I’ve been working from home since Monday and this is not totally new to me. Before moving to New Zealand I worked from home as a freelance graphic designer/administration assistant – and I liked it.
I’m self-motivated, good at setting up routines (and more or less sticking to them) and managing my time appropriately to get things done. I would make time for self as well as work. Aiming for a solid work/life balance was one of the main reasons I left the ‘rat race’ because in all honesty, when you are working for someone else their needs will always come before your own, no matter how flexible they profess to be, because they pay for your services. It’s just the way it is.
So here I am, back to working from home. And it should be ok. My partner is here to deflect, tackle and otherwise manage Little Miss (who turned 3 on the first day of Lockdown. Seems fitting, and all who know her would laugh then nod sagely) so I can get solid concentration time.
But I am finding it so hard to concentrate. Maybe if it was by choice I was working from home, it would be – feel – different. But at the moment, I am struggling to find my footing, get into a rhythm …. essentially I’ve lost my mojo.
Maybe it’s the compulsive reading of news reports late into the night that builds on an already heightened level of anxiousness.
Maybe it’s the broken sleep. Not an unusual thing – Little Miss is not a champ at sleeping through and even less so at the moment. Perhaps she feels my anxiety.
Maybe it’s the not-quite-knowing what to work on, now that projects are being halted – or cancelled.
Having said that, there’s a couple of exciting opportunities that have just fallen into our laps, including offering more online workshops. Silver linings, people. Look for them.
Maybe it’s the struggle within our team to try staying connected while all working together at distance that has me feeling off-kilter.
We have many and various tools to help us stay connected in real-time. One of them is the Microsoft Teams platform – very secure with lots of cool features that we’re known of for a while but are now getting super-proficient at using (handy, since we ARE the Digital Workplace team and Microsoft Teams is our ‘schtick’).
The trick is knowing “how” connected you need to be. We have a daily Teams Hangout set up and are figuring out as we go the ettiquette that comes with having audio and web streaming.
Should we streaming video all day while we sit at our desks? In some ways, it totally replicates working together in the same room – you can see if someone is away from their desk or in another meeting – but unlike working in physical proximity, it feels way more intrusive.
Or maybe that’s just my age showing. I think my boys do this kind of thing all the time (gamers) but for me it feels slightly strange.
Today I’ve taken the option to be “in” the Team Hangout but with both my video and mic turned off and my music on. So they know I’m here and it’s a simple “hey” or message to let me know they want to talk but not streaming myself to them finally makes me feel a little better – a little more focused and calm – than I have all week.
And since my wifi was playing up a little this morning, I feel safe using that excuse if questioned (not that I think they would – we’re all in this together and everyone is respectful of each persons’ coping mechanisms).
How about you? Are you fortunate enough to be working from home? I am so very aware that there are those losing their livelihoods over this. And there are those on the front line, taking the risk of catching Covid-19 in order to support the rest of us with life essentials or take care of the sick and suffering. By comparision, I am extremely fortunate.
This is merely a transition to another way of doing business.
And it’s important for me – for us – to remember that.
Last night (or rather, in the wee hours of this morning) I had a disturbingly vivid dream that I was slicing a huge strip of flesh off my leg.
In this dream, I said out loud to someone near me (I have no idea who) that the initial cutting hurt but once you got underneath to the fat, it was pretty easy.
Then I proceeded to show them and I could feel it. I can feel it now … the pain of the slice of the blade across the top of my thigh then the numbness setting in and not feeling a thing as I watched myself slice under the flap and downwards towards the knee (although, weirdly, it looked like the view someone else would have watching me do it).
The fat was pure white and not as thick as I would have expected. It actually all looked like a piece of pork belly roast you buy at the butchers – pink and smooth.
Recalling it makes me feel slightly ill and I wonder what on earth kind of game my subconscious brain is playing at.
The toddler is not sleeping and I wonder if that’s got something to do with it. She goes down ok but after a few hours she’s awake and into our bed. If we move her back and settle her, it’s not long until she’s up again and crawling back in.
