Monday’s from home


Quieter today with work, and hoping it will remain so. There appear no roadblocks or bugs to deal with today, and though there are updates pending, they’re under control. Within a week I expect we’ll have eased into the BAU management of the live chat client. There’s been a lot of dollars spent on this project in a short period of time, and there’s wariness about invest too much more at this point. There are other solutions pushing forward as well. For me, the most significant factor is project fatigue. The guys have been working day and night for weeks. Push too much more at this point, and you run the risk of mistakes creeping in. Everyone needs to rest and reset – we can get into it again in a few weeks.

Because I’ve been working almost exclusively on special projects, I feel a slight disconnect from the larger team. At the start of each day, I’m due to attend a couple of Teams meetings online. The first is with my immediate team, and I don’t mind it so much because I get to hear of all the things they’re working on. I’ll get asked what’s going on in my world and my answer is just about the same every time: still working hard on live chat. I’ll give them a little more than that because I’ve been full-on with it and are curious. I’ll tell them a little of the ins and outs, the challenges.

Some days I might give them a tip or two. They’re doing without me in my usual role. Typically I’d coordinate and map out much of the work they need to do. I hardly have time to glance at it these days, but if I find a spare 10-15 minutes,, I’ll quickly scan dev ops to see what’s going on. I might add a note or re-direct some of the user stories. In the meetings, I might make some suggestions or give some insight. I’m all about efficiency, s if we can kill multiple birds with the single stone, I’ll give them the word.

What’s interesting, and has implications as we go forward, is that the amount of work coming through is falling. It doesn’t surprise me. Much of the office is so busy adapting to new ways of doing things that they don’t have time for much else. As for our customers, they’re not doing enough to create work. Activity is down all round because activity is down.

The second meeting is almost straight after the first. This is a more disparate group, and I almost always listen silently while continuing to work. The sessions are a nuisance to me as they take me away from my work at the moment I want to set-up for the day ahead. So, I’ll listen, hardly interested as all they report seems so trivial after what I’ve been doing. I didn’t have a lot of time for these stand-ups when I was in the office because hardly any of it was relevant to me. Now, I feel further away from them, somewhere separate and different, and while part of that is due to the extraordinary work I’ve been doing, the rest is because the separation now is literal.

Then, on Mondays, we have a departmental meeting almost straight after. It kills me because it delays for another 40 minutes the stuff I have to catch up on.

I wouldn’t mind so much if the meetings were useful and informative. I’m happy to be updated on things – what’s happening with the business, how things are going, what decisions are pending, and so on. Except there’s none of that.

There seems a focus to maintain and foster team spirit. I understand why, but it’s difficult in virtual comms when only one person can speak at a time, and forty people are online. The result is an untidy session that vaguely equates to happy clapping. You should by know by now that I’m not a happy clapper. I’ve got nothing against it – whatever rocks your boat – but I’m not about to join because it just isn’t me. And I have things to do.

These sessions are really for the extroverts who need an outlet to express themselves. The rest of us don’t. Like the other introverts, I prefer more authentic communication – that is, one on one, or in a more modest setting. I don’t need more than that from work, though I’m sympathetic to the attempt. I have friends to share with and unwind – it’s not something I seek at work, even now.

I used to be more expansive when I was younger. At one stage, I was quite the entertainer. These days I’m pretty economical. I’m more forthcoming with my team because I know and like them and because they’re my responsibility. Outside of them, I’m not inclined to say anything much unless I have something to say. And if I can get away with a nod or a wink or a steely glare, then that’ll do.

That belies my working day because I’m on the phone much of the time, and though a lot of it is directive and task-focused, there’s also time for a laugh to break it up. The point is, I don’t want to pretend to something that should naturally flow.

I think there has to be a better way. I’ll have a think about it.

The observer effect


One of the most fascinating findings of quantum physics is that the act of observation affects the outcome of reality. Basically, it means that – particles and waves in their experiments – will act differently when they’re watched than when they’re not. It makes no great sense to a rational mind, but perhaps that’s because our rationality has yet fully mature. Regardless, this is what happens.

