 4, 2020

What I Thought Versus What Is Real


When I was a kid, I sometimes thought about where I would be, who I would be, on a particular year in the future. For example, by 1995 I would be elderly and my life would be for all purposes over (I would be forty). In 2020 I would turn sixty-five if I even lived that long. My hair would be a wiry silver and I'd perhaps have taken up knitting, which would occupy my muddled mind as I creaked in my wooden rocker, peering over bifocals at the fuzzy TV screen.

Well, here I am and I still have all my faculties. Thanks to good genes, I barely have any grey at all. I've battled with weight since sometime around age fifty-five, but up 'til now I've mostly won.

Life can be roughly separated into decades. In my twenties and thirties life was being a mom and I embraced it wholeheartedly. In my forties (when I was old and decrepit) my career seemed like the most important, vital, essence of my existence.

When my fifties rolled around I suddenly became a songwriter. I'm not a bad writer, but my aspirations far outweighed reality. No, my husband and I did not hit the big time. Sometime around age sixty I thought, hey! Why not write a novel? Shoot, I'd been blogging for years; I knew how to write. How hard could it be? My two completed novels were sub-par, to be generous. I still have one in the works that holds promise, but I've temporarily lost my computer and thus my manuscript, so that little dream remains incomplete.

Now 2020 has arrived and surprise! I'm still here. 2020 was supposed to hold the promise of a new chapter, albeit the last chapter of my life. I would retire, I'd cry at my going-away party, realize how much I would miss people I've known for twenty years. Some of them would shed a tear, too. My send-off would appropriately fit the occasion.

Well, I'm sitting here tonight two months away from that momentous event and I'm confined to my home. I don't know if I'll ever return to the office. 

Far worse, I lost my best pal two weeks ago and I've dreamed about her three times so far, which should be a comfort, but just causes me to awake depressed. Josie has been on my mind all day -- sometimes I think I'll alight the stairs and there she'll be, resting her chin on the landing, her fluffy tail waggling in anticipation. Saying goodbye to her and seeing her lying as if asleep was the hardest thing I've ever had to endure.She was my buddy for seventeen years. I pray to God to take care of her every night.

Everything brings me to tears now. SiriusXM is playing "John Deere Green" by Joe Diffie and I mourn the loss of him, too.

Maybe rather than sad, I'm simply angry. Life sure isn't fair. I knew that in theory, but in practice, reality sucks.

This wasn't how it was supposed to be. I'm searching for hope, but tonight that light is dim. This new reality is a dystopian hell.

I thought about adding a song that was hopeful. I'm too exhausted to do an extensive search. This is what came to mind:









Friday, April 3, 2020

Joe Diffie


Nineties country music is the soundtrack of my life. The sixties were important to me because they're an imprint of my formative years, but ahhh, the nineties. There was something so optimistic, yet soulful about country in the nineties. Joe Diffie was a huge part of that.

Joe began his career doing the expected mix of ballads and catchy camp that soared to the top of the charts, but make no mistake -- this man had a set of pipes rarely equaled.

Joe Diffie was an artist who was always there on the radio, but not always noticed. In another time he would have been lauded as a musical phenom, but the nineties was so rife with shooting stars, he was but one of a multitude.

I purchased many Joe Diffie CD's -- I bought a lot of CD's; not all of them stellar, but simply owning one or two superb songs satisfied my musical cravings The first Diffie song that really hit me was this:



Then he had this one that really made me sit up and take notice:



1993 was Joe's year, although I wasn't entirely cognizant of it. I'd essentially brushed this song aside until I attended the Mandan Fourth of July parade and spied a float featuring a tableau of this song, and it has stuck with me to this day. Sadly, there is no CMT video available, but here it is:



This is one of those catchy camp songs:



Another:



Here is one with some meat on its bones:



Learning the coronavirus took Joe away seemed like a cruel joke. He was younger than me and it wasn't fair. But life isn't, is it?

Somewhere Joe knows, though, that he touched hearts. 

That counts.

Thank you, Joe Diffie, for indelible memories.





Telework Week 3 -- Drudgery and Depression


Organizing and decorating my home office no longer carries the cachet it did during weeks one and two. I'm used to the room now and like everything else in one's house, it's rarely even noticed. I have found, however, that all those special office supplies we think we can't live without are simply trinkets to collect. I use a small legal pad and a pen. Sometimes a sticky pad. That's it. And I barely use those.

In Week 3 many people's nerves are fraying. I only know this via email communications, of course. Attitudes that were once excused or ignored are now confronted. I know because work friends have forwarded me some of their email exchanges with other people. For my part, I have endeavored to remain upbeat in my correspondence, knowing that others aren't having any fun, either. I did receive one snarky response today, and I took a few minutes before deciding how to reply. (I let it go.)