We wouldn’t mind co-sleeping but she is so restless, kicking off the sheets and blankets or kicking us, that we’re all sleep-deprived as a result – although she seems way chirpier in the mornings than we do.
Last night it took me 2 hours to get her to go to sleep. Then she was awake not long after I went to bed so I once again mentally steeled myself, took her back in and lay down beside her. At 3am, I tried coming back into my own bed but just lay there in despair, not being able to fall back into sweet unconsciousness.
As it turned out, it wasn’t long until she was in with us.
I lay there on my side sobbing silently with exhaustion until finally falling into that disturbing dream.
It’s been 3 years since I had regular, decent sleep.
I feel like this is my sleep life forever.
I don’t know if people at work understand what I really mean when I say I’m tired.
I don’t view going to bed as rest and revitalisation but rather the beginning of an 8 hour battle for survival.
I’ve been struggling for weeks to write the second part of my career path and it’s still not suitable for broadcast. I’m onto edit number 4, trying vainly to cut out all the self-serving, woe-is-me-life-was-super-hard-back-then stuff whilst still retaining some sort of context that would explain the positively crazy off-shoots into other work dimensions.
I’ll get there, I promise.
As an interlude, here’s my latest venture: a mandala a day. And here’s why I’m:
Having a whole day to wait til I can get me some more ear candy, I downloaded it and started listening and very soon realised it’s the answer I’ve been looking for lately with regards to staying sane in a stressful period of life.
Yesterday we went to the Annual Pirongia Craft Markets – a truly cool event that we stumbled upon our first year here and have made a traditional pilgrimage to ever since. There were some truly amazing and beautiful handiworks from just regular shmoes like me, which got me thinking about my creativity or lack thereof so when we came home I tried in vain to do something mildly original and creative using my graphic design programs.
Rather than satisfy my longing, it just frustrated me no end. I couldn’t do what I wanted – it would have to be hand-drawn. But ah, dear readers – am I skilled at drawing? About as much as I am at keeping my mouth shut and opinions to myself.
Of course, it takes practice and dedication. It takes setting aside regular time to perfect and hone existing skills. It takes … a habit.
According to scientific studies, it takes on average 66 days to create a new habit, not the usual 21 that’s regularly trotted out. And whilst it is proven to be harder to create good habits than bad ones, there are a few tips and tricks that can help.
You can try linking your prospective new habit to something you already do regularly, such as mealtimes. For instance, I started my lunchtime walks as a way of counteracting the desire to punch someone in the face when I had 5 different jobs on and no way of getting them all done in the given timeframes. I’d go for a good 45 minute walk, calm the F**K down then eat my lunch at my desk whilst getting back into all of the things.
Now I just do it because it makes me feel good. And, I must confess, so I can listen to my latest audiobook – which nicely segues into the next tip: Temptation Bundling.
It’s a nerdy way of saying “Combine something you love with something you should be doing but don’t really want to because you don’t love it”. Like watching that trashy movie you know is a waste of time whilst you fold the mountain of washing. It’s a win=win! You get your trash fulfilment and the family has clothes in the cupboard instead of on the floor/couch/spare bed/spare room.
Another useful tip for successfully creating a good habit is by making it public knowledge, which explains this blog post.
A final tip was to put some money on it – there’s even commitment platforms like stickK that can help you reach your goals … or pay the consequences. Literally.
I’m not going that far as we are currently like the proverbial church mice.
And because it’s now 9.30pm on the first Monday after Daylight Saving started, I think I’m already going to fail my “one a day” challenge as I’m buggered … but at least I’ve made a start. I’ll keep you updated … hopefully this won’t go the same way as my Part 2 😛
It would be fair to say I get around job-wise. Throughout my illustrious working career I have had the opportunity to experience so many roles – some wonderful; some not so much. The following has turned into a bit of a novel so I’ve split it into two: BCH (Before Crap Happened) and ACH (think you can figure what that stands for). Brace yourselves.
