December Writing Challenge Wrap-Up: Week 1

I cannot begin to express my gratitude to everyone who is participating in the challenge this year. As things get started, I also want to publicly thank a few of the folks who make this possible every year:

Yum, Olivia, Kevin, and of course Ms. THWACKniss Everdeen herself, Danielle are the people who create, maintain, and constantly improve the THWACK community space itself. And they are led by none other than Tiffany Nels.

Meanwhile, Alli, Alyssa, and Alex (whom I sometimes refer to as “triple A” and other times as “the editorial mega-zord”) receive and process a literal metric butt-load of content—from videos to podcasts to words (oh so many words). That team is led by Courtney Cantwell, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jenne Barbour—not only because she’s *my* boss as well, but because she’s part of the content review workflow and her editorial sensibility touches almost everything SolarWinds produces as well.

With those very necessary acknowledgements out of the way, here’s what we got to read this week:

Day 1: Connecting in a Disconnected World

I had the privilege of kicking off the challenge this year, and tried to demonstrate the theme of “accentuating the positive” as I talked about ways in which we learned to connect (either in different ways, or to different things) as we lost the familiar touch-points of work, school, etc.

From: gfsutherland

Since March I’ve lived life on both sides of the river. Each side is marked by long and short duration stays. The “normal” side is hardly normal, an office often barren of my colleagues and empty parking spaces. Yet despite all of this there is a welcome and peaceful quiet that I have come to appreciate. Gone are the drive by “can you do me a favor” moments, conversations I do have in person are genuine and real given the circumstances of this era in history.

At home, it has been a special time. My wife worked in a before and after school program and suddenly was not working. No matter, when I worked remote, we had lunch together every day something that had only happened a handful of time in my career. We would take a walk when I finished for the day. Most of all, it made me appreciate what I do have and what I can do. Interesting.... yes! Scary.... of course! Strangely I wouldn’t change it. I am a better person for the experience.

From: tphelps01

There have been a lot of pros and cons to all of this. Some of my positives are

  • I am very lucky to be able to work from home
  • My company has been very awesome with us working from home and providing us with many things so that we can
  • I get to see the outdoors all day long
  • I do get dressed everyday, but I can wear much more comfortable clothes
  • I am in charge of the thermostat and lighting,
  • I was able to care for my very sick cat
  • I walk to make sure I stay active and I get to socially distance chat with my neighbors and have learned a lot more about them

A future positive is that I won’t have to get up early to clear my driveway of snow and I will get to decide when I want to clear the snow.

From: OliviaP

While many of my more surface-level relationships have faded over the 9+ months of social distancing, Covid has brought a unique opportunity for me to revive some of the connections that I forgot to tend to during the busy day-to-day of pre-Covid life.

Having moved around the country a bit, I have a couple friend groups from different states. Before Covid, none of us ever took the time for a phone call (#millennials), let alone a video chat, so relationships would naturally fall on the backburner every time I moved away. Now that Zoom has become a way of life, it’s much easier to hop on and have a virtual chat, game night, or happy hour with friends who are near or far.

In the early days of Covid, in response to the abrupt shock of feeling so disconnected, I started a virtual book club that was open to all of my friends, regardless of where they live. We’ve been meeting every month for the past 8 months and this month, one of the book club members suggested we have a virtual happy hour after our book club—I realized in that moment that somehow, amid a world that feels like it’s falling apart, this group has brought together new connections & friendships that would never have happened if we were not all forced to expand our ways of connecting with each other. Also, selfishly, I love that my groups are coming together and can’t wait to plan an epic girls’ trip once traveling is back on the table.

To echo your statement, Leon, these newfound connections do not outweigh the darkness we’re currently in... but it does make the journey a bit more bearable.

Day 2: Show Us Your Office Space

On day two, THWACK MVP Paul Guido (aka “RadioTeacher") gave us a tour—both through time and space—of how his workspace started and how it’s grown and changed over time. And then the comments started pouring in:


@Radioteacher - it truly is cool

Well this is the very first time in my carrier that i have been working from home for so long and i have a very simple home office space, just a table & a chair which tags along with it and that’s it

I miss my coffee breaks at office (they were truly refreshing, you meet a lot of people always something new to hear wow those were the days) and now i hardly have coffee lol

But then your home office looks really cool—nice writeup.

From: Kaellanon

I’m back at work now, but my home office was much less impressive. My office was dug out of the storage/spare room.

