Writing Challenge Day 1: Connecting in a Disconnected World


To kick off this year’s Writing Challenge, I’ll address one of the most obvious, persistent, and pervasive issues we face: we’re not together. Not as coworkers; nor as friends; and not even as families beyond those who are living in our particular “COVID bubble” (which, sadly, is now a thing we say).

I chose the topic not only because it’s an unavoidable reality, but also to highlight the theme of the Writing Challenge this year: “Accentuate the Positive.”

You see, it would be easy to focus on what’s wrong. It would be equally easy to focus on how to mitigate, “hack,” or get around the problem. But neither of those approaches is the aim in this challenge. The trick this month is for us to find the silver lining—the nugget of goodness hidden behind the obvious difficulties—and to amplify it. By accentuating the positive in each writing prompt, I hope to chart a path through the problems we face and emerge stronger and better for it.

With all of that laid out, here is my contribution to the 2020 December Writing Challenge:


It’s ironic how getting what we thought we wanted taught us how much we needed things we thought we were better off without.

Bored by idle chitchat, we wished everyone would focus on topics of global importance.

Uncomfortable with social gatherings, we craved solitude.

Overwhelmed by family obligations, we prayed for a convenient, guilt-free excuse. Distracted by constant interruptions, we bargained and even begged for work-from-home options... and so on.

It barely requires explanation the way in which those desires have been fulfilled, and the horrible, almost ironic, price we paid (and continue to pay) for it.

In the irony and horror, it’s easy to miss what was gained: unanticipated perspectives and unforeseen appreciations:

Asking “How are you?” and truly wanting to know;
...and actively listening for (and to) the response.

Making space in our day for “idle chit chat”—unassuming conversation about unimportant things;
...and cherishing the chance to put aside the burdensome weight of the world and lose ourselves in a moment of mundanity.

Reconnecting with nature and the physical world, far from crowds and spectacles;
...and rediscovering the simple miracles which continue to occur all around us.

Becoming reacquainted with quiet and solitude—either in our homes or in our heads;
...and relearning every thought need not be spoken aloud, nor every second filled with sound.

Praying without the hustle and bustle and pomp of the sanctuary and the service;
...and looking for (and even forward to) moments to connect to the Divinity both around us and inside us.

Maybe you haven’t found all of these, but I’m ready to bet you’ve experienced at least some. Now, nobody—least of all me—is implying those small sparks of light are worth the darkness currently in the world. But if you’ve experienced them, then failing to acknowledge them would make it all much sadder. Wasteful. Even tragic.

I’m inviting you to put down your mouse, close your screen, sit back for a moment, and see if (and how) those things have changed you. And then share with us in the comments below.

  • Having been deemed essential, and in the field mostly, I find myself often alone in buildings doing server work and edge device maintenance. I make every effort to stay positive and engaged with my counterparts and customers through facetime or zoom as much as possible and when ever necessary break out the gallows humor. On a side note I was recently working UPS detail in a large building of 20 floors, completely empty, going around the office in the dark I noticed all the calendars were still on March, it was a chilling feeling almost like walking through the exclusion zone. I pulled my mask a little bit closer and got back to my battery detail.

  • Once we were asked to work from home, I make every effort to use my camera on calls.  It's a small gesture in staying connected while (silently) encouraging others to do the same.  Like Leon said earlier, when I ask people now "How is it going?" I'm actually interested.  It doesn't include the accompanying chin-point that I used to give people when passing in the halls.  I really, really want to know how you are doing.

    Everyone is handling this sense of isolation differently and those that are excelling have found ways to flourish by embracing parts of themselves they may not have known existed prior.  For me, that's at least one good thing that has come from 2020.

  • When COVID-19 sent most of our company's 650 IT Department specialists (System Admins, Biomed Techs, Apps Analysts, Security Analysts, Network Analysts, Database Admins, etc.) home for isolation at the end of February 2020, we wondered how we'd get the job done.  We were each accustomed to dropping by someone's cube without warning to ask a question, tell a joke, share a bit of candy, take a break and ask how they & their family are doing.  Or just smile & wave.

    That was gone, but the work still needed.  And we made it work!

    MS Teams became an even bigger part of life.  Link & Skype remained on the way out as we moved deeper into Teams, and Zoom started to be a thing.  And even though Zoom had poor reliability and rotten security at the start, it became the generic alternative to GoToMeetings and the rest of the bunch of remote meeting apps.

    We each found that the parking problems we'd formerly groused about at work had gone.  Well, of course--we now parked in our own garages & driveways at home.  The face time we'd enjoyed was gone, however.  And so was the serendipity of hearing something going on in the cube across the way, where you might listen to a complaint and realize you could fix it immediately.  Or realize you'd just caused it!  Gone are those opportunities.

    But it was replaced with dedication to sharing the knowledge with the right target audiences, at the right time.

    Some of us were furloughed initially, with hopes of being called back up in a month or two.  Others were permanently released then, or after three months of watching $80M/month in corporate revenue being lost due to COVID-19 keeping customers at home, away from our business.

    One day in late May we saw 900 doctors, nurses, IT Professionals, managers, directors, custodial staff, and more--lose their jobs permanently.  I was in that group.  And I wasn't ashamed--I was in good company.  People of all positions, all ages, and all degrees of corporate longevity were treated equally to an apologetic meeting, each with their manager and director, each being explained they were needed, but that the money wasn't there to keep them on.

    Working in a hospital system, and seeing health care professionals and those who support them, being let go yourself . . . it's hard.

    Some of us retired.  Some looked for other opportunities and were forced to move away.  Some saw their way into depression and worse--helped by being disconnected, each into their own COVID bubble for safety's sake.  

    Each day I look for 100% remote Network positions where I can provide a great time my knowledge as an SME for L1, L2, L3 networking and Solarwinds Monitoring solutions.  Luckily, I stay connected with friends and family and former coworkers via cell or text or social media.  And my wife's job has stayed in place, so health coverage for our family simply shifted from my employer to hers.  

    And yet, it hasn't been all negative.  Me, personally . . . why, I built a new 250' driveway loop that connected my existing driveway to the highway in a second spot, so I have an island of trees that it goes around.  It enables me to back our 5th wheel camper back up the hill, right next to the house.  The fifth wheel camper, and its pickup truck, I bought the week before COVID send us home.  The driveway I finished the day before I lost my job.  So, camping & home improvements, renting skid steers and hauling 300 cubic yards of Class 5 gravel for a parking pad extension on the hill for our camper.  Moving a shed.  Cutting a LOT of trees down, and sawing them up to fireplace length & stacking for drying.  Some wonderful extended camping adventures, including a 16-day trip to Tennessee as we extended our fall leaf color enjoyment--arriving back after missing 14" of snowfall at home, just in time for a nice thaw in which I could winterize the camper and put it in storage.  And this winter I'm working on in-home projects when the weather outside's a bit too cold (at least until the water hardens up thick--then I'll be spending some time ice fishing on Minnesota's frozen lakes).

    One unusual observation: I haven't been sick at all, in any way, since moving to work at home last February.  It's been a pleasure not being sick even once in the last nine months (especially when I'd probably have been sick at least three times for a week or more in that time). I chalk it up to either a mold problem in my office, or sharing office space with coworkers who were bringing their children's colds with them to work.  Or both.  

    And now December is upon us.  The dark of winter can tend to increase that feeling of hopelessness and loss and disappointment of being unemployed.  This is when friends & family help make the time and the dark bearable. 

    And Thwack makes me smile now and again, and in today's isolated times, a smile is gold.  Thank you all for that.

    Keep me in mind if you find you have need for a remote network person who'll get your Solarwinds on track!

    Swift Packets!

    Rick Schroeder

    In the Little Red House

    In the Saginaw Wood

  • I hate using the phone. I really like talking to a person face-to-face. In a WFH situation I have to use the phone a lot more and my comfort level with it is getting better. This isn't to say that once I get on the phone with someone I won't talk to them for hours, but it is or was the start of the call I couldn't get over. Now with everyone doing video calls, I am ALL OVER THAT! I love seeing folks and talking. Not that it makes up my whole day, but there is a lot more of it.

    My wife comes from a really large family and so I purchased a Zoom yearly subscription so we can host calls at the drop of a hat. We were doing calls every Sunday for a few months, now it is every other one. It lasts about 2 hours and I have it set up for her on the TV with a web cam on a tripod, ring light, and green screen. Every call is a different background.

    With my family I see my Dad and Step Mom the other weekends and we play games and get dinner. We each have food delivered about the same time - they eat late we eat early. It lasts about 4 hours. The games we play are EXIT games where we all work together to solve the riddles. We purchased all the games online and had copies sent to them in NJ. We used to talk for hours on the phone at least once a month. Now we get to see them. I do really need to get them some better lighting equipment at some point.

    We missed out on a few things that I hope will return next year. The Minnesota SWUG and Ren Faire being a big one. Annual visits from our Niece and "the girls", and playing Bocce Ball every Tuesday night! I mean I didn't even groom or prep the court this year.

    In completely different vein, we are fortunate enough to not have needed the US stimulus funds. So we gave it all away to various charities. We also have spent time and money making things for family members to assist in their efforts on the frontlines of the pandemic response. This historically bad event does present unique opportunities for philanthropy and charity. So many are in need of food, funds to stay in their homes, and even if they can stay in their homes paying for utilities. For those of us saving money because the commute, expensive coffees, and eating out for lunch and dinner are all gone - the present circumstance gives us unique opportunities to help others in need. Making monetary donations to your food banks, public radio and TV stations, local theaters, homeless shelters, etc. can go a long way. We have been giving more than usual to all of these organizations.

    It is too easy to overlook that many of them have missed out on the huge gathering fund raisers that helped keep them going. If you can't have your booth at the Iowa State Fair because it got cancelled or hold your annual Mardi Gras Gala because gatherings are forbidden, then your operating funds are dramatically reduced.

    My wife and I a very grateful that for now we have the means to pay it forward.

  • Being in IT I feel we are luckier then most. Moving to WFH was very easy especially since we already did it once a week. For others I can understand that the move can be very difficult while for some that move is impossible and now their life's are in danger everyday. This new life has shown how important family is and the time that you spend with them. I have also spent this time analyzing my current situation as well as what is important. I have been able to make some adjustments to our way of life and life it to the fullest. 

Thwack - Symbolize TM, R, and C