In my office, there are several garbage bags filled with clothes and cardboard boxes I need to break down. The bags have been pushed into a corner since late February. They are visible when I turn on my laptop’s camera for potential video meetings. Too embarrassed by the pile and my own lack of executive function, I often take my laptop into my dining area with a dismal view of my front door. I worry about what each background could say about me, as much as I worry about how to dress for Zoom meetings. So it recently struck me that 18 months into the pandemic, I’m still not sure how much of me and my home to share with colleagues via video. How much of the real me can people on the outside get when they’re beamed into my apartment?
Away from this newsletter, I write a lot about desire, sex, and romance, so perhaps it’s not surprising to learn I have a lot of cheeky and erotic art in my home. The tamest of which is a text-only pennant, hanging in my living room next to my bedroom door, that reads “Thick Thighs Save Lives.” (I’m trying to prepare any bedroom guest for his future healthcare options). When I want to take a video chat on my couch, I have to position myself directly in front of it, based on the camera’s angle, to make sure no one can see it. It’s not a problem to do this. I could also easily take it down for the length of the meeting, but the fact remains that I don’t want to cause anyone discomfort or be accused of creating an inappropriate workplace.
When I’m participating in a livestream event, I position myself in front of my neatest bookshelf so I can look like a Serious Author and a Serious Reader. I am both of those things, but, for some reason, I need my audience to know it too. It’s also the “safest” place to use as a background because there’s no erotic art on the shelves. This space is not conducive to work Zooms because there’s no surface for me to write on for notes. I’ve put a good amount of thought into figuring out the best background but I’ve stopped myself short of crafting a specific area because I wondered if what I would end up with would be the real me or the me I want people to see. My home should always be the real me.
I love working from home and I am strongly for better access to remote work where applicable, but I also don’t want to think of every corner of my apartment as potential zoom spots. I recently bought an art print of a naked, plus-sized Medusa cupping the chin of a man already turned to stone. Everywhere I want to hang it, I’ve thought “will this show if I sit here for a Zoom call?” I became annoyed with myself because 1) if I cleaned my office, I wouldn’t need to worry about this and 2) I don’t want a zoom-able home! I want a me-home.
I think I’m so sensitive to how much I’m sharing because I just published a memoir, which let a lot of people into my life. Readers have sent me lovely emails, expressing how my book has helped them in many ways and that makes the stress of writing worth it. I’ve also been tagged in unfavorable reviews, most of which I stop reading once I realize what they are. However, if I read too much of the criticism, it makes me wonder if I should have exposed so much of myself. That’s also how I feel about looking for a good zoom-able space in my apartment. Is this 15-minute check-in worth the hassle of changing clothes, hiding art, angling books, etc.? Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, but work is work. I want to be mindful of colleagues because not all of us get the chance to bounce back from creating unpleasant situations at work.
My silly and sensual art isn’t for everyone, and I definitely don’t want to make any colleagues uncomfortable if they saw it. I also don’t want to distract from the purpose of the video meeting. There are plenty of background options for me, I know. However, sometimes I’m not able to turn my camera off or have a blurred or photo background. Supposedly using a blurred background can affect audio quality and I record a lot of podcasts over Zoom. I think I will find a pretty room screen and set it up behind me. I’ll throw on my Hozier hoodie to cover my cleavage and shoulders if I’m taking a video call while in my tank top but I don’t want to hide all my kitschy, freaky art (at least not until my mother comes to visit). I’d like to be myself inside my home, even if I’m working.
How do we maintain personal boundaries when work has invaded our homes without losing ourselves? I still haven’t figured it out yet, but I’ll keep trying because I’d rather deal with that than a commute or a formal workplace filled with microaggressions.