Wednesday was my worst day. My system slowed to the point of complete inertia and then froze up completely several times (shut the PC off, re-log in, authenticate my login, try again; lather, rinse, repeat).I finally shut if off and walked away; did some laundry; tried to lower my blood pressure. Worse, I knew I'd have to face the same imbroglio the next day. I can't expect my IT Department to solve my problem; I think it's simply a matter of fifty million people or so gobbling up bandwidth.

Working from home has become complete drudgery. It's no longer novel; it's tedious. Telework does not bring freedom -- I rarely leave this room. I probably walked around -- no, I know I walked around -- more in the office than I do at home.

Shall we talk about depression? It may have been Tuesday night, and it was my own fault. I flipped on the TV when I lay down for the night, and as the minutes ticked by, the reports grew increasingly horrifying. I understand why cable news does that, but mitigate, people! Any rays of hope at all, folks? What I gleaned was, don't leave my house under any circumstances. If I do, it's essentially a death sentence. And maybe I've already contracted the virus -- the incubation period can be up to fourteen days.I visited my local convenience store twice in the past two weeks. Should I be drawing up a will?

What no one on TV will (or can) answer is how long this will go on. May 4, our original return-to-work date, now seems like a cruel joke. My tentative retirement date is June 12 -- will I even be able to return to the office to retrieve my personal belongings? Is this called "going out with a whimper"?

Things I've learned this week:


  • Online grocery shopping is the highlight of my week, as frustrating as it is.Why is there such a shortage of paper towels? The hell with toilet paper -- I have a cat who barfs regularly (as cats do) and paper towels are an essential item. I've begun weighing whether I really should be wasting a half-sheet of paper towel for tasks I previously whipped off a good-sized wad to tackle.Luckily I can blow my nose with toilet paper, because facial tissue is non-existent as well. I do tip my Shipt shopper well, because that's a thankless, health-endangering job. But all in all, I'd be tickled to do my own shopping.
  • I've spent all the bill money on groceries. The piper will be piping soon, but right now I need snacks.
  • There are things I'd like to order from Amazon, but I'd feel too guilty making a driver deliver my impulse buy when there are people who really need stuff, like paper towels (there aren't any, by the way; but I'm just saying.)
  • "The Office" reruns are the highlight of my week.
  • Being able to do my regular job anytime soon is a pipe dream. The whole reason I applied for the trainer position in 2003 was because processing claims all day made me want to hurl myself off a high precipice. Guess what I'm doing now.


Things I've done this week:


  • I gained probably five pounds.
  • I took a shower almost every day.
  • I downloaded a prayer app, but I keep forgetting to reference it.
  • I slept fitfully and my dreams were all disturbing.


There is always tomorrow (I say rhetorically, since tomorrow is Saturday and I won't be working). I have fits of despondence, but my fallback outlook is positivity. Raise a glass with me that Week 4 will be a revelation.















Saturday, March 28, 2020

Aesthetics - The Home Office

If only mine looked like this.





It's not as if I had any advance warning. I found out on a Friday and by Monday afternoon I was hauling freshly-configured computer equipment and hastily snatched manila folders and legal pads and sticky notes out to my car. I dumped everything in our second bedroom, dreading the colossal task of crawling under my desk and unplugging six hundred twisted cables and dusty power cords and sticking every loose plug into the back of my new computer; crossing my fingers that God would have mercy on me and make everything work. Everything didn't. The whole process consumed one and a half hours, and I found I had a worthless second monitor that chose to flash red, blue, and green bars instead of the anticipated helpful work screen. I actually worked with that monstrosity on my desk for half a day until I decided to ditch it to an empty corner of the room.

Thus I had a room littered with spare computer parts and cables; a room that already was filled to overflowing. This was heretofore my kick-back room, where I smoked and watched TV and blogged on the weekends and paid my bills online. And listened to music.Now it was suddenly my workplace for eight hours every day, and it was ugly.

Sitting in a tiny room for an entire work shift, one not only feels claustrophobia creeping in, but they notice everything that's aesthetically wrong. And it begins to grate.

Our townhome is tiny -- there is no "magic closet" where extraneous items can be stuffed. And people give me things. It's not that I don't appreciate the sentiment, but there are only so many knick-knacks I can accommodate before the whole place implodes. Add to that mishmash hideous ominous "black things" - spare monitors and hard drives and speaker cables - and you can imagine my depression. Today I disguised the detritus as best I could. At least I can now glimpse it and not be horrified. The boxes the fake plant is resting on have been swaddled in leftover Christmas wrap. The guitar is disguising cardboard Amazon shipping boxes holding spare computer parts.




My setup is far from ideal. Maybe by the time I get to go back to the office, I'll have it configured to my satisfaction. I'm thinking there will be several tweaks between now and then.

