Sunday, June 19, 2016

Surprise Videoconference

I work from home as a freelance writer. This means that I spend most of my working hours holed up in my study, surrounded by my beloved books, listening to the sound of my cat snoring gently, watching hummingbirds sipping nectar in the bottlebrush tree outside my window, drinking lemon ginger tea, and tapping away on my keyboard. This may sound idyllic, and sometimes it is, but let me take a moment to point out that it is also nerve-wracking to be self-employed because I never know where my next job will come from or if it will come at all. I have sacrificed security for the ability to be a writer, to work from home, and to put marginal effort into maintaining my social skills. I have had the freedom to cultivate the art of being oblivious, and invisible.

Working from home means I don’t have to comb my hair or wear shoes to work. I can wear flip-flops, house socks that look like Elmo’s pelt, bedroom slippers, Ugg boots, cardboard boxes, watermelons, or nothing on my feet, because no one sees them so who cares? My footwear does not need to match my leggings, dress, or shirt, which also do not need to match one another. I can wear the same comfortable shmata (Yiddish for an old rag) dress every day. I can wear my frayed hoodie, a muumuu, my workout clothes, or even my nightgown if I am so inclined. (I don’t wear my nightgown to work, ever, but my point is that I could if I wanted to.)

I spend a lot of time at work on conference calls with clients and employers who have contracted with me for services, and they call in from all over the country. But I never have to dress for success because no one ever sees me. I can have a cat in my lap or she can be climbing around behind my computer while I am on the phone. I can nibble dark chocolate, roll my eyes, do my filing, read a magazine, spill water all over my desk and mop it up with old towels, read the online news, and watch the foxes in the neighbor’s yard through binoculars. When someone in a business meeting starts spinning their wheels or sidetracks the discussion, I remain calm by looking into my kaleidoscope. I can mute my phone and gargle, sing, eat celery and humus, rearrange my books, or build a chicken coop.

This is why I panicked last week when one of the participants in an upcoming business meeting (let’s call her Cheryl, because that’s her name) emailed everyone just two hours before the meeting to ask if we would like her to set us up for a videoconference instead of a phone conference. Surprise. Panic. Deep breaths. The other dozen participants swiftly replied that a videoconference sounded great. I, on the other hand, realized that I desperately needed a haircut and then I jumped out the window (fortunately my house has no upstairs).

After I climbed back inside, I pretended I was cool with the videoconference. Next I had to figure out how to download the software to run the program to get into the videoconference. Cheryl sent us all a link so we could do that. When I clicked on the link, it took me to a screen that asked for my meeting ID, which I did not have. At first I wondered if I would be deported, but then I emailed Cheryl, who promptly sent the ID to all the people who would be on the call. I typed the meeting ID into the correct box and got a message saying to click on “launch,” however the word “launch” appeared nowhere on my screen (I even looked behind the computer for it). We did not have lift-off. I could not cope with the situation. I had less than 90 minutes left in which to download the software, get the knots out of my hair, select an appropriate outfit, wash the cat, sage the study to remove bad energy, hide the hippie clothing and hats hanging on the rack on the wall behind me, and learn to play the oboe. This was when I panicked and woke up my retired computer tech husband by jumping up and down on the bed, shining a flashlight in his eyes, playing a kazoo, and hollering, “Wake up! I need tech support and coffee!” Ron makes the morning coffee and I have to wait for him to wake up to get a cup. But I assure you that my tech problem was not an excuse to rouse him so he would make coffee. Well, maybe it was a little bit of an excuse for coffee.

My intrepid husband made coffee, handed me a cup, and told me to calm down. As if. Caffeine makes me about as calm as Steph Curry in the fourth quarter (GO DUBS). After supplying me with coffee, my techie husband sat down at my computer, where he immediately choked on cat hair. An important thing to know about Ron is that he emits that mysterious invisible computer tech vibe that scares computers into abject submission. When my computer acts grizzly for me, all I have to do is call Ron into the room and my computer puts its tail between its legs and crawls into a corner at the mere sight of the dominant alpha geek. There is no substitute for this super-power that all expert IT (information technology) folks have.

While Ron was reading the videoconference software program the Riot Act, I took my cup of coffee to the bedroom, where I tried on clothes with a vengeance. I needed to appear passably professional from the waist up (as long as I didn’t stand and reveal any part of my lower body). By the time I had tried on half the clothing in my closet and piled it on the bed in a tangle of hangers, Ron had successfully downloaded the software. I had no excuses. I was going to be visible. I settled on a periwinkle cardigan over an aquamarine shirt and proceeded to comb my hair. Lip gloss? Why not. OK. Should I throw the cat out of my study? She was sleeping peacefully in her little cat bed, but she snores. I didn’t think the videoconference participants would be able to hear her; and if I fell asleep during the videoconference and started snoring I could blame it on the cat. I let her stay.

In the end, the videoconference worked out better than I had anticipated. It was fun to be able to see people. Everyone on the call was intelligent and funny. We didn’t get sidetracked, even though it was distracting to be able to see one another. The upshot of the call was that the project implementation team decided they were not ready to apply for the grant yet, and we postponed the whole grant writing project to next year. I didn’t snore, spill coffee, wake up the cat, look at my kaleidoscope, have to play the oboe, or set my hair on fire, so I think it went well from my end.

After I signed off, I received an email from Cheryl asking if Ron would share with her what he did to download the videoconference software. She said it would be helpful for her in the future when she might have to talk someone through the process. So Ron sent her screenshots of each step of the download. I had never met Cheryl before. When I mentioned to my client contact at their organization (whom I have worked with for many years and know well) that my husband had done this, and that he’s a retired computer tech so he’s available if they want to hire him in the future to provide tech support as a consultant, my contact laughed. “You would think that Cheryl could have worked this out without your husband’s assistance,” he said, “since we have our own IT department here with over 200 staff members.” Go figure.

It took me the rest of the morning to recover from the shock of being visible, but it was all good. I am thinking I should probably swap out the rack of hippie glad-rags on the wall behind me for a set of bookshelves in case I have to videoconference again. Or maybe I should just hang my diplomas there. We’ll see. While today’s blog post may seem like the ravings of a lunatic homebound writer, it’s actually a tribute to my computer wizard and coffee maestro husband, who also happens to be one of the best dads on the planet. Happy Father’s Day sweetheart.

Me and my tech support. (Photo by M. Sophia Santiago)

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