#WFH Diaries: Kate Hanley of The Variable

As coronavirus confinement continues, we're checking in with creative people to see how they're faring. Here's an update from Kate Hanley, group planning director at The Variable, a marketing firm in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Give us a one-line bio of yourself.

Brand strategist, transplant to the South, sports watcher, whiskey drinker, puzzler.

Where are you living right now, and who's with you?

Husband, two teen stepdaughters, 3-year-old twins, two big mutts, four chickens.

What's your work situation like at the moment?

All the Google Meets and Zoom meetings a human can handle, usually at a makeshift desk in our basement (lost the office to a teen bedroom when the twins came along). I'm lucky to work somewhere with a great culture, so work also includes a lot of connecting with each other about the weirdness that is our current lives. I work on brands that may well end up thriving, if supply chains hold up. This new reality is actually a great opportunity to push for a little more agility and flexibility from clients. Which is just an obnoxious way to say that we're getting them to make decisions more quickly because the world is changing every day, and we have to keep up, or our communications will miss the mark. In related news, I also spend a LOT of time absorbing and creating and thinking around what's going on in people's lives—how they're feeling, adapting, which changes will stick, etc. It's a fascinating time to be alive.

Describe your socializing strategy.

Waving at neighbors on long walks. Saturday night happy hour Zoom with college besties. Occasional Zoom happy hour with local friends. Weekly Zoom happy hour with coworkers, when I can. A lot of Instagram and texting.

How are you dealing with childcare, if applicable?

Managing our 3-year-old twins while we both work from home is by far the daily biggest challenge for us (which I realize means we are quite privileged compared to what others may be experiencing!). Every morning, we map out a schedule based on our meetings and work priorities, trying our best to allocate the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. as equitably as possible. Mr. Rogers takes a shift at 10 a.m. every day, and we do a movie at 4 p.m., taking turns between The Natural (yes, my kids love classic Robert Redford) or a Disney+ option. The rest of the day involves long neighborhood walks, playing in the backyard, or desperately trying to get them to play independently. Naps disappeared with our daycare, so an hour-long drive with a podcast is usually part of the deal. All of this means that 5 to 7 a.m. has become my most productive writing time. Isn't that the sort of thing that the Founding Fathers used to do? I'm basically George Washington, I guess is what I'm saying.

What are you reading?

Right before this started I read Maya Angelou's I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, which turned out to be the perfect dose of perspective and reflection going into this. But my go-to comfort reads are mysteries, so I've been rotating some of my favorite international detectives (Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole, Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache, Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti). They give me a nice little problem to work on and also substitute for travel.

What are you watching?

AcornTV and BritBox if I'm alone. Schitt's Creek with my husband. Also, going back to some Foyle's War has been really comforting. Watching people adapt to wartime life on the home front is a great reminder that as humans, we tend to find our way to a new ordinary.

What are you listening to?

We always have music on—a lot of Wilco, Willie Nelson, Brandi Carlile, Otis Redding, the Frozen soundtracks (which I love). And I've been playing Yo-Yo Ma first thing in the morning (the littles are mesmerized by his #songsofcomfort videos). But the oddest thing happened during a recent toddler meltdown—I randomly asked the Echo to play some R.E.M., a band I haven't listened to in forever, but now is making its way back to heavy rotation. A couple days later I read a piece by a good friend about the healing powers of music. It introduced me to the concept of the "Age of Reminiscence"—basically the music we hear between age 12 and 22 has a profound impact on us. So, there's that mystery solved!

How are you staying fit?

Pushing an old-school stroller with squirmy 3-year-olds up the hills around our neighborhood, which is no match for the comfort-food diet that has taken hold. #chunkerdown

Have you taken up a hobby?

LOL nope.

Any tips for getting necessities?

Share the burden with friends and neighbors. When I place a pickup or delivery order, I check in with my friend down the street. She does the same. That way we can fill in the gaps. But really we are not wanting for anything. We are embarrassingly well-stocked.

An awkward moment since all this started.

My Zoom camera was off but I didn't realize I wasn't muted. I was sitting on a bed with twin 3-year-olds and two very large dogs, noticing a smell and wondering aloud who needed to poop. (It was an internal agency meeting. It's fine.)

Best work email you got since all this started.

An announcement that our agency's Good Idea Fair is still happening this month, even though it will be virtual. Yay!

An aha! moment since all this started.

We have way too much stuff and there's nothing I need. Except more ridiculously large and colorful earrings. You can never have too many fabulous earrings, especially in the age of video conferencing! I've been trying to support small business, so I have been buying even more handmade gems from some amazing local craftswomen … like @CopperTide and @VikiGlaze.

What's your theory on how this is going to play out?

It's probably too much to believe this virus can break our country's "fake news" fever. But I expect (hope) that this crisis will at least reshape what I see as America's overly romanticized notions of individualism. I'm not surprised by the "rebellions" against social distancing popping up in some pockets of our country. But Covid-19 does not care what you believe, and as it impacts more communities, the philosophical objections will have to give way to reality. Right? (Please be true!) We are all way more interconnected and interdependent than our systems and institutions are designed to acknowledge. Investing in our collective resiliency (as a matter of morality or just common sense) is the only way forward—whether it's a living wage and paid sick leave for everyone (especially those charged with growing, making, serving, and distributing our food), childcare for working parents, or access to healthcare. I don't know how quickly we will regroup and evolve those systems. Obviously these things don't happen overnight, and it may be a long time before we figure out workable solutions for a society as large and complex as ours. But the premises of those conversations have already changed.

Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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