I find myself on yet another “step-to-the-right” in the dance laughingly called my ‘career path’ (more like drunken stagger) – still at the same workplace but using a different, more technical skill-set to the administrative/marketing role I’ve been filling for the past 18 months. I’m a little nervous but mainly excited about it but if you look at the experiences I’ve had over the past *cough* wee while, there’s many things I’ve already done that should help me pick it up and run with it fairly quickly.
My working career (outside of the usual after-school shenanigans) started way back in 1991 as a Coles Deli Assistant, working my way up to 2IC (which just meant I got the lucky task of coming in super-early on a Monday morning to get the rotisserie chickens cranking and set up the cabinet for the week and do the scale report to make sure we weren’t diddling the customers). Then we moved to Sydney, added a second baby to the family and I began my library studies, which led to the first twist in my path.
After moving all over the country, we landed in a small town in WA, where (on the second attempt) I became Library Officer at the Primary School two of my three kids attended (yep, quite a gap there between paid jobs). I loved this job dearly and it’s still the longest stint in one workplace in the same role (4 years). It was pretty perfect – school hours and school holidays but none of the responsibilities of a teacher (poor sods – I have so much respect for teachers from my time working with them in schools) as well as the pleasure of scouring through reviews to pick all the books.
I vividly recall reading the review for “Harry Potter and the Philosophers’ Stone” and knew it would be a hit but was unsure if it would be too hard for the kids (poor town; struggling/itinerant families; lots of behavioural issues). I ordered two copies, thinking if nothing else it would be perfect for teachers to read aloud and ended up having a waiting list of kids clamouring to read it and having to buy a few extra copies to keep up with demand. The second time I remember purchasing a book as part of my role and thinking “This is gonna be HUGE” and being proven right was for – you may know it – the first in a 4 part series called “Twilight”.
During this time I also was a casual Woolworths Cash Office Administrator on weekends. I scratch my head at this memory, wondering why on earth I did this, with three kids and already working five days a week – then I remember the expectations and mindset I was living under at the time and it makes sense. Taught me to count money real fast and honed my OCD for all notes facing the same way in neat and tidy bundles.
New town in a new state, and of course the school system was different – I had to be a teacher to work in a school library – and the local Public Library was not going to be hiring any time soon. After a brief and terrible stint as a Learning Coordinator for a state government funded adult learning centre (which didn’t actually have a building for the centre – just a room in another state government funded centre which just made it all sorts of awkward and complicated), I got lucky, scoring a job as a part-time Typesetter/Graphic Designer at the local newspaper, with no prior experience apart from the fact I was comfortable with computers, could spell and had done a module of study in my library technician’s diploma on colour design and basic formatting of promotional collateral.
After a time I did manage to get a position as a casual Library Officer at the local library, covering shifts on Saturdays and sometimes their one late opening night per week. It was a good gig. I was studying for my Bachelor of Library Science at the time (while still working at the newspaper cause apparently I had 35 hours in a day back then), so it gave me great opportunities to put theory into practice and vice versa.
I almost blanked out the three years I spent as Library Technician for the local TAFE college after leaving the newspaper to do some full-time (but short-lived) study for a teaching degree (that’s a whole other post in itself). TAFE was a great learning experience as my manager was a great mentor willing to share her years of experience with me. Sure, she was the quintessential cranky librarian and scared the bejesus out of most people but she treated me very well … and she was so nice to my kids (as well as being a complete push-over with her own. Softie at heart.) that I couldn’t not like her. But working for State Government was a long, slow death and I did not want to slowly evolve into the quintessential cranky librarian.
So I left full-time employment at a very decent government pay rate and moved onto the local Catholic High School as a part-time Library Officer … not sure how I passed the interview with regards to religious beliefs for that one but somehow I did. It was ridiculously low pay for a fully qualified librarian at $15 an hour but I loved the school ethos – they really cared about their students – and of course, the kids were great to work with.
But then … the “eccentric” (i.e. batshit crazy) … library manager at the Public Library left, which led to my next big break.
