Trying In These Times

Stuff is bad for all of us. While it's definitely worse for some, we're all riding on the struggle bus.

Hey Friends!

You may or may not remember signing up for this newsletter. It has been - as they say - a minute. Some of you might remember me as the “Stay at Home Bartender” in various places, but primarily on Instagram. Well, I quit Insta (even though I miss it a bunch, because a lot of people I know only use that for internet things, but more on that in a bit…) because Facebook is the Devil. The only hell site I currently frequent is Twitter, so find me there, if you can handle that.

This newsletter has been my outlet for my bigger thoughts, and I’m to the point where I think I want to return to it. I like to write these messages extemporaneously and send them out without much (any?) editing. If I type something incorrectly, I have faith that you will be able to get the message from context.

Anyway, if you now realize you really don’t care about catching my odd thoughts and remblings in your inbox, feel free to unsubscribe. I promise I won’t be sad about it. This is me talking to the air.

That said, if you do like this silliness, feel free to share it with others who might also enjoy it. MOST OF ALL if you have thoughts about the things I yammer about in here, please feel free to comment or reply. I would love that!

~~~ Let’s take a brief interlude while I fix myself an adult beverage (in light of my return to typing towards your inboxes, let’s stick to the namesake Negroni, shall we?) ~~~

So… Pandemic, amirite?

We have to talk about it. There’s nothing else to talk about, really, so let’s just get on with it.

I was fortunate enough to survive my employer’s staff reduction, which only barely and coincidentally preceded the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in these nominally United States. Since the second week of March, I have worked from home. That was seven months ago, almost to the day. I am so very fortunate.

My wife, who I tend to call Hezzy in public fora, has always had a handful of jobs, so her journey has been a wild ride, for sure.

Firstly, she is (non-medical) staff in the emergency department of a large hospital. She can’t do that job from home, so she has had to commute into work at what legitimately feels like the scariest place possible during a worldwide health crisis. Luckily, our city and state haven’t gotten too crazy hot with COVID and the hospital has done a great job of keeping everyone safe. The only coworkers of hers that we know had the disease caught it outside of work and have recovered, thankfully.

Other jobs have been either on hold or limping along with Zoom, and wow is that ever a thing.

Then there’s the bit I want to talk about: She’s teaching two graduate level courses as adjunct faculty at a small university. At first it seemed like they were going to try some sort of in-person or hybrid teaching situation, and let me tell you that set off ALL the alarms. I was flat against it, and reminded her more than once that she doesn’t need the job. She, being a therapeutic professional, took the time to communicate her concerns instead of just quitting outright, and unsurprisingly, that was a good call. The school was very understanding and surprisingly malleable, so she worked with them on a solution to teach via Zoom.

When she told me she was worried about doing this teaching job effectively via this new medium, with which I have had much more experience, I sprang into action with solutions! (Yes, I realize this is problematic behavior. It’s all part of it.)

We made sure she had a serviceable setup in our shared office space. My desk is directly behind hers, so I suggested she order a green screen (we have watched at least half a dozen instructional videos about re-folding that bastard). I told her she could sign up for a new product quizzically called mmhmm to make her presentations more dynamic, “like a John Oliver show” with supporting material in the background and her smiling face up front. I knew one of her classes covered a set syllabus of historical material, so I suggested that she actually should put together slide decks to drive the discussion.

Then I made that fateful warning:

“Just make sure your slides are good.”

“What do you mean ‘good’?”

“Y’know, don’t make your slides full of text and bullets.”

“All my slides are text and bullets…”

She was visibly crestfallen, because she had zero concept that the stuff I was talking about was even a thing. I had to realize that even though I spent most of my career as a software engineer who actively scoffed at the idea of building a slide deck, I was constantly soaking in the culture of slide decks. Whether it was pitch meetings, all-hands pep rallies, or beer-soaked meetups, people all around me had OPINIONS about how to make slides, and I was soaking in it for the past couple decades. Hezzy didn’t know or care that anyone ever thought about this junk.

Given that feedback, I adjusted my focus and shifted to education. I shared some links about making nice slides that didn’t make me roll my eyes. I reinforced that notion that she should always communicate the fact that she’s trying new things, just like everyone else. I suggested strategies for how she could use the features of Zoom to make her classes more engaging. I offered to do practice sessions with her. We talked about podcasts and articles that she could share as supplemental material.

I fell back on my empathy and became much more helpful.

If anything, the most helpful thing I did was to assure her that she was safe and she wasn’t going to fuck anything up beyond repair. At the base level, her job is to impart information to people who don’t already have it. I knew she could accomplish that, and I told her so until she believed it.

The key is to go into these situations openly and with honesty. If you come into an already uncertain situation with “Hey, so… I’m trying something new today, let’s see how it goes, OK?” there’s nobody worth paying attention to who is going to complain about how it turns out. Hopefully you’ll get good, constructive feedback for next time, but there’s just no point in trashing the attempt.

So let’s leave it there, shall we. Keep doing your best. Try new things and problem solve together.

We’ll get out of this eventually.

Up next: Probably something related to this…

~~~ I used to put cocktail recipes down here at the end, but honestly, I drink the same four cocktails these days, so yeah, never mind that ~~~