Something like that happens in life also, I reckon. It’s not physics, but it seems to me that when we apply our mind to consider something, the outcome is so often at odds to when we blithely accept it. I think this will become a theme of isolation. When people are given more time and space to think and consider the outcomes will be so often different from what we expected. This is not a bad thing. It’s an unreflective age. We don’t think much beyond immediate choices, and that’s been a part of our problem. Now we have the opportunity to stop and think, and potentially to reset. I feel as if there are many who have come to realise that.

That’s never been a problem for me – I’m an overthinker. Reflection comes naturally, as does enquiry. I could probably get by well by thinking less, but I enjoy figuring at things. In the end, it’s your nature. All the same, I get caught up in the pace of life too, and things slip by me.

A few weeks back, I expressed delight at the chance to show my wares, come the crisis. I’m one of those people who thrive when the odds mount because I come alive. And because I’m a stubborn, contrary bastard. I need the challenge to bring out the best in me.

So, I stepped up to the plate and ultimately we – the team – hit it out of the park. We did great things, gratefully received, and it was satisfying. But only satisfying. It passes soon because the moment passes, but the game’s still going. If it achieved one thing, it was that it reminded me of what I could do and, I suppose, proved it to others.

I anticipated there might be a bit of a crash afterwards. You run so hard for so long, and you hit the finish line out in front, and suddenly it catches up to you. All the pent up stuff collapses in on itself. And when you put your head up, you wonder, what’s next?

There was a crash, but it wasn’t as dramatic as that. I’m worn out, and fair enough, I’ve worked hard. Mentally I’m still hard at it, but it’s in my stomach it sits less well. That’s unfortunate because it makes it harder for me – and if I had never have observed it then maybe I’d never now. But here I am.

How can I put this? In a purely professional, even technical, sense, there’s much to be happy about. It was an amazing achievement, given the timeframe and constraints and mounting obstacles. And it worked! We didn’t just make it happen, it happened successfully. And you can’t really argue the value of it. This was a project integral to the organisation’s immediate future, and I was the only one there capable of doing it. Once in place, a crucial capability gap was bridged. Etc.

I’m dissatisfied though, and part of that is pure ego. I can’t get away from that. I’m the one doing, but I’m inside a machine, and I don’t get to proclaim it. It’s my manager who shares it with the world and attends the crisis meetings. When he speaks of the plans he has in mind next they’re my plans he’s repeating. I’m not having a go at him. He’s doing his job and doing it well. I guess it’s a measure of my lost status that for now, no matter how highly esteemed I am, I’m just a skilled mechanic.

That’s a minor irritation in the scheme of things. Assuming the world recovers and I get back to my job, then I expect my rewards will come, as they were promised even before all this. I may regain my own voice, and in time may end up reclaiming a lot of what I lost before.

I won’t turn my nose up at that, I can’t afford to. And it’s better than nothing. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned through this is that I need to be doing something worthwhile. It’s no good doing a job well, what’s the worth of it? And sure, this was pretty big in this here and now, but not so big really. We managed to get done in a couple of weeks what might get done in a couple of months, or more, otherwise. Well done, next. And while the context is greater now, the value of it is much less back in the real world.

You might think I’m hard on myself. Maybe I’m just never pleased. It’s in my gut, though. Maybe it’s because I’m older now and my perspective has shifted, or maybe it’s because I’ve done so many things similar to this in the past, but it feels a shallow achievement in the end. What would change that?

If I’ve been gifted anything in my life, it’s a good brain. This was the trump card I was given. I’ve used it extensively and often used it well, but the question I find myself asking is whether given what I’m capable of, have I used it in the right way?

If I could dial back the clock I might have chosen a more elevated career as a physicist or astrophysicist – the subject fascinates Maybe I’d have been a historian. Or a doctor perhaps – not a GP, but a surgeon or a specialist of some sort, or in clinical research.

I can’t dial back the clock, and I’m not pining over what might have been. I just want to apply my mind to something that will make a real difference – not a feat of project management, but something of value to us as a people. I don’t want to waste it, and I’m getting old.

I figure we’ve got about 4-6 months in isolation like this. That’s the time I need to figure out what it is and how to do it. I figure many more will set themselves similar challenges in the months ahead.

Restoration


Except to pick up the newspaper from the driveway, I didn’t walk out the front door yesterday. It was a quiet, indulgent day, and exactly what I needed. I put the heating on and lay on the couch and watched TV.

It blew outside, and sometimes it rained and throughout it was cool. There comes a time every year when the seasons change. That’s usually around Easter, but Easter is later this year, and the change has come regardless, I think. There’ll still be warm days, just as there were chilly days before, but the balance has tilted the other way. I don’t mind. It’s fine to be cooped up inside when it’s wintry without.

It did have a cosy feel yesterday. I watched an old footy match and most of a couple of movies before, mid-afternoon, I got into bed, fully clothed. I read for a while with an eclectic soundtrack streaming in the background. I grew tired and set my book aside. I closed my eyes and to the sounds of the Four Seasons, as vibrantly re-composed by Max Richter, I fell into a nap.

All of this was just what I needed. I was so weary, but with it, I felt a little off, as sometimes you will when you’re so tired. Out of sorts, I guess, my physic uncalibrated. My strength replenished itself as the day went on. By late afternoon I felt notably better than I did on waking up. Today, much restored, I am better again.

I finished the day watching a rerun of Se7en and later in bed reading again, before plunging into sleep.

I plan to take it quietly again today, but I’ve already been out to give Rigby the walk he missed out on yesterday. The wind is high in the trees. It reminds of the way surf sounds. The sky is low with clouds, and there’s no-one about.

I want to consolidate the gains I made yesterday, but I also plan to be a little more active today. I’ll cook a moussaka later. I need to bottle the tomato sauce I made. I’ll clear out my study a little more and, if I can manage it by myself, will move the filing cabinet to the garage and bring in my bike. I have a kit to turn it into a stationary bike, handy in times like these. And I expect the delivery of a new office chair later.

There’s work again tomorrow, but I hope and think the peak has passed for me. I sense around me in the meetings I have and what I read on social media that people are working, but mixing it with other things. I think that’s natural, but while I’ve set myself tasks every day, I complete them in my own time pretty much. I’ve been diligent, and have been working 9 hour days through this. Maybe I can begin to ease back. Once BAU returns, it’ll be a lot simpler – and Easter, not that it means much, is less than a week away.

The quality of rest


Last night we had our Zoom ‘party’, which perhaps went off better than I expected. There were four of us each sitting in our disparate homes in front of a laptop or iPad or phone, connecting with a glass of wine or beer in our hand. It was pretty much like any occasion you get male friends together. There was plenty of banter and lots of friendly abuse and regular laughter. We made light of the situation, more or less, while each of us explained our situation with work and at home. One is on half-pay, another has been asked to take leave. Only two of us are still working full time and on full pay still.

It was a welcome break from the locked-in routine, though very strange also. One is in walking distance from here. Another a 7 minute drive. One of my friends, usually dapper and handsome, looked like a Portuguese fisherman, as I told him, unshaved all week and wearing an old cap. Cheeseboy hadn’t shaved either and was looking very silver. Me, I’ve actually gone the other way. I figure I’ve got no-one to impress for a while, so I’m letting my hair grow out, and have shaved off the beard and moustache I’ve had for years. I don’t look like Viking anymore, though God knows how I’ll appear in months from now.

We’re catching up again next Friday night. In between times we’ve set ourselves to all watch the same movie and to all comment on it in our next meeting. These are the things you do in times like this.

It’s Saturday, and I have an excuse today to be a bum. I need it. I keep saying it, but I’m so weary. As I figure it, I’ve had only one day without work in the last four weeks – last Sunday. I plan to do none this weekend. I need to recoup my energy. It’s not so much the act of working that has tired me so, though there’ve been many long days. It’s the mental energy I’m depleted of because your mind is always on high alert. You’re always anticipating and wondering and figuring things out in your head and planning next steps, and so on, even when you’re sitting down to watch TV or laying in bed.

I could handle it, except the quality of rest isn’t there. I’ve come to realise that there’s a difference in how we rest. Doing nothing is insufficient. I could spend an hour lying on the couch with a book or watching TV and sometimes my mind and body will relax into the moment and begin to restore; and other times, doing nothing different, I get up as weary as I sat down. I feel I know more about this now and realise that rest is as much a state of mindfulness as it is of the body. Only rarely in the last few weeks have I managed true rest, and so here I am, running on empty.

It’s a good day to do nothing, though there a few alternatives to that these days. It rained all night. It’s blowing outside now, and more rain is in the air. It’s much cooler. I’ll go for a walk soon enough, but I’ll relax my exercise goals today. Normally I would use the footy as an excuse to take it easy. It’s a perfect day to watch it from the warmth of home. I’d look forward to it. But there’s no footy now but old replays. Instead, I plan to lay on the couch and watch a good movie. I might spend another hour reading. I’ll lower myself into a hot tub later. I’ll clear my head and ease my body. I’m not going anywhere.

Belonging


For some reason I find myself thinking of mum now we’re in lockdown and of her husband Fred, and the family life we had. We had a happy life. e had fun and good times and much affection. I was a part of something and had it good. I never thought it could change, because you don’t think that way. This is your life, these are the people around you, this is where you belong. But then the people around you go until one day life is very different and you realise you don’t belong anywhere anymore.

The 23rd was the anniversary of her death, but I was so busy on the day that I didn’t really realise until the evening.

I’m isolated from everyone, more or less, and it doesn’t worry me in the usual sense except that it reminds me of the separation that was forced upon me, and for which there’s no comeback. I can still remember mum’s phone number, eight years after, and how every day or so we’d talk on the phone. She was always there when I needed her, though I affected that I never had the need, or any need at all, really.

It would be comforting in this time of lockdown if I could pick up the phone and speak to her again. The nearest person I have to that is Donna, but that’s very different. Mum gave me unconditional love (mostly!). I’m not in need of it, but I miss it.

I think this is one of the things I might find most challenging at this time. Everything has slowed. Some things have stopped like you could never have imagined. Life becomes more basic and simple, and what emerges I expect are the essential needs of life. We remember what is important, and perhaps we learn to cherish it more. That’s a good thing, but in my life there are gaps were some of those things should be.

I was sorting through the stuff in my filing cabinet today. I came across a card in a red envelope. I opened it and took the card out. Across the front of it was the image of some painted flowers, simply done, and the text: Come grow old with me, the best is yet to be…

What is this, I wondered, not remembering it. Then I opened the card, and it all came back to me. It was a card I’d bought to give to another. Inside my words were tightly spaced across both sides of the card. I couldn’t read it. I never gave the card. That woman went away, though not for want of trying. But there was a time I thought I wanted her to grow old with me. Now, in a time of isolation, I grow old alone.

What does it all mean, this stuff, life? What is the point of it? I wondered. Surely one purpose, at least, is to learn by your experiences and to become a better version of yourself – but what then is the point if of achieving that kind of enlightenment if it comes at the end of your life, when it counts for so little?

I’m just thinking aloud. These are the things I need to figure out for myself. Where do I stand?

I must read the card tomorrow. Perhaps I’ll know then.

Romance in the time of social distancing


I want to share with you a dream I had last night in the hope you might explain it to me. It’s quite amusing.

I’ve just returned to my apartment with an appealing neighbour I’ve met for the first time downstairs. She’s tall and though not beautiful, has an alluring quality: earnest, but wry at the same time, a person of substance who also knows how to have fun. There’s a faint and attractive northern European intonation to her voice. She wants to discuss with me some neighbourhood issue and, good citizen that I am, I’ve suggested we do so over a bottle of wine.

I leave her in the living room while I dash to the bathroom and quickly tidy up, as you do, putting away incriminating evidence and making sure the toilet seat is down, and so on. I return to find a little old lady is in my kitchen, putting things away in the fridge.

Turns out she’s from a delivery service I’d forgotten about and my neighbour has let her in. She’s all business, small and prim, like someone’s no-nonsense grandmother. She asks me to check things and to sign here.

When I look up, she’s in the bathroom and has shifted the washing machine out of the way (this is set in an apartment I lived in SY many years ago). She returns and tells me I have an amber alert on air-freshener.

“Um, an amber alert?” I mutter.

Turns out it means I’m almost out, and my surprise is not so much that such a thing as an amber alert exists, but rather that I possess air-freshener at all. I agree to add it to next weeks order.

By now she’s rummaged around in my bedroom and reports I’m short on condoms also – and I wonder what alert that is. “There’s more in the bathroom,” I tell her, my neighbour smiling in amusement at my predicament.

“Do you need any more?” the lady says.

“Sadly, no,” I respond.

My neighbour pipes up with a twinkle in her eye. Did I tell you she was alluring? “Oh, don’t be so pessimistic,” she says, “you can never have too many condoms.”

In a time of hoarding, who am I to argue? And so I agree to add some to my order, wondering if this is real life or a dream.

Without batting an eyelid, the little old lady asks me what sort, and begins reeling off the different types: “….ribbed, studded, flavoured, ultra-thin…”

I’m at a total loss by now. I turn to my neighbour. “What do you think?”

With a wry, confident smile, she tells me: “I like ribbed.”

Indeed, I think, and to no-one’s surprise, I order the ribbed, my mind by now in lurid and hopeful overdrive. The little old lady notes down my order – and the dream ends.

Hopefully, I get to part two tonight.

I posted this on Facebook earlier hoping to get some dream analysis. I got some surprisingly intelligent feedback. It was said this was a classic dream of being interrupted – the old lady being the force that prevents me from what I want to do. What about the amber alert? I felt sure it must mean something. I was told that it meant that I should stop and think before doing anything.

Fine time to tell me now!

I’m not going to argue with the analysis as it sounds pretty sensible, but I will offer my own explanation of the dream. It’s weighed on me the last couple of days knowing that for the next few months I’m not going to meet anyone new, not going to have the chance to flirt, and have no chance of a random fling even if I met someone, somehow – it’s hard to get intimate standing 1.5 metres from each other. These days, it’s probably illegal, too.

Have we stabilised?


I’ve been reading of people struggling with the challenges of being in lockdown (in all but name). Initially, I’m surprised and wonder if I should be feeling it more. In point of fact, I’m thriving, though it’s early days. In my case, it makes a difference being so busy. I’m flat-out from first to last and expect to remain so for several weeks. The days pass quickly.

Not that I’m only doing work. I take time to take my two scheduled walks daily and am now managing close to 7,000 paces every day. That’s bolstered by the bustling around I do in-between times, whether it be in cooking, or in the patches where I clean or organise. Like most people it seems, I’m catching up on the things that mostly get lost in the rush of living. Cleaning definitely falls into that category for me, but I’ve knuckled to it so keenly that I’ve even given the wooden cabinets a clean and polish with marveer. I’m also going through my filing cabinet to either dispose of or scan, the documents and files in it. The aim is to get rid of the filing cabinet altogether.

What might make it difficult for me in the longer term is that I live alone. I’m on the phone all day and sending messages here and there, but it’s not the same as warm human contact. I am self-reliant in that regard also, and perhaps too much so, so we’ll see how that pans out.

For others, I wonder what the particular issue is? Is it a sense of confinement? Is it the disconnection from standard routine? Is it missing colleagues and friends? Probably a bit of each, and more besides. Real challenges are being faced by thousands now, either for health or financial reasons. A friend, working from home, has had his hours reduced by a quarter and his salary with it. Many others have either been stood down or made redundant altogether.

Since I last wrote, the government has finally come to the party with a comprehensive wages subsidy policy. They’ve gone big, and though it’s late, it looks like it’s everything that it should be. It’ll make a real difference because thousands will have some job security now, and be able to continue living. Most importantly, it preserves some readiness for such a time when we come out of this.

There’s a long way to go, but you can’t help but wonder what happens when we’re through this. The government has adopted policies and measures ideologically foreign to them. Though they’ll be keen to reverse most of them, I figure some will be so entrenched in the public consciousness that it might be difficult. As I’ve said before, there’s opportunity to reset in this, on both the personal and national level. This is a wake-up call.

I’ll follow up on that another day, but in the meantime, I’m curious to see how the government pays for this – perhaps it’s time, and with a national justification now, to take the franking credits windfall off the table?