As Library Manager in a regional library service – one main branch, one teeny-tiny little room in a very interested area known as the Gemfields – I had the responsibility of managing staff for the first time as well as being accountable for a substantial budget. Exciting, scary and very difficult at times but I loved every minute of it … ok, not the minutes I had to ‘have a talk’ with certain persons for upsetting the applecart every time they walked into the place … but the rest of it was great. Honestly, after the last manager’s crazy antics and passive-aggressive management style, I did not have to do much to look fantastic – and I thank her for that, wherever she is.
Then Peter Beatty did his thing and ruined my perfect little life in more ways than one. This career sidetrack led me straight up Poop Creek and onto Poop city …
After March 15 2008 (yep, I still remember the date), the council I was working for was amalgamated with three other surrounding shires into one giant mega-council. It covered an area of roughly 60,000 sq. kilometres with offices spread out at roughly one-hour-drive intervals from each other. That and the fact each office had its own unique culture made it seriously dysfunctional Due to the necessary restructure, I was offered the role of Manager Community Services. To this day, I’m not sure why. I guess I’d proved myself capable of management to a degree in the previous 8 months as Library Manager.
Just managing the shenanigans of the library service growing from 2 branches to 10 would have been enough challenge. But instead I had to take on Community Services, a portfolio which included libraries, pools (dear god, I shudder just thinking about pools), halls, art galleries, aged care facilities, youth facilities and – best of all – community groups. I want to say it was THE WORST decision I ever made but circumstances being what they were at the time, I felt I had no choice but to accept. Nine months later, I had what you could nicely refer to as “a spiritual awakening” but what most people would call a nervous breakdown. Even though my heart knew I really shouldn’t have taken that job, the advantage of hindsight shows that I actually learnt a lot and grew so very much from that complete and utter personal and professional smackdown of an experience. Let’s just call it a Turning Point and leave it at that.
While I was recovering sufficiently to be able to deal with the stresses of a ‘normal life’ again, Lady Luck smiled upon me and I found myself working from home as a Freelance Proofreader for a friend, proofing advertising collateral for various big name companies. Not a huge amount but enough to give me ‘pin’ money and help my severely battered self-esteem compose itself. It also gave me a taste for the freelance life and I really liked it.
But life was about to deal a few shockers and I was going to need more regular work … (to be continued)
Last Thursday evening I finally treated myself to a slightly belated “F*&k it, I’m 50” hair overhaul, getting the length chopped off to just under the chin and a warm reddish brown recolour that included little red slashes here and there for dramatic effect.
I haven’t actually had a hair pampering since we left Australia 3.5 years ago, instead “surviving” on the $30 walk-in; walk-out hairdresser at The Warehouse and grocery-bought DIY hair dye kits. Needless to say I really soaked up the 2 hours of chatting with the hairdresser, reading a mag, sipping on wine and generally just enjoying the “me” time.
There’s a couple of reasons I haven’t done the usual 6 – 8 weekly proper hairdresser cut/dye visit:
The pain of finding a decent hairdresser
Of all of them, it’s probably Number 3 that has truly kept me away this long. I have learnt from bitter experience that it’s pretty tough finding a new hairdresser that doesn’t cost the earth; who actually listens to what you want AND knows how to cut your hair so you’re not praying for it to grow overnight or for hats to suddenly come into fashion.
The Warehouse lady has usually been sufficient but the last two visits … I dunno .. it’s like she’s lost her touch. The last visit in particular I asked to keep the length so I could have the option of an ‘up-do’ for the Princess’s wedding (yes, my eldest child is now a married woman! But that’s another blog post altogether …) and just put a few layers in there to lighten it up and give a bit of movement to it.
I may be slightly exaggerating here but the end result kinda felt like this …
Thankfully, I don’t feel like I’m channeling Joe Dirt or Warwick Capper anymore. But now I’ve found a lovely hairdresser, that’s it. I’m committed to a regular relationship every 2 – 3 months (depending on how long I can push it out for/finance levels/time restraints).
Lucky I did well in my recent performance review at work …
I haven’t posted an update for so long as its finally dawned on me that you need time and space to be creative. And I just don’t have it. Or at least what precious little I do have, I’m busy numbing myself to cope with the time and space I don’t have.