I have a desk that I built with my dad over 20 years ago. It is an inch-thick slab of finished plywood about 5 feet wide and 2 feet deep. The support on one side is a beat-up metal filing cabinet. On the other side is a wood cabinet door I picked up somewhere and mounted to the top with shelf brackets. It is a fairly unique desk but works great.

On the desk I had a riser that I won from THWACK (never thought I would actually have a use for it). I had an old TV as a second monitor for my work issued laptop as well as a salvaged Dell keyboard and mouse. I used my PS4 headset for Teams meetings. My desk chair was in the house when we moved in and we just never got rid of it.

The rest of the room was filled with storage and spare things that we had no immediate use for. It was messy and a bit crowded, but it worked well. I did have to lock the door sometimes to keep the kids out though. (My three-year-old crashed one of my Teams meetings and said hi to all of my colleagues. It was amusing, but not productive.)

From: allison.rael

It took my brain a long time to reconcile having my creative space become my workspace. I’m still not terribly happy about it. But the time I once spent commuting I can now spend creatively, so I think it evens out.

The box my laptop is on is full of miscellaneous sewing notions. I can make a “standing desk” if I pull out and start stacking the rest of my boxes of notions.

Having my sewing machine at my knees is certainly tempting! I typically do some work on my latest projects during my lunch breaks.

Day 3: Pet Peeves: Home Office Edition

The topic for day 3 was left purposefully vague. Would people focus on the “pet” part, or the “peeve?” Or Both? Lead writer (and THWACK MVP) Jez Marsh (@Silverbacksays on Twitter, THWACK, and just about everywhere else) went all-in on the pet part, as did the majority of commenters.

From: desr

My Pandora is a Czechoslovakian Shepard, my best friend, always laying, sitting, sleeping, and working with me by my side for the past 12-1/2 yrs. I have been working from home since March and our bond has become even closer. My love for her grows every day. I don’t know how I will ever manage without her. My only pet peeve is my normal working day ends at 4pm and if I am still online finishing up, she climbs under my desk and closes the keyboard pull out with my fingers still inside of it and then pushes by chair back away from the desk. When I look down at her she has a big, goofy smile on her face. She can tell time and when she decides the day is over, it is over. But you can’t but love her anyways.

From: mcam

We have a pair a large dogs. A Great Dane and a Mastiff. So we I’m sitting at my desk, the great dane’s head is at the same height as mine. She will walk up to me while I’m in a video call and folks just see this long nose coming into view from the side. To try diffuse the interruption I try to remember I can use the old chestnut - “What? Has Billy fallen down the well again!”

From: lbeavs

We adopted Blaze when he was 8 months—he had been found with his other siblings on the side of a road in North Carolina, and his crooked ears totally won me over. Blaze’s stay with us was meant to be a trial but as soon as I scooped him from the vet (cone and all) I knew he wasn’t going anywhere. I am crazy about my dog, but working from home with him has been interesting, to say the least. Despite being a lab/boxer mix, he is pretty stinking lazy.... until about 3:30pm. That’s Blaze’s witching hour. It comes down to "walk me—feed me—or I’ll bark" - usually it’s a combination of the three! He’s a very vocal dog, having full-blown conversations with myself and my husband, and the ultimate "protekker" who regularly asserts his position when the UPS man comes to our door. Blazedog has gotten totally spoiled having his people home full time, getting regular walks, car rides, and generally a taste of what we’re having for lunch. He may drive me bonkers on video calls when he opts to “speak” but I’m so happy to have had this derp by my side through this year.

Day 4: I Was Today Years Old When I Learned

When considering a "writing challenge" it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking more words == better post. This is almost always not the case, as THWACK MVP Jeremy Mayfield showed with a lead essay that was concise and still thought-provoking.

From: gfsutherland

You hit a home run with this one. The evolution of life experiences, personal growth and the overarching desire to know more is what keeps us going professionally and more important, personally. In my case I went from wanting to be a fighter pilot (as a kid), to teacher of Medieval English Literature, to SysAdmin, to systems and application manager. Each step of that journey was rooted in something in my personal life. I know that I am limited only by me, if I want to succeed or do something, I am the one responsible to make it happen.

I can retire soon, but I am not sure I am ready for that, instead I am looking to re-invent myself one more time. Thank you for this offering... great job!

From: jscobbie

I’ve long lived by the maxim “The day you stop learning is the day you start dying”

From: EBeach

I was 39 years old when I realized that these THWACK points are really useful when I got my JBL headphones. These things are great and now I am also 39 years old when I realized how bad my other headphones were.

Thwack - Symbolize TM, R, and C