My bottom-line advice: make your work space as tolerable as you can. You've got to live with it.

But it's only Saturday night -- I can be messy and no one will be the wiser.



Friday, March 27, 2020

Telework - Week Two


Like me, you are probably now ensconced in your home, trying to get used to working remotely. I just completed my second week and to be frank, I'm not enamored with it.

Every year around mid-January, especially when a heavy dumping of snow is in the forecast, I fantasize about being able to stay home and not be compelled to brave the treacherous roads. "I wouldn't even need to get dressed! I could just stay in my warm jammies, flip on my computer and voila!" Granted, that would be ideal...for a day.

The reality is, yep, I don't set my alarm. I do get dressed. I stumble to the kitchen and start the coffeemaker; I eat; anything and everything I shouldn't be eating.Then I start work. The first couple of hours go fast. I'm absorbed in my every-morning tasks. Around the third hour, things begin to drag. I start to feel that now familiar twinge in my back so I shift positions, pull my foot stool out a bit farther, stretch out my legs until they start hurting, too; crank my sagging chair back up to its original height; count the minutes until morning break. Working solo is not what my job is supposed to be -- I'm a trainer, so I work with people. I solve problems; I teach. Now I do busy work. I pitch in with whatever claim needs to be processed -- competencies that thirty-one other people in my department are well qualified to do.

At nine o'clock, I don my coat and head outside to stretch my legs and my back and to breathe in nicotine-free air. I see one or two other people -- one walking her dog; another jogging past me (I wonder if I should hold my breath or just act naturally). Then I come back inside and dig into my snack stash. Over the past twelve months, I lost thirty pounds, and it was a lot of work and drudgery. Now I'm going to gain it all back in a month.

Eleven is lunch time. A half hour to stuff my face and find a different place to sit for a few minutes. One o'clock is afternoon break -- another outdoor sojourn and more snacks. 

I miss human interaction. Email does not supply instant gratification. I miss shooting the breeze. I miss toddling down to the cafeteria with Lori and making jokes about the food choices. I miss having people around me, as exasperating as they can be at times. I miss running into people from other departments in the hall and commiserating with them about our jobs.

After two weeks, though, the picture has become clearer, and I am determined to shake things up a bit. Our CEO has informed us that this whole telework thing will extend through May 4. I think it will be longer. It's time to pull myself together.

Remote work or not, I need to do the job I was hired to do. I can do something about that, and I will -- via email. I need to feel useful and not simply like someone putting in time. I can't do anything about the chair situation other than continue trying different configurations. I'm not ready to invest in a new office chair that I'll only need for two and a half months, tops.(I wonder if I'll even be back in the office in time to have a retirement party.)

Things I've managed to accomplish this week:


  • For the first time ever, I had groceries delivered. It went relatively well. Target is cheaper than the local supermarket. Just don't try to buy paper towels.
  • I ventured outside and experienced actual human contact by visiting my convenience store at five a.m. My husband and I scoped it out before going inside and managed to pick up our essentials (me: nicotine) without encountering any sickly people. My favorite store manager, Rebecca, seemed happy to see me.
  • I painted my nails.
  • MY ABSOLUTE BIGGEST ACCOMPLISHMENT:  I got my stereo speakers hooked up to my computer. I am currently listening to SiriusXM, and lord how I've missed music!  Music is manna from heaven.


Things I haven't accomplished:


  • Being able to sleep. There are a few reasons for that -- I am in mourning (something I'm not ready to write about right now) and I also don't do well with abrupt life changes.
  • Stopping eating things that are bad for me. I'm just going to go with it for now. These are desperate times.
  • Finding a purpose; but that's about to change.


DO'S AND DON'TS:


  • Don't keep cable news on all day. Watch the first fifteen minutes or scan a local news site for Corona news. Then be done with it.
  • Do inhale a hot cup of java. That first cup of the day will spark your synapses. 
  • Do walk! I'm no exercise fanatic, but the cool, clean air breathes hope into your lungs.
  • DO find a hobby. Please don't lean on Netflix as a crutch, or if you do, keep your hands busy while viewing the paltry offerings. I'm a crafter, which alleviates the total Netflix boredom.


I'm a pretty adaptable person. Sometimes it just takes me a while to figure things out. This is my new normal. I'm ready for it. 

And it will get better.

(WORK):




















Saturday, March 21, 2020

Kenny Rogers


I think Kenny Rogers stumbled into country music.I read his autobiography, and as a musician he was many things, but primarily he was a jazz artist. His career soared when he became a member of the New Christy Minstrels in the sixties and then accidentally became the First Edition's lead singer. His "Just Dropped In" will live forever, thanks to the Coen Brothers and The Big Lebowski. Maybe it was when the group decided to record Mel Tillis's "Ruby" that the thought of a country music career pinged in Kenny's mind.

I don't remember when I became aware of Kenny Rogers as a country artist, perhaps in 1977 when Lucille hit the charts. He didn't exactly sound "country", but Lucille was a damn good song.



By the time "The Gambler" came around in '78, Kenny was firmly ensconced in the folds of country music. Is there a bigger earworm than "you gotta know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em"?



Through no fault of his own, or perhaps because of my country proclivities, I came to disdain subsequent Rogers singles. He was exactly what was wrong with country in the late seventies/early eighties.I didn't stop listening to country because of Kenny Rogers - he was simply a symptom of a widespread virus infecting Nashville.Nevertheless, while on vacation in Duluth, Minnesota with my tiny kids and my parents, when my mom learned that Kenny was set to appear in concert, we scooped up the last remaining tickets. We ensconced ourselves in the nosebleed seats and aimed our binoculars. Frankly my only memory of the concert was that Kenny definitely had a command of the stage. I wasn't impressed with Lionel Richie's "Lady" or "You Decorated My Life". This was hardly country.

It was but a year later that Kenny released my all-time favorite Rogers single:



I remember steering my Chevy Malibu up Divide Avenue in 1983 when this next song came on the radio. It sounded eerily like The Bee Gees (duh). Little did I know that I would hear it ten thousand, five hundred and eighty-eight more times. Regardless of its repetitiveness, you gotta give it credit.



I didn't necessarily love Kenny Rogers, but I respected him. Respect is good. He understood the music business like few others.

He has left a legacy. And he never shied away from embracing it:



Rest in peace, Kenny. 




Friday, March 20, 2020

Teleworking - Week One!


I remember the days before computers existed, but that seems so much like ancient history it strains my cortexes to try to conjure the memories. I remember performing my job duties on an IBM Selectric typewriter. I remember when the only means of contacting a co-worker or a boss was by the telephone plugged into the wall. And if their line was in use, oh well; try again later. Answering machines? What? Call waiting? 

I never planned to work at home. Sure, I wanted to, but the nature of my job made that prospect impossible. Until now. Now anything goes. At least as of this week. 

This week everything we ever knew changed. I'm confined to home (unless I want to risk my life, which I don't). Monday, I brought home a hastily-configured work computer because My Old Trusty isn't exactly trustworthy and I couldn't afford to gamble that MOT would actually allow me to connect to my worksite. I spent an hour and a half unconnecting MOT and five minutes hooking up Work Computer (Why do home computers have so many moving parts and connections? Hello, PC companies!)

I'm used to working with two monitors, but alas only one of the monitors I brought home actually works. I'm not going to bitch about small annoyances; our IT Department had approximately four hundred employees to set up in three days. I'm keeping my mouth shut.

Using a strange computer, though, has its challenges. When I need to do my personal tasks, like banking, Work Computer doesn't know any of my logins. It took me far too long to locate and sign into SiriusXM, and when I did, I found that Work Computer's speaker (one speaker) is so tinny it was more annoying than soothing. I quickly signed out. So instead, I listen to cable news all day long, and hear the same stories about Coronavirus over and over; and because there is no new news, I tend to tune it out. It's simply background noise; something to mask the silence.

What have I learned about teleworking? There is good and there is not-so-good.

GOOD:


  • I don't need to set an alarm. I get up early and sign in when the system allows me to. 
  • I only wash my hair when I feel like it.
  • My makeup drawer has not been pulled open all week.
  • I don't have to pick out clothes in the morning. I wear the same combination of yoga pants and pullover every day.
  • No commute! When my day is over, it's over. Look! I'm home already! 
  • I'm more focused, because I have no one to chat with (see "bad").
  • I'm saving money -- no frozen dinners; no gassing up the SUV.
  • My laundry (and dishes) are done! Saturday laundry day is a relic of the past.


BAD:


  • I need a better chair, seriously. My back and legs are killing me. I've tried several configurations of throw pillows and foot rests and still haven't gotten it right.
  • Diet: I'm eating too much. And the wrong foods. I keep telling myself to get it together, but my only break is when I can grab a meal from the kitchen, and we're not healthily stocked.
  • No fresh air. I will resolve this issue as soon as the weather and wind allow. I will take walks. I need to get out of this room!
  • Social interaction withdrawal. Dang, I'm not even an extrovert, but I miss talking to people! I email them and they don't answer right away, and I don't understand why they're not as needy as I am.
  • No dividing line. The workplace, at least, was a different environment.I didn't necessarily like going there, but it was different from home.


I will try to offer tips for surviving the work-at-home experience in my next post (hint: have plenty of caffeine on hand), but for now, this is where things stand with me. 

All in all, the pluses outweigh the minuses. But that's week one.  

I've got at least three more weeks to go.









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