Let me explain …
I was going to actually total up all the time I spend working at a full time job plus the daily commute plus home duties (thankfully assisted greatly by NIH where Little Miss is concerned) then add in the night-time shenanigans of putting her back to bed from midnight til 3am on average but that is just too bloody depressing.
Let’s just say a full time job plus a toddler who doesn’t sleep leaves me with precious little mental ‘space’ for creativity.
I starting thinking about this post a few weeks ago – then the shit hit the proverbial with illness on the home front and whatever small space I was going to allow myself to try crafted a halfway intelligent post vanished.
So here I am (waiting for AA to come and reboot our car battery because life wasn’t finished being a complete and utter bitch obviously) trying to spew out what is *really* bothering me about not being creative for the last 6 months or so. And it all boils down to this: Joy.
Creativity brings you joy. And life at the moment feels rather bereft of it.
Work is a bit of a mess of three different role responsibilities that have me trying valiantly to make sure I don’t drop any balls whilst surviving on broken sleep for I can’t even fucking remember how long. I can see the mistakes popping up and it breaks my perfectionist little heart and I just pray that workmates don’t think I’m a complete idiot but in all honesty, I don’t know where I am or what I’m doing most days.
Home is fine except for the fact that a toddler is always going to be an emotional stretch … but I can feel the physical and spiritual effects of not sleeping an uninterrupted 8 hours – damn, I would settle for even a 6 hour block – for over 2 years taking its toll on me.
Money is real tight, thanks to having a mortgage back home still to pay while we hope and pray the house will finally sell. Rent here is much higher than Australia and pay rates are so much lower so that puts us even more behind the 8-ball. I mean, we still manage to pay our bills on time and buy groceries and have leftover cash for a breakfast out each weekend so it’s not completely dire … it’s just extra stress on top of an already stressed-out mind.
Whatever time and space I do have, I play puzzle games on my phone.
I know, right?
I was trying to figure out why I do that the other day and something Brene Brown said in her Netflix appearance helped me understand. (Yes, I have become a convert. Yes, I have downloaded and listened to her book “Daring Greatly”, which I think is why I’m doing all this self-analysis again. Yes, I am probably going to mention her frequently from here on out.)
She was talking about how her first TED talk went viral and she found it so hard to handle that she spent a day at home with the peanut butter jar and a spoon, watching the complete series of “Downton Abbey” (if I didn’t love her for making sense of courage and vulnerability, I would have loved her for that alone). And after it was over, she started googling facts and figures from that era and hit on Teddy Roosevelt’s famous speech about the man in the arena and the rest, as they say, is history.
She asked the audience something along the lines of :
“Who-all [cause she’s from Texas] has done that?”
“You’re numbing yourself with a show or a movie and you’re not ready to step back into the real world when it’s over so you start searching for related stuff on the internet?”
I play the games to numb myself. To just switch off and ignore the stresses in my life – of which I do acknowledge there could be far more and perhaps I’m just tired and a tad whiny today. Someone should put me to bed.
And because of the numbing plus the stresses, I just don’t have the time/space/energy to be creative anymore.
If I really want some more joy in my life, I think this needs to stop.
I know it’s smart to start getting regular mammograms done once you turn 45 but what with getting teenage boys over the finish line to adulthood, getting remarried, getting IVF, getting pregnant then having a baby (what seemed like) permanently attached to the ‘girls’ for 18 months, I found it hard to find the time … until last Friday.
Despite having a close friend who had a brush with breast cancer and knowing all the stats, I didn’t actively seek out a mammogram once all my excuses had dried up (so to speak). However, a simple throat infection and a visit to the doctor about a month ago saw me put firmly on the Breast Screening list and lined up for an appointment.
Now I’d heard a few reviews regarding mammograms, particularly with the words “extreme discomfort” and “mashed boobs” featuring regularly so I was prepared for a bit of pain. Imagine my surprise when it was all over bar the shouting in a few minutes with the only discomfort coming from trying to hold my breath AND my stomach in at the same time.
Which has me wondering … is there a Flop Factor at play here? I can imagine if your fun bags are nice and firm and well adhered to your chest area that it might be a little harder to get them in between the two panels and the pressure may be more easily felt than say if your boobs, once let loose of their wire-reinforced hammocks, kinda oozed onto the bottom panel and obligingly made squishy under the top one so the radiologist could snap a clear shot with ease.
Or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve experienced REAL breast-related pain – those first few weeks of breastfeeding where I truly feared my nipples would just drop off due to struggles with latching then the last few weeks of breastfeeding where I truly feared my nipples would be clean bitten off due to an overzealous, teething toddler.
After that, a little clamping between two plates is more like a walk in the park … just with your shirt off.
I was chuffed to be asked to create a logo for a close friend a few months ago. It’s been an absolute age since I’ve done anything mildly creative so finding my mojo took a bit of doing. It really helped that she knew pretty much what she wanted from the start – there’s nothing worse than the ol’ chestnut “I’ll know it when I see it” that every designer cringes upon hearing.
BTW if you’re looking for a wonderful photographer in Emerald QLD, I highly recommend checking her instagram and facebook pages out.
(Yeah nah, this is not a sponsored post.)
In the end, it took me a couple of months to do, what with going back to full time work with a baby that doesn’t actually believe in sleep added to the fact I hadn’t used Illustrator for an absolute age. Luckily she was a patient ‘client’ and happy to give me plenty of time.
Like I said, it was the first time in about three years that I’d used Illustrator for some serious design work and remembering all the tips and tricks took a while.
It’s also the first time I’ve ever done such a detailed and intricate logo. After lots of experimentation and quite a few fails, I found my groove and really got into it. With a bit of feedback and a few tweaks here and there, I was able to make real the idea she’d had in her mind. And I have to say I’m pretty proud of it.
It felt sooo good to be creating something again. There’s something so satisfying about making something beautiful.
I have to say I’ve found I’m really missing working for myself lately. I enjoyed the challenge of making Souzou Designs a reality and completing creative projects for clients. For all the downsides – lack of stability; isolation; no paid sick leave/annual leave; bill chasing – I miss the upsides of being my own boss and setting my own hours.
My oldest (The Princess) and I were fantasizing via text on what we’d do if we won Lotto. Funnily enough, my answer to that question just popped into my head:
“Pay off the mortgage on the house we left behind in Australia; buy a house for ourselves here in NZ then start my own graphic design business and go back to working from home. Little Miss would still go to daycare but only three days a week instead of five and I would focus on small mum-working-from-home businesses, offering services such as logo and print designs and even expanding into building/managing small websites.”
Honestly, it’s been sitting there in the back of my mind ever since …
For the first time in almost 2 years, I wore a non-maternity bra to work today.
It feels a little sad …
She’s not happy about it but the fact of the matter is the stress of working full time and feeding less during the day has taken its toll and no amount of night time snacking is going to fix that.
Add to that a diet change and voila – what little milk supply was there has pretty much gone.
She’s nearly 17 months. It’s the longest I’ve breastfed a baby for.
We’ve had a good innings but I can see the end in sight and whilst part of me rejoices at having my body back (and part of NIH rejoices at the prospect of having HIS particular area of amusement back), part of me weeps.
We’ve been learning then teaching Little Miss some sign language in the hopes that it would make it easier for us and her to communicate better. You know, because she’s a baby who can’t talk yet but by gum, she certainly has a mind of her own and it’s handy to know what she wants at times!
It’s been an interesting experiment and after what seemed like forever, she just started doing the “More” sign one day.
Since that miraculous moment (triggered, I believe, by a hot chip on my plate), we’ve all learnt a few more useful signs, such as:
“All Done” (very popular with her when she doesn’t want to eat any more veges)
“Change” “Nappy” (not as popular with her)
“Milk” (her personal favourite)
Now that the terrible two’s are fast approaching, we’ve learnt “Yes” and “No” to try and develop structure and guidelines.
Which is why in the early hours of the morning a few weeks ago, I found myself having a “silent” argument with a very headstrong 16 month